Last week was a tough one for liberal democracy in Israel. The Knesset passed the Nation-State Law, a slap in the face to non-Jewish Israelis (more on that elsewhere in NIF News), rejected an amendment to the Surrogacy Law that would have allowed surrogacy for same-sex couples, and passed the so-called “Breaking the Silence Law,” which would keep human rights organizations from speaking in public schools. And if that legislative parade of horribles wasn’t enough, Israeli police staged a pre-dawn raid on the home of a Conservative rabbi in Haifa, detaining and questioning him about his role in performing a non-Orthodox wedding.
In fact, the week was so bad that criticism poured in, even from sources usually disinclined to publicly chastise Israel. The head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism protested the rabbi’s treatment, tweeting: “Bet you didn’t know that performing a non-Orthodox wedding in Israel is punishable by 2 years in prison? And now with the new nation law, why wouldn’t we be worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic state?”
I was gratified to see that response. I’m glad to see that a growing number of people who care deeply about Israel are waking up to the real and present danger posed by those who would have Israel embrace and enshrine tribalism, xenophobia, and illiberalism, and exit the family of liberal democracies.
Last week was of course also heartbreaking for readers of this column, but for us it wasn’t a total surprise. We have been worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic state for some time now. We’ve watched as an ultra-nationalist ruling coalition has pursued policies and legislation aimed at remaking Israel into a country many of us – Israelis and supporters of Israel around the world alike – would no longer recognize as the country described in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. What’s more, we’ve been working hard supporting those Israelis trying to change that direction, to move their country back towards liberal democracy, pluralism, and shared society.
To those who are new to this fight, and to all of us, I say: we need you. And it’s not too late. But the time for hand-wringing, frustration, and despair is over. It is not enough. Resisting neo-authoritarianism in Israel, in the US, and around the world is the great task of our time. And make no mistake: nobody is riding to our rescue. We are going to have to do the hard work ourselves.
But the good news is, we are not alone. In Israel, the Surrogacy Law I described above triggered the largest mass demonstrations in Israel in years. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in defense of the LGBTQ community. It was, of course, only a start. But it was also a powerful reminder that the liberal democratic soul of Israel is alive. The Israelis who still believe in the Jewish and democratic values that animate Israel’s founding vision need our support, our encouragement, and our passionate engagement as they work to take back their country. In the difficult days ahead, we will continue to support them, and, just as importantly to let them know that they are not alone.
We are standing together, shoulder to shoulder.