Dear Friends,

As you are no doubt aware, there is currently intense debate in Israel surrounding potential reforms to Israel's judicial system, especially on matters related to the relative power of the Knesset vs the Supreme Court. We have previously sent information regarding the arguments put forward by the proponents and opponents of the reforms.

There are a growing number of experts taking the position that some changes to the current system are needed, but that the bills submitted by the governing coalition are too far reaching. See, for example, articles on the matter written by the director of the Jewish People Policy Institute, Professor Yedidya Stern, as well as Dr. Shuki Friedman, the Israel Democracy Institute’s Yohanan Plesner, and former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The Jewish Federation system is a supporter of the Jewish People Policy Institute, and we have partnered with the Israel Democracy Institute in a series of informative webinars on the issues that the new government in Israel have brought to the forefront (See our recent webinars on the new Government, the LGBTQ community, and the Law of Return).

This issue will be also be among the topics we delve into in-depth at our Israel at 75 General Assembly in April. 

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, in a public address last week, expressed deep concern over how the issue was dividing Israeli society: "This charged issue is on the verge of exploding…. This is a time of emergency, and the responsibility is ours. We must strive for broad agreements and not for forced submission. Playing a zero-sum game threatens us all, because whoever demands surrender today - will be forced to surrender tomorrow.”

Herzog added: “My firm position is that the foundations of the Israeli democracy – including the judicial system, human rights, and freedoms - are sacred, and we must protect them - as well as the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence… It is permissible and appropriate to criticize each of the state's authorities, and it is important to understand the depth of the frustration, anger and pain that is behind the criticism of the judiciary… It is legitimate to discuss the boundaries and relationships between the authorities - just as democracies around the world do. But through dialogue. By listening.”

Herzog said he had spent the last few weeks trying to mediate between the sides, and while he admitted that he was not sure his mediation efforts would succeed, he has said that he is not willing to give up and that he hoped that the sides would reach a middle ground.

Meanwhile, numerous other concerned voices have emerged. These have included high-tech workers, former legal officials, well-known conservative political figures, former senior government officials, traditional pro-Israel stalwarts calling for North American Jewish intervention, and the current and former governors of the Bank of Israel (equivalent of the US Federal Reserve). The Prime Minister has publicly dismissed economic concerns. At the same time, yesterday, Israel’s Attorney General said that the Prime Minister could not be involved in promoting the reforms, due to a conflict of interest since he is currently on trial. Finally, the controversy is starting to reach the international arena. See the comments by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to Israel last week, the comments of French President Macron to Prime Minister Netanyahu during the Prime Minister’s visit to Paris, and the internal report of the influential bank JP Morgan in New York.

In the coming weeks, discussions and debates on these issues will continue in Israel, as the proposed reforms take their first steps through the legislative process. Jewish Federations of North America are keeping a close watch on this issue and will update as needed. Our Board of Trustees will also be discussing this issue at our Board meeting this Sunday and Monday, February 5th and 6th. If you are a board member and have not yet registered for the meeting, please contact Adina Schwartz. For more information on the new government, see our up to date resources page.

Shabbat Shalom,

Julie Platt, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO



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