To our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora:
We are writing to you from Jerusalem in the weeks before the High Holidays, during this time of introspection and self-reckoning, to urge you to join the extraordinary Israeli protest movement that is fighting to save the vision that created this country 75 years ago.
Last February, two months after the current government was formed, we wrote to you to warn of an existential threat to Israeli democracy and to the long-term viability of the Jewish state. Six months later, our worst fears are being realized. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition with the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox parties signals nothing less than the end of the liberal state of Israel.
This political crisis is not just one more Israeli debate over policy, but a struggle over the fundamental identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
A government that won just 48.4 percent of the popular vote, and which did so only after concealing from the electorate the sweeping nature of its plans, has dared to tamper with the basic identity of the state, and has led us into a crisis from which our society might not recover. Vital institutions that require social solidarity, and most importantly the military, are splintering, as Israel’s most committed and productive citizens revolt against a leadership that is beyond the moral pale. The tech economy that buoyed the “start-up nation” is beginning to sink. State power is shifting from judges to extreme clerics. The voice of fundamentalist religion is emboldened. A year ago, Israel was a regional powerhouse. Within a year, we could be on the road to becoming another failed Middle Eastern state.
This unprecedented threat requires unprecedented changes in the Diaspora’s relationship with Israel.
Diaspora support for Israel has traditionally taken the form of support for its government. But now the greatest threat facing Israel is its government. Jews in the Diaspora can no longer support Israel without asking which Israel they are supporting.
To treat Israel’s present leadership as a normative government is to be complicit in the self-destruction of the Jewish state. Diaspora organizations and leaders who continue to meet politely with government ministers and pose for photographs with the prime minister are failing the Israel that Diaspora communities helped create. At this fraught moment, Jewish organizations conducting business as usual are placing themselves on the wrong side of history.
For those faithful to the liberal vision of the nation’s founders, supporting Israel at this time means supporting the Israel portrayed in our Declaration of Independence — a vision embodied by the Israeli democracy movement. The movement’s ability to bring out masses of patriotic demonstrators week after week is unprecedented, not only for Israel but for any country facing threats to its democratic DNA. The movement, which is made up of different groups with differing opinions, is above party politics and does not conform neatly to the divide between left and right, or religious and secular.
With Israelis on the streets fighting for the liberal values they share with so many Jews around the world, this is no time for Diaspora silence or alienation. To the contrary: when someone you love is in danger, you draw closer. After many years during which the divide between Israel and the Diaspora has grown, this is a moment for Diaspora Jews to find common ground with Israelis fighting for a country of which we can all be proud.
We urge you to get involved in supporting the democracy movement. Attend the pro-Israel democracy demonstrations that happen weekly in Diaspora communities around the world. Invite representatives of the democracy movement to your community. Insist that your community’s missions to Israel include a meeting with movement leaders. Organize study groups to familiarize yourselves with the issues. Challenge your national Jewish organizations to respond to the state of emergency with the gravity it deserves.
The largest of Israel’s weekly demonstrations happens in Tel Aviv. But as Jerusalemites, we attend the remarkable protests here in our city, outside the official residence of the president. Run by local volunteers, the Jerusalem protest has assumed the heterogeneous character of Jerusalem — and has a vision with much to offer the Jewish world. Here, a legal scholar with a kippah might speak on the same podium as an activist for Bedouin women in the Negev; rabbinic voices mix with those of LGBT activists. The Jerusalem protest speaks the language not of militant secularism but of a tolerant Judaism. Here, the sea of Israeli flags seems like a symbol not of narrow nationalism but of a state with broad horizons.
We would love to see you with us on your next trip to Jerusalem. In the meantime, we’d like to invite you to join the three of us, with The Times of Israel’s Amanda Borschel-Dan, for a live Zoom webinar on September 4 at 11:00 a.m. ET – a discussion of where events in Israel are going, what they mean for the Jewish world, and what each of us can do. This webinar is co-sponsored by The Times of Israel and SOS – Save Our Shared Home.
Do you have a question that you’d like answered on the webinar? Leave your question here and we’ll make every effort to address it.
Register now for the webinar:
Wishing you all a shanah tovah, a good year, a year of blessing and hope.
For Yossi Klein Halevi’s recent essay, “The wounded Jewish psyche and the divided Israel soul,” please click here.
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