Israelis and Jewish Activists Unite for Israel's Democratic Future

BREAKING NEWS: Just as this article was finished, Minister Barkat announced that he is canceling his participation at the Boston event mentioned below. He clearly did not want to face the protest.

Photo: Celebrating Israel Parade, NYC, by USA 4 Israeli DemocracyPhoto: Celebrating Israel Parade, NYC, by USA 4 Israeli Democracy


More than once we have emphasized here the importance of the Jewish leadership in the Diaspora (and especially in North America) joining the struggle that seeks to protect the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state from the attempt to eliminate the independence of the highest judicial authority, curtail its powers and undermine the legal gatekeepers. We pointed out the direct connection between these attempts and the future of Israel - Diaspora relations and partnership with world Jewry. But as a rule, the Jewish leadership is still reluctant to come down from the fence in support of the struggle unhesitatingly and unequivocally.

Many Israelis in the United States mobilized for protest vigils and effective demonstrations which have already resulted in Minister Akunis cancelling his participation in an event in Los Angeles last week, and the encounter between protesters and MK Rothman, chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, in New York received widespread publicity. Approximately 1,000 Israelis participated in this week's Celebrate Israel Parade in Manhattan, and together with Jewish activists, as part of their strong expression of support for Israel and Zionism, voiced their protest against the assault on Israeli democracy initiated by the government. Their protest (as well as the massive protest in Israel, now in its 22nd week) is not a protest against Israel but to the contrary: it is a pro-Israel protest, seeking to preserve the character and soul of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. There has never been anything like this in Israel's history, and there is no doubt that the current struggle will leave an impression on Israel's future path. The fact that all the public opinion polls in Israel show that the majority of the public opposes all the elements of the package that MK Rothman and Justice Minister Levin wish to pass – clearly demonstrates that this is not a struggle between right and left, but an existential struggle for Israel's identity.

We hope that more and more Jewish leaders and activists from across the political and religious spectrum will take a decisive stand and active part in the protest. We encourage them to defend the values of democracy, equality, and religious freedom guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence as an expression of their support and commitment to strengthening Israel.

Today we would like to express our appreciation for one recent example, that of Rabbi Joel Sisenwine, senior rabbi of the Beit Elohim Synagogue in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a prestigious and activist Reform Congregation with 1250

"And yet, this year for the very first time, I will find myself outside of the building, demonstrating peacefully in protest of the government's current efforts that threaten Israel's democracy."

families. Rabbi Sisenwine found himself faced with a dilemma when it became clear to him that the Israeli consulate, which made arrangements to hold an event in the hall of his synagogue to mark the 75th anniversary of Israel, invited Economy Minister Nir Barkat to be the guest of honor at the event. This is how Rabbi Sisenwine explained his decision to demonstrate outside the walls of the congregation building during the event:

In preparation for minister Barkat’s anticipated arrival and ceremony at Temple Beth Elohim on June 8 hosted by the Israel consul general in New England. Rabbi Joel Sisenwine, senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Elohim delivered a recorded message to the protesters demonstrating at the Boston Common, in front of the Massachusetts State House, supporting the protest movement, and promising to join the protests in front in his synagogue against Nir Barkat on June 8th. Rabbi Joel Sisenwine said:

My name is Rabbi Joel Sisenwine and I am the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. For many many years, we have proudly hosted the Consul General and the Government of Israel. We are proud Zionists at Temple Beth Elohim. We love Israel. We travel there often. In fact, even our building is constructed of Jerusalem stone, a continual religious reminder of our deep attachment to the Jewish state. And yet, this year for the very first time, I will find myself outside of the building, demonstrating peacefully in protest of the government's current efforts that threaten Israel's democracy. We American Jews have learned the importance of a strong and independent judiciary. We have learned that strong checks and balances are necessary in a vibrant democracy, in order to protect a democracy's minority populations. And thus, this year, at Temple Beth Elohim, I will stand with the protesters -- outside of our building -- to speak out against this serious existential threat and ensure a strong, Jewish and democratic state.

A state that protects the rights of women, our LGBTQ community, and its Palestinian citizens and residents . A state that preserves religious freedom, a freedom that will deeply impacts the diaspora Jewish community and the Reform community in Israel. We love Israel And so we look forward to joining you on Thursday night for a peaceful, but noisy, demonstration. Let our voices be heard, loud and clear. This government must change course, to preserve our Jewish values and the unity of the Jewish people -- so that next year, we may all join together - inside of our building.


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