Israel’s Crisis Must Be Our Call to Action

Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street President
on February 13, 2023

For fifteen years, J Street has been warning of the dire threat posed to the future of Israel — its democracy, its values and its security — by the agenda of far-right ultranationalists and religious zealots.

We have spoken out about these looming threats because we care so deeply about the state and the people of Israel who are our family, our friends and our colleagues.

We’ve centered our work opposing settlements, demolitions and creeping annexation precisely on the point that never-ending occupation will ultimately take a toll on the occupier, not just on the occupied — and will lead to the erosion of Israel’s very democracy itself.

Sadly, the far-right — and the settlement movement at its core — that has single-mindedly pursued permanent control over the West Bank and dominance over the Palestinian people is now firmly in control of the government of Israel. Since taking office six weeks ago, they are moving at lightning speed to enact their agenda, threatening to make Israel unrecognizable to millions of Jews and others in the United States who care deeply about the country and its people, and who believe in the democratic values on which it was founded.

The actions now being taken by Israel’s government make its agenda clear to see: To ensure the coalition’s founding commitment to undemocratic control over all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, they are advancing plans to undermine the very legal and democratic foundations of the state.

The so-called “judicial reform” package under Knesset consideration should be understood as part and parcel of the right’s annexationist agenda.

Thankfully, Israelis are taking to the streets to fight for their democracy and the rule of law. Former Prime Ministers, security chiefs and Supreme Court justices — and even the current President of Israel — are sounding the alarm. They understand that this is the most vital inflection point in Israel’s 75 years, one that will fundamentally shape the country going forward.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the streets, striking and protesting against the government’s plans, fills us with pride. J Street stands with the protesters in our commitment to the State of Israel and the values on which it was founded.

Here in the US, many Jewish communal and pro-Israel leaders have been slower to respond to these radical developments than we would have hoped. Perhaps some of these leaders held out hope that the worst would not come to pass. Some feared their critiques might be counterproductive. Others said that, even though US support has been vital to Israel’s development and survival, it is somehow inappropriate — even now — for Jewish Americans to criticize the policies of the Israeli government, or for the US government to meaningfully oppose those policies.

There is no longer any room or time for hesitation or excuses.


Join us in calling on the Biden Administration to make clear red lines when it comes to the extreme actions of Netanyahu's far-right government.

As Sunday’s cabinet meeting made clear, the government is moving full speed ahead: Advancing anti-democratic legislation that strikes at the core of the country’s commitment to the rule of law, legalizing illegal outposts, planning to expand settlements drastically, and transforming how the territory occupied in 1967 is administered.

These changes must be called what they are: De facto annexation of occupied Palestinian territory and a subversion of Israel’s democracy.

It is the moral and historic obligation of the leaders of American Jewish institutions to speak out clearly and immediately to challenge the actions being taken by this government.

Policymakers too must act. The Biden Administration must make clear to Israel — as a longtime and very close ally — that it will no longer stand in the way when the international community moves to hold Israel accountable under international law for its actions. Congress and the President must finally start to exercise far greater oversight to ensure that no US arms or taxpayer dollars are being used to further Israel’s de facto and illegal annexation of occupied territory.

To be pro-Israel in 2023 means standing with the hundreds of thousands of brave Israelis taking to the streets to defend their democracy. It means fighting to preserve the values that underpin the US-Israel relationship. It means standing up against the nightmare of permanent occupation and conflict.

Most importantly, it means confronting the troubling reality that, today, one of the greatest threats to Israel comes from the extremism of its own government.

I’ll be heading to Israel and the West Bank myself this week with a large delegation of Members of Congress and J Street leaders. I’ll be sure to share further thoughts with you on how things look from the region — and how our movement can continue to struggle for the better future we believe in.

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