Major Protests in Israel

On June 24, 2023, in the Israeli Knesset, the governing coalition with a slim majority, led by Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, voted to pass a law that cancels the “reasonableness doctrine,” limiting the ability of the courts to contest government decisions.

In a country with no constitution, and no checks and balances as we have in the US, this is a blow to democracy and to the rule of law. This current extremist Israeli government is on a fast pace toward a theocratic dictatorship. 

Passing this law is the first major component of their plan, and the Israeli public understands that. 

As one of the leading architects of this process said in a tweet: this is the salad course, the main course is yet to come. 

As we approach Tisha B’Av this week—the ritual mourning of the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem—we see Israeli friends and family mourning this generation’s attempt to destroy the last remaining institution of justice in Israel.   We see Israeli protesters in the streets (20% of the population), blocking main thoroughfares, tens of thousands marching in the scorching heat from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (the equivalent of 600,000 Americans), air force pilots and military reservists refusing to report for duty.

Today, hospital workers and many businesses are on strike, and the newspaper front pages are black.

Newspapers in Israel on Tuesday, July 25, with black front pages. "Dark day for Democracy in Israel."

Although Netanyahu called the credit ratings agencies several months ago and reassured them that this vote would not go through, the law did pass with Netanyahu’s support, and the credit rating agencies are now downgrading Israel’s ratings.

As Avner Gvaryahu pointed out yesterday in a powerful video, maps that show where buses congregated to bring supporters of the judicial coup to Tel Aviv reveal that these supporters were almost all coming from West Bank settlements.

The government is trying to portray this as a revolution for the representation of Mizrachi and other disenfranchised Jewish populations. But the map of where the strongest support comes from shows no representation of the major Mizrachi population centers. 

There is a complex dynamic in Israel—as here in the United States—where the forces for authoritarianism take advantage of the deep and real grievances of many populations. That is an important dynamic to understand.

For many of us, it is clear that the Jewish settler movement has the government of its dreams—one that will allow them to do whatever they want in the West Bank—and that without true justice for the Palestinians, there will be no real democracy in Israel.

This is a moment to be clear about our values, to speak out and to stand up. This fight for democracy must include a fight for democracy for all—including all Palestinians.

It is also clear that we are in the midst of a tsunami of forces calling themselves “populist” while really building forces of authoritarianism and dictatorship, both internationally and here in America. Israel is not exempt from this.

Rabbi Kleinbaum’s shirt says, "There’s no democracy with occupation." Randi Weingarten’s shirt says, "Faithful to the Declaration of Independence." Their sign reads, "You won’t violate women’s rights."

Much of the money powering the extremist right wing in Israel is coming from similarly focused right-wing Jewish Americans and American-funded organizations, as well as from Evangelical Christians. How will American foreign aid to Israel be impacted? 

This movement, which started out with a few hundred in the streets 29 weeks ago, will not go away or be silenced.

It is the largest protest movement in the world right now, and we are so deeply proud of all those who are standing up with the protesters and against this current government in Israel. So many CBSTers who live in Israel are participating, some getting arrested, many are showing up day after day after day.

We are proud that Rabbi Marisa James led a delegation from CBST to the Pride March and a Democracy protest in Jerusalem in June. Rabbi Mike Moskowitz spoke as a Haredi Rabbi standing firm in supporting LGBTQ rights and teaching us all that God loves us all.

The Supreme Court of Israel has until now been the only force pushing back against attacks on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and Palestinian rights, an important role in a country that has no system of checks and balances and no separation between religion and state.

For those who disagree with anything we have written, we look forward to engagement and discussion.

But we cannot despair.

לְמַ֤עַן צִיּוֹן֙ לֹ֣א אֶחֱשֶׁ֔ה וּלְמַ֥עַן יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם לֹ֣א אֶשְׁק֑וֹט
For the sake of Zion I will not be silent,
For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still,
—Isaiah 62: 1

Want to learn more about this moment in Israel and why it matters so much?

This piece from USA for Israeli Democracy gives a good overview from Dr. Ido Baum:

“This bill is a seismic shift beneath the surface of Israeli democracy. An overwhelming majority of legal experts in Israel and abroad have expressed their opinion that this bill in its present incarnation hands over extraordinary powers to the executive branch. The bill effectively undermines the democratic balance of powers in Israel.”

And for those seeking a deeper understanding of the “reasonableness” concept that has been canceled, this is a very good piece

CBST members Debbie and Shari also wrote this note yesterday:

“Heartbroken from the process, not surprised by the vote… but what we wrote above is how we feel and seeing the MANY thousands still going up to Jerusalem, and the trains packed with people in shirts and holding flags and singing and chanting all the way up to Jerusalem… seeing the courageous people our age and older being arrested… some years ago our Rabbi quoted Ruth Messinger… “Despair is not an option!!!!!” 😉”

We are approaching the end of the Three Weeks/beyn hamtzarim—the days of constriction and mourning with the arrival of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av. 

Our tradition teaches us that the Moshiach/Messiah is born on Tisha B’Av—in every moment of the deepest pits of despair, the possibilities of full redemption and repair are born.

We must be the midwives and help to bring the future of hope and peace and justice to all.

With blessings,

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Senior Rabbi

Sabrina Farber
President

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