Orly Erez Likhovski

Letter to an American friend

I have only now found the time to sit down and write to you about the new reality we are facing in Israel. Fighting this new government, who has been sworn in less than a month ago, has kept me busy beyond belief. This government, led by Netanyahu, poses a direct threat to Israel. This is a situation like no time before and I know that you share my concerns.

I fear that your impulse could be to turn away from Israel. I am writing to you to say we need you now more than ever.

As part of the new government’s establishment, Netanyahu signed agreements with his extreme, racist, misogynistic and homophobic partners that include a mass of troubling undertakings, many of which endanger the rights of liberal Jews, Arabs, women, and LGBTQ.

But the government’s first order of businesses is the most dangerous of all: a legal coup.

During the last weeks, the government unveiled a constitutional amendment – which it intends to promote in a hasty manner, to give politicians complete control over the nomination of Supreme Court justices, make it impossible for the Court to strike down laws or intervene in governmental decisions, allow the government to disregard the legal opinion of the Attorney General, and empower the Knesset to override the Supreme Court’s decision by a simple majority.

Should these bills be enacted, Israel will have no protection of human rights, no separation of powers, and no checks and balances on the government’s power. It will be pure majority rule, endangering the lives of minorities and destroying the very fabric of Israeli democracy

This means that the Knesset could decide to outlaw liberal Judaism, to enforce complete gender segregation in the public sphere, to deny LGBTQ rights, to disenfranchise Arabs and to abolish future elections completely.

This is the issue that is bringing Israelis of all political backgrounds in the last week to the streets to demonstrate. We must win this battle — for the defense of Israeli democracy. And we need your help.

IRAC’s many legal battles have won victories — but without an independent judiciary to go to, our fate will be left to the extremists. For instance, the Supreme Court upheld our class action suit against an ultra-Orthodox radio station that completely refused to allow any women to be heard on-air and ordered the station to pay one million NIS in damages. Thanks to our petitions, Reform and Conservative rabbis and synagogues have been funded by the state and Jerusalem’s main LGBTQ organization has been funded by the Jerusalem municipality. We convinced the court to disqualify racist candidates from running for the Knesset.

Now, there are ministers in this government who want to take away the rights we have already won and to make it nearly impossible for Reform and liberal Judaism to grow and thrive in Israel. Imagine this — the largest Jewish denomination will have to fight for its very existence in the Jewish state.

We will not give up, we will continue to fight — alongside hundreds of thousands of Israelis — in the courts, in the Knesset, in the media and in the streets for an Israel that lives up to the promises of its Declaration of Independence.

But the fight is not ours alone. Don’t give up on us. We need you now more than ever. We need you — and many, many more like you — to raise a voice to make sure Israel remains a democracy. Demand your rightful place in our fight together for Klal Yisrael.

This is the time to make sure everyone joins the fight. That every Jewish organization voices opposition to these dangerous steps. That every Israeli embassy and consulate know that you are against the initiatives which will gravely harm Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

At this time, no one should remain silent. There has never been a more urgent time.

About the Author
Orly Erez Likhovski is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of the Israeli Reform movement.
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