'Governments come and go, the State of Israel stays'

Don’t give up on us: Lapid urges US Jews to stand by Israel despite overhaul strains

Opposition head tells Jewish Federations GA in Tel Aviv he knows current coalition ‘doesn’t represent your values…It was ‘democratically elected, will be democratically replaced’

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Opposition leader and head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader and head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following heated protests against Israel’s judicial overhaul at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, opposition leader Yair Lapid implored Diaspora Jews to “rally around Israel” despite dissatisfaction with its current government.

“Don’t give up on us,” Lapid, the previous prime minister of Israel, told the 2,000 people attending the General Assembly on Monday.

The JFNA convened in April instead of fall this year at the Expo Tel Aviv conference center so the meeting would coincide with Israel’s 75th Independence Day, which the nation will celebrate Tuesday night-Wednesday.

But the shift also landed the group of North American Jewish community leaders in Israel at a time when the country has been wracked by intense protests unleashed by the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. The rift has sparked uneasy questions about the Diaspora’s relationship with Israel and its leaders, and its role in helping to shape domestic policies.

“I know how many people here feel about this government. I know it doesn’t represent your values. It doesn’t represent mine, either. But this government isn’t all of Israel,” Lapid said, earning thunderous applause.

Earlier in the day, a session featuring Simcha Rothman, a right-wing lawmaker and one of the principal champions of the overhaul legislation, deteriorated into a shouting match amid repeated disruptions by protesters. Five people were forcibly removed from the room.

Protesters disrupt a discussion panel featuring MK Simcha Rothman at the Expo Tel Aviv convention center in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 24, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government have led a push for far-reaching legislation that will transfer some judicial powers to the legislative and executive branches, while stripping the court of the ability to assess Knesset or government decisions. The plan’s opponents say it risks turning Israel into a dictatorship by leaving government power unchecked. The plan’s advocates, including Rothman, say it is meant to remedy a creeping annexation of powers by the Supreme Court and other unelected judicial entities, and will therefore enhance Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu was scheduled to speak at the GA but canceled his speech Sunday amid protests by hundreds of demonstrators outside the venue.

Many GA participants sided with the opposition and other critics of the judicial overhaul, who tended to receive loud cheers from audiences whenever the subject was debated.

Protesters demonstrate against Israel’s judicial overhaul, in front of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 23, 2023. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Lapid, who reiterated his call for ending the political crisis by devising a constitution for Israel, praised the protesters who participated in mass demonstrations in recent weeks, calling them “patriots.” The opposition, he added, is “committed to democracy; an independent Supreme Court; a free press; women’s rights; LGBT rights; religious freedom; minority rights.”

The current government, Lapid also said, “was democratically elected, and it will be democratically replaced. That is the nature of democracy. Governments come and go, the State of Israel is here to stay.”

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