Protest for Israeli Democracy

Rabbi Noah Diamondstein’s Remarks from the UnXeptable Protest on Sunday, March 26, 2023

Almost my entire life has been spent in relationship to Israel. Learning the story of this nation, of my People’s resilience in the face of ultimate tragedy and deadly odds, captured my heart and mind. As I grew and came to grasp the history of violence against us, both in our homeland and that followed us wherever we migrated, I grew even more mindful of the importance of Israel for the security of the Jewish future… 

But just like Israel was a dream come true, the Jewish future that Israel secured was also dream-like. It was the dream of the Jewish future in Israel articulated in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Today, thanks to the Netanyahu coalition’s overreaching attempts at a legal coup d’etat, that dream is in jeopardy:

“THE STATE OF ISRAEL,” the Declaration said, “will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles;”

—The rhetoric of members of this government and the policies pushed by that rhetoric threatens the Jewish status of thousands of Jews embraced by liberal Judaism around the world. So many of our people dispersed around the world today would never choose to move to Bibi’s Israel, and still others would be prohibited from trying.

“…it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants;”

—There is no denying the strides liberal Judaism, the LGBTQ+ community, and the Israeli Arab community have made in Israeli society, but so much government policy that treats them like second-class citizens still exists as a roadblock to this part of the Israeli dream, and under this government these roadblocks and repressions will only worsen.

“…it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel;” 

—The prophets’ vision of a peaceful world was always a radical vision. It was their responsibility to call out the Kings of Israel for their hypocrisy, and today we stand together to do the same.

“…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;”

—If the so-called-reforms of the Israeli judiciary are enacted, the court will become a cudgel for keeping anyone other than a dati-leumi (religious Zionist) Orthodox Jew in a position of powerlessness. We already have seen many times Bibi’s willingness to ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court entirely, and if he has his way the Court will become a tool for his government’s particular brand of tyranny.  

“…it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions;”

—Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and their allies have been all but transparent in their disrespect for non-Jewish holy sites and their desire to change the status quo at the Temple Mount.

At every turn and opportunity this coalition has shown us who they are. They are squandering the dream that was Israel’s democracy in favor of the nightmare of a dictatorship with a democratic facade.

We gather today to do teshuvah as a community, and to give tochechah to those in Israel’s government who are willing to stand by and allow democracy to crumble. We gather to say that this coalition should be ashamed, and that they have brought shame upon us all.

But more than that, we gather today because we are still proud believers in the dream of Israel. We believe in the beauty of a multi-cultural Israel. We believe that Israel can be both Jewish and Democratic and that to abandon either of those principles is to abandon the project of Zionism. We believe that liberal Judaism has a place in the Jewish State and that the voice of the Progressive Jewish community will be a powerful force for good in our homeland. We believe in defending the rights of all who live within Israel’s borders, and we believe in our capacity to treat our neighbors with dignity even as we defend ourselves. 

As we stand here today, that Israel may only be a dream, but to paraphrase Zionism’s founding father, “it is no dream if we will it!”