J Street calls on American Jews, PM, Knesset to stand against discriminatory legislation

May 27, 2009

Update: J Street welcomes the Israeli ministerial legislative committee’s rejection of Yisrael Beiteinu’s loyalty oath bill, as well as the Cabinet’s amendment of a bill to prohibit any government funds from being used for events marking the “Nakba” (rather than banning commemorations altogether). As other legislative proposals aimed at limiting the civil and democratic rights of Israel’s citizens come under consideration, we hope that Israeli lawmakers will stand up for their country’s democratic and Jewish values. Today, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami issued the following statement:

J Street is deeply troubled by legislative proposals under active consideration in Israel to dramatically limit the civil and democratic rights of Israeli citizens.  Once merely the pipe dreams of Israel’s ultra-nationalist right-wing, today they are moving forward with alarming speed in both the Israeli Cabinet and in the Knesset. Just today, a law passed its first reading in the Knesset aimed at limiting the free speech rights of Israel’s citizens.  Another proposal working its way through the process would condition citizenship rights on pledging loyalty to Israel as a Jewish, Zionist state.  Others would further limit free expression and constrain democracy. What was months ago just the racist campaign platform of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party (and secured only 15 of the Knesset’s 120 seats) is now an active legislative agenda for a range of right-wing parties, being advanced in the Knesset. These proposals threaten not just the health of Israel’s democracy but the soul of the Jewish people.  Targeting the Arab Israeli minority for discriminatory treatment and punishment is anti-democratic, offends basic Jewish values, and threatens to undermine Israel’s own national interest. Israel’s democracy, founded with a strong commitment to full civil rights for all its citizens enshrined in the country’s Declaration of Independence, has been a source of great pride for Jews around the world and is a prime reason why Americans have been so proud to support the special U.S.-Israel relationship that we have so deeply valued for 61 years.  Democracy can be painful as can dissent – but both are essential to the health of Israel and of the Jewish people. The Lieberman agenda threatens not simply to undermine the country’s democratic heritage, but also the Jewish and democratic values that form the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. During the recent election campaign, J Street expressed grave concern over the racist and hateful campaign that Avigdor Lieberman rode into the Foreign Minister’s office.  Now that Lieberman and his allies are poised to fulfill his racist campaign pledges, we renew our call on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Knesset to stand up for the values and principles that unite Jews around the world and to prevent these proposals from becoming law. We also reiterate our call for all organizations and individuals in this country who care about Israel’s future, its democracy and its Jewish character to speak out forcefully against the Lieberman agenda. We commend Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League for likening the loyalty oath to McCarthyism and calling it discriminatory.  Further statements from American Jewish leaders are needed to help Israel’s far-right understand that these proposals are out-of-bounds and unacceptable to nearly all American Jews. No less than the foundations of Israel’s democracy and the soul of the Jewish people are at risk.