We call for dialogue
The Jewish and Zionist communal leadership of Australia this week issued a historically rare call for an Israeli government to change course.
As mass protests in Israel against the governing coalition’s judicial reforms entered their ninth straight week, the Jewish and Zionist communal leadership of Australia this week issued a historically rare call for an Israeli government to change course.
Joining forces, the public entreaty to the Israeli government by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) – issued in English and Hebrew – urged Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition to embrace genuine dialogue over highly controversial changes planned for the country’s judicial system, and over proposed legislation affecting pluralism and the Law of Return.
The statement made headlines in Israel, alongside appeals from other world Jewish communities, as Israeli protests surged – some 160,000 demonstrating in Tel Aviv alone this past weekend – and Israeli expats and Australian Jews held rallies in Melbourne.
“The Australian Jewish community is a deeply Zionist community. Israel is at the core of our Jewish identity and a focus of our schools, youth movements, synagogues, communal institutions and, in many cases, our family connections,” the statement from ECAJ president Jillian Segal and ZFA president Jeremy Leibler read.
“We celebrate Israel’s successes and achievements … We defend Israel against the irrational hatred that is sadly increasingly pervasive throughout the world. We recognise and respect that, being in the Diaspora, we have different rights.”
However, they stated, “It is from this position of unconditional love and connection that we express our serious concern at the governing coalition’s proposals to make fundamental changes to the relationship between the Knesset and the judiciary with undue haste and in the absence of broad-based public support. We also view with deep concern other proposals in relation to religious pluralism and the Law of Return that risk damaging Israel’s precious and unique relationship with Diaspora Jewry.
“We call on the governing coalition to heed the call from Israeli President Isaac Herzog for genuine dialogue, based on his five principles for judicial reform, and to pause all of these controversial proposals so that constructive dialogue can occur and a national consensus can begin to emerge.”
Segal told The AJN the statement was drafted after consultation with a broad range of ECAJ-affiliated national organisations spanning religious, political and ideological beliefs. These and other discussions made it clear that a statement addressing the Israeli government’s proposals was needed.
Emphasising the Australian leadership “is asking the Israeli government to listen to the President”, Segal said, “Of course it’s unusual but it’s a very important issue which goes to the heart of Israeli democracy … something that affects us as Jews in the Diaspora because we always value and refer to Israel as the great democracy in the Middle East.
“It’s good that we found such broad consensus about wanting to support Israel while at the same time conveying our concerns and encouraging the very wise position of the President to be looked at,” she said.
Leibler said while the decision to make the statement “wasn’t taken lightly”, there was “a clear, broad consensus” for it.
“It wasn’t the usual left-right debate. I was extremely proud that we as a community could have a conversation, 60-70 people, that was respectful, polite, diverse, and ultimately reach a broad census.”
The statement, he said, was in part prompted by the joint letter to the Netanyahu government by the World Zionist Organisation, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel urging a more cautious approach, by President Herzog’s call for genuine dialogue and by former PM Naftali Bennett’s call for moderation – and urging the Diaspora to speak up – while in Australia last week.