On Wednesday morning March 15 I was one of about two dozen rabbis who met with Ambassador Michael Herzog at the Embassy of Israel to discuss our concerns about the proposed basket of legislation known by its proponents as the “Judicial Reform” and its opponents as the “Judicial Upheaval.” This past Sunday, March 26, many of these same rabbis, myself included, participated in a demonstration in front of the Embassy of Israel in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who eventually succeeded in forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu to press “hold” on the “Judicial Upheaval” at least until May. This show of solidarity was organized by Israelis living in the DC area and almost all of those in attendance with the exception of local rabbis who were invited were Israeli.
It occurred to me as I headed into DC on Sunday morning that these two events at the same location in some way epitomize the uniqueness of our relationship to Israel as Diaspora Jews. We understand that our destiny is intertwined with the destiny of Israel. Israelis understand this as well, and Israelis across the political spectrum look to their American cousins for support in their struggles. The Israeli Embassy explains Israel to Americans and explains American attitudes to the Israeli government. Rabbis are often called upon to explain Israel to their congregants and when the Israeli Embassy is doing its job well, it also meets with local rabbis as part of its efforts to understand the attitudes of American Jews.
It’s also important to understand, as many of the speakers on Sunday said, that the demonstration in front of the Embassy of Israel was not in any way a demonstration against Israel. Most of us, myself included, were waving Israeli flags -- just like most of those participating in the massive demonstrations in Israel. We were demonstrating in favor of the vision of the Israeli Declaration of Independence: THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” We were demonstrating in support of the words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, mentor of Menachem Begin and of Benzion Netanyahu (the Prime Minister’s father): “It is an incorrect view which states that government supported by the majority is democracy… . Even a government of majority rule can negate freedom; and where there are no guarantees for freedom of the individual, there can be no democracy . . .the aim of democracy is to guarantee that the minority too has influence on matters of state policy.”
This past week was a historic one for the State of Israel. It remains to be seen how all of this will play out. Demonstrations continue both in Israel and throughout the world, as the “Judicial Upheaval” bills have been delayed but can still be revived. Meanwhile negotiations continue with a view towards a more moderate judicial reform that the overwhelming majority of Israelis might be able to accept. Let us hope and pray that these negotiations are carried out in good faith under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog, and that peace and democracy will prevail.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian