Major American Jewish organization warns against judicial overhaul, urges unity

JFNA says a bare 61-seat Knesset majority overruling the Supreme Court would affect its Diaspora community, without explaining how.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A major American Jewish organization criticized Israel’s hotly contested judicial reform, saying it would affect its community, without explaining how it could do so.

In an open letter sent Tuesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition leader Yair Lapid, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) urged the leaders “to make clear that a majority of just sixty-one votes of the Knesset is not sufficient to override a decision of the Supreme Court.”

“The essence of democracy is both majority rule and protection of minority rights. We recognize that any system of checks and balances will be different than those in our own countries, but such a dramatic change to the Israeli system of governance will have far-reaching consequences in North America, both within the Jewish community and in the broader society,” the missive continued.

No specific consequences to Diaspora Jews were mentioned, however.

The letter, which assured Israeli leaders of JFNA’s “deep and abiding love” and “unconditional and eternal support” for Israel, also asked that the country’s leadership negotiate regarding the judicial reforms as a whole as per the proposals of President Isaac Herzog, who “has the respect and admiration of Jews around the world, as do both of you.”

“Whatever the final resolution of these issues, this process will ensure that the views of all stakeholders are fully considered,” it added.

In a follow-up tweet describing the letter, JFNA chair Julie Platt called the current override proposal a “major issue,” one that “affect[s] the northern American Jewish community,” but again without saying why.

UPDATE: This morning, after we delivered a letter to @netanyahu & @yairlapid regarding the judicial reform debate, Netanyahu called for dialogue & Lapid responded that he agreed with our principles. Here’s Chair Julie Platt’s response:

— The Jewish Federations of North America (@jfederations) February 21, 2023

She credited Netanyahu for his statement Tuesday, issued “hours after we sent the letter.”

“It is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us,” Netanyahu said.

Lapid, Platt added, said he agreed with JFNA’s message, although he rejected Netanyahu’s overture.

Citing the gap between the coalition’s desire to negotiate without preconditions and the Opposition’s demand to freeze the legislative process while talks ensue, Platt said, “Surely this difference can be overcome in the interest of the essential unity of the Jewish people….

“There is nothing more important than Jews of differing views sitting together to discuss our differences. With God’s help, let that begin now.”

Unity is a theme Platt has sounded before.

At a JFNA board meeting earlier this month, she decried “inappropriate, intemperate and frankly outrageous statements made by both proponents and opponents of the new governing coalition, and the proposals it is advancing.”

She also called “unacceptable” any calls for violence based on political views, saying, “We cannot allow even the vaguest suggestion that such action is merited as a response to this government to go unanswered.”

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