‘Unprecedented times’ for Israel

Hess described the proposal to make prospective olim with only a Jewish grandfather ineligible as "ridiculous, dangerous, anti-Zionist"

Yizhar Hess.
Yizhar Hess.

AS a 10th-generation Jerusalemite, Yizhar Hess does not criticise Israel lightly. “But I think we are at a time when we need – for the sake of Zion – to speak out loud,” the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) vice-chair has declared.

Set to address Melbourne’s Kehilat Nitzan and the Australian Masorti/Conservative community in a March 5 webinar, Hess this week told The AJN that proposed changes to Israel’s court system and to its Law of Return make for “unprecedented times in the history of the State of Israel”.

Hess condemned plans for the Knesset to usurp the role of Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee – comprising government officials, judges and the bar association – in appointing and dismissing Supreme Court judges. And he lamented a planned override of the court’s rulings by a simple majority of MKs, replacing compliance with the Basic Law as the test.

He pointed out that in the three decades since the Supreme Court was given the power to cancel laws not in accordance with the Basic Law, only 22 Knesset laws have been cancelled, small by world standards.

Hess described the proposal to make prospective olim with only a Jewish grandfather ineligible as “ridiculous, dangerous, anti-Zionist”, curbing Israel’s growth and alienating Diaspora Jews.

The 1950 Law of Return, he said, “was passed unanimously because it was obvious that if one could have been sent to Auschwitz because of a grandfather or grandmother, then in a Jewish and democratic state, each Jew who could have been sent to Auschwitz would have a home here”.

The WZO, along with Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel, have signed a letter to the government, demanding it abandon plans to change the Law of Return and the status of non-Orthodox converts for the purposes of aliyah.

Some 30 per cent of Israelis and 10 per cent of Diaspora Jews consider themselves Orthodox, said Hess. “I have lots of respect for Orthodox Judaism … but who would think one segment of the Jewish people has the right to dictate what is Judaism?”

Hess was executive director of Masorti in Israel before starting his WZO role. He said Masorti and the Progressive movement are part of a “plurality of different voices” within Israel resisting the changes.

Fearing that in its 75th anniversary year, Israel could subside into a “semi-democracy”, Hess said, “We didn’t go through this long journey of 126 years from the First Zionist Congress in Basel in order not to be a Jewish and democratic state.”

Yizhar Hess, WZO vice-chair,

will address Kehilat Nitzan in a webinar on the topic, “Jews Can’t

Stay Quiet on Israel” on Sunday,

March 5, 7pm. Register at


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