The 75th anniversary of the day Israel declared its independence should be a time for celebration. This small nation has weathered so many challenges, and today is facing a barrage of attacks on various fronts, and it is still thriving.
But while it is a time of celebration, it is also a time filled with complexity and even anguish. Like so many others, I have been watching the protests play out night after night on streets across Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are marching every week in a nonviolent manner, waving Israeli flags.
As one recent article put it, the recent controversy over proposed judicial reforms has led some American Jews to “drift away” from Israel.
While I do not agree with the proposed reforms, I’m not drifting away from Israel. These protests are a sign of hope, not despair. These protests show the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy and the patriotism of Israel’s people. These protests do not represent the failure of Zionism – they represent nothing less than the triumph of Zionism. The triumph of the modern, Jewish, democratic state.
It’s beautiful to see these protesters are not violent, but joyful; not extremist, but patriotic. And this can only happen in a democracy where people can march without the worry of being arrested, as we see in Turkey, or without fear of being murdered by authorities, as we see in Iran.
Democratic debates are essential to the future of every free nation. In a democratic system, people push back when they are confronted with anti-democratic policies. This is true in the US, and it is true in Israel. Then compromise is found.
It happened in Philadelphia in 1776. And I hope it happens in 2023. Leaders in Israel should follow President Isaac Herzog’s lead to sit down and hammer out a compromise – one that builds on and strengthens democracy in Israel.
After all, the Jewish people know the importance of modern democracy. Places where ideas flow freely, institutions uphold norms, rational discourse reigns, and rights are protected by laws and upheld by leaders are places in which Jews have flourished.
This debate is part of democracy
SO, WHILE the situation in Israel may be disturbing to Jews around the world, it’s important to recognize how this debate is part of democracy. It’s also important for others not to confuse the criticism about where the current government may take Israel with our losing faith in Israel itself.
Antisemites – especially those who style themselves as anti-Zionists – are eager to use this discord as an argument against the existence of Israel itself. For them, they want to make this Independence Day Israel’s last. These extremists use the judicial reform controversy as justification for demonizing the Jewish state.
For instance, the BDS movement recently published a list of reasons to boycott Israel, pointing to the judicial reforms and protests as “proof” of Israeli “apartheid.”
But it is not inconsistent to both call out policies and support Israel. It is inconsistent when people say that because of those policies, Israel shouldn’t exist – just as people can criticize American policies without any hint of disputing that America should exist.
We must not lose sight of the miracle of the Jewish, democratic state. And we must not be afraid to show our love for Israel by fighting for a better Israel. Israel has been a refuge for Jews from around the world, especially those facing antisemitism, for 75 years.
Its democracy has distinguished it among its neighbors, and has been a true “light unto the nations.” As we celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday, let’s hope that its democracy remains vibrant, withstands efforts to undermine it and thrives for generations to come.
The writer is CEO and national director of ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).