International unrest

Speaking out about Israel’s judicial changes

The AJN spoke to a disparate group of people – all connected by their love of Israel – about the governing coalition’s planned courts overhaul.

Israeli lawyer and former Sydneysider
Nicole Maor, Rabbi Allison Conyer and Habonim mekasher Gabe Freund.
Israeli lawyer and former Sydneysider Nicole Maor, Rabbi Allison Conyer and Habonim mekasher Gabe Freund.

Immigration cut ‘would be a disaster’

FROM Israel, former Sydneysider Nicole Maor, approached by The AJN, lauded the Australian leadership’s statement and voiced fears for a weakened judiciary. “We’re talking about a massive change to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Maor, director of the Legal Aid Centre for Olim, who frequently appears before the Supreme Court in immigrant status cases, said removing the Law of Return’s “grandfather clause” – which would bar prospective olim with only a Jewish grandfather from aliyah – “would be a disaster for the Jewish world”, cutting off immigration of some of the strongest identifying Jews and consequently their families.

She predicted “a constitutional crisis” if judicial checks and balances are quashed. “The army and the police would have to decide – will they listen to the executive or the judiciary?”

On the eve of Purim, as almost 500,000 Israelis took part in protests, Maor, who made aliyah in 1989, noted she and other Israelis would gather in their thousands to recite Megillat Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Declaration of Independence) before reading Megillat Esther. She said the government “chose the wrong people to fight with because you can’t shut Israelis up”.

Emphatic that Diaspora Jews have a voice in this crisis, she said Israel “is supposed to be the home to all Jews around the world”. They have to speak out, she said, if they fear “a state they don’t feel that they can relate to”.

‘Uphold our values’

ADDRESSING a Melbourne protest rally against the Israeli law proposals last Sunday, the third rally in as many weeks, Rabbi Allison Conyer, chair of Progressive Judaism’s Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors, stated, “Some say that those of us – both Israelis and non-Israelis – who have chosen to live outside of Israel have no right to speak out against the Israeli government.

“I say, why then can we, as Jewish Australians, speak out against injustices in any other country around the world without being accused of betrayal or of threatening that country’s right to exist? Surely, fighting for a Jewish homeland to uphold our values is not just permissible, but obligatory.”

‘The courts have too much power’

Alex Goodman (left) with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in 2022.

THE Netanyahu Likud coalition “will have to start listening to what the [Israeli] people are saying” on the judiciary issue, said Alex Goodman, president of the Australian Friends of Likud. “President Herzog is the sensible one … they’re going to have to work out with him the best way forward.”

Goodman said he understands there is much dissension within Likud’s ranks over the direction taken by the current government.

“The courts have had too much power for too long, and it’s really been a closed club for too long in terms of appointing judges and the scope of their authority, and I think that does need to change and at the end of the day that will change,” he said.

The Knesset should have the power to overturn court rulings “but it might need something more than a simple majority”.

Asked about proposed changes to the Law of Return, Goodman said, “Practically it’s not going to make a huge difference but it’s probably not the most important priority at the moment.”

‘Concern, love for Israel’

THE Progressive Movement of Australia stated this week it “strongly supports the combined [ECAJ-ZFA] statement”.

The Union for Progressive Judaism, Australian Reform Zionist Association and Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors stated, “We too are deeply concerned with other proposals relating to our strong belief in religious pluralism and the Law of Return, which we view as representing our strong relationship and love for Eretz Yisrael.

“We in the Diaspora cherish Israel as a homeland for all Jews, and believe the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence are fundamental to the core of its existence.”

‘Consult Israelis about changes’

GABE Freund, who grew up in Perth before making aliyah in 2010, said the planned changes pose “the biggest existential challenge to the Jewish people, not Iran, not anything else”.

The Melbourne-based federal mekasher (coordinator) of Habonim, speaking for himself, said, “There are aspects of the reforms that have a legitimate basis, but the main concern for me is the way they’ve gone about it.

“It’s a pretty big change to the democratic system that’s held Israel together. Changes like that, without consulting the Israeli public, without any kind of referendum, are damaging to the basis of democracy.”

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