My Pro-Israel: The Judicial Crisis and Beyond

Sam Berkman, National Director of Communal Relations
on March 20, 2023

Like many within the pro-Israel community recently, I have been both extremely worried about the major threats looming over Israel’s democracy and proud of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have impressively been rallying for weeks (as pictured above) in protest of the measures being considered in the Knesset.

Many of those Israelis marching the streets, feeling the danger and urgency of the moment, have called upon us–their American allies–to raise our own voices and sound the alarm. And many of us have done just that: organizing our own rallies, penning opinion pieces, signing petitions, and publicly considering what are the next steps for us as Americans–in particular Jewish Americans–if Israel adopts these anti-democratic policies.

Across the American Jewish community, we have been having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, wrestling with what our relationships with and support for Israel will look like should its democratic safeguards be stricken from its laws and our shared values be stifled by the empowered extremists of Israeli society.

These are challenging issues for a community that once thought this present moment and the resulting considerations were unfathomable. They are questions with which we will continue to struggle as deliberations continue in Israel over a fate that is not yet sealed.

And yet, should these anti-democratic proposals be defeated and Israel’s judicial checks remain intact, the threats to Israeli democracy will not have disappeared. However the current debate ends–when the headlines fade and the protesters disperse–we as Jewish Americans, along with our Israeli brothers and sisters, must remain vigilant and acknowledge that the occupation of the Palestinian territories continues to weaken Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundation–even if not in a dramatic and fast-paced fashion as these proposed judicial “reforms.”

The threats to Israel posed by the occupation are rising incrementally and are unlikely to have a clearly defined culmination, per design by the occupation’s proponents. This, however, does not absolve us as a community from speaking out and taking action–for when the undemocratic policies some day become inseparable from the fabric of Israeli society, we will look back and ask ourselves when it was that the tipping point was reached. And it will be too late.

In recent weeks, responding to the current situation, we have seen Jewish American leaders declaring that “American Jews must not be bullied out of their beliefs,” pushing for US intervention. They have made clear that “statements of concern are not enough,” recognizing that now is the time for action. They have urged us to “lobby our elected representatives” against the Israeli government for Israel’s sake, going so far as to hint that US aid to Israel will be called into question should Israel turn its back on democracy.

These are not easy nor joyful comments to make. Nonetheless, for those of us who are committed to the survival of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people not just at this juncture but for the long term, we must apply these same considerations to the occupation.

Along the way we may attract objection and hurtful criticism from other supporters of the US-Israel relationship for calling out the Israeli government. Indeed, doing so can make us uncomfortable. But as a community we must acknowledge that relationships are reciprocal. And threats to the US-Israel relationship, to our shared values, can emanate from either side. As true supporters of that relationship, it is incumbent upon us to call out those threats—whatever they may be, from wherever they may originate.

This is how I put my values into action as a Jewish American. This is my pro-Israel.

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