With ‘unconditional love,’ Australian Jewish groups voice fear over judicial shakeup

Major organizations express ‘serious concern’ over proposals without broad consensus, potential changes to ‘grandchild clause’ in Law of Return that may impact Diaspora ties

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO via Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO via Flash90)

Two of Australia’s prominent Jewish community organizations expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plans and potential legislation that could impact relations with the Jewish Diaspora, in a joint statement published Monday.

“We believe that Israel must forever remain a Jewish and democratic state, rooted in the vision of the prophets,” the Executive Council for Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) wrote in the statement, in which they also praised Israel’s “successes and achievements” and noted Australia’s “deeply Zionist community.”

“It is from this position of unconditional love and connection that we express our serious concern at the governing coalition’s proposals to make fundamental changes to the relationship between the Knesset and the judiciary with undue haste and in the absence of broad-based public support,” the statement read.

“We also view with deep concern other proposals in relation to religious pluralism and the Law of Return that risk damaging Israel’s precious and unique relationship with Diaspora Jewry,” it added, referring to proposals from the government to cut the law’s “grandchild clause,” which grants citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent who does hold another religion.

“We call on the governing coalition to heed the call from Israeli President Isaac Herzog for genuine dialogue, based on his five principles for judicial reform, and to pause all of these controversial proposals so that constructive dialogue can occur and a national consensus can begin to emerge,” it concluded, referring to the head of state’s push for talks on the legislation.

A coalition proposal on Sunday to meet Tuesday to negotiate was rebuffed by the opposition, which has demanded a halt to the legislative push as a precondition for talks.

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against plans by the government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 4, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

ECAJ and ZFA join a growing list of international Jewish groups that have called for compromise between the government and opposition on the proposed judicial overhaul, which opponents warn will undermine Israeli democracy and erase the independence of the judiciary, giving total control to the ruling coalition.

The plan has also drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies. A growing number of military reservists have also threatened to refuse to show up for their duties over the legislation.

Supporters of the overhaul say the changes will end overreach by courts and judicial institutions, which have blocked right-wing efforts to pass measures seen as violating rights enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws.

“We recognize and respect that, being in the diaspora, we have different rights, but we are also deeply invested in Israel’s survival and the wellbeing of all Israelis and the Jewish people,” ECAJ and ZFA stressed.

In a highly unusual statement last month, the Jewish Federations of North America warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the government’s plan to legislate a preemptive “override clause” that would make legislation immune from  Supreme Court oversight.

The international Conservative-Masorti movement also came out in February against the proposed changes. The mostly right-wing religious Zionist World Mizrachi movement called on political parties to meet and negotiate, while the Orthodox World Mizrachi movement called for consensus on the major structural alterations to the governing system.

The sweeping reforms, which have been bulldozed through the Knesset in recent weeks, include the government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges, including High Court justices, all but eliminating the court’s ability to review and strike down legislation, and allowing politicians to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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