Israel, Palestine, and Democracy: Thoughts from Clark’s J Street Chapter

Just a few weeks ago, my great-uncle, who lives in Herzliya, Israel, sent our family a political cartoon mocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a selfie of him and my great-aunt at protests against the Israeli Supreme Court overhauls. They joined hundreds of thousands of their fellow Israelis standing up for democracy against Israel’s far-right government. My heart brimmed with pride that not only did my Israeli family share my concerns about the state of Israel, but they were taking to the streets to make their voices heard.

I am alarmed by the direction Netanyahu’s newly-formed government has taken in undercutting Israeli democracy. Netanyahu has proposed an overhaul of the judicial system that would allow parliament to overturn Israeli Supreme Court decisions. The Court operates independently, serving as a check on the executive branch and the parliament. Its independence is a cornerstone of the Israeli political system, and subordinating it to the executive would move Israel towards authoritarianism.

The judicial overhaul would not only shake the foundations of Israel’s young democracy: it would allow the government to pursue annexation of the West Bank. The Supreme Court is, according to author Barak Ravid, one of the few Israeli institutions that can check the military’s and right-wing organizations’ power to expand settlements and evict Palestinians from their homes. For example, Nir Hasson of Haaretz reported that the Supreme Court recently ruled to allow the Palestinian Sumarin family to remain in their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. This ruling ended a 32-year-long effort by the Jewish National Fund and the right-wing settler group Elad to evict the Sumarins from their family home to expand the City of David settlement. Under the government’s proposed changes, the parties in power could simply overrule the Court’s decision and put the Sumarin family out on the street despite the law.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Michael Bachner wrote in The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s government makes no secret of its ambitions to formalize Israeli rule over occupied territory. Already, according to Ravid, the new government has “legalized” outposts of settlers deep in the West Bank and transferred control of affairs inside occupied territory to self-proclaimed “racist” and “fascist” Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, which Bachner reported on in January. These moves violate international law and are part of a process of “de facto annexation,” where Israel deepens its control over occupied territory in ways that make the possibility of a future viable Palestinian state less and less possible.

These overhauls are a crisis for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and the Clark community should not stay silent. One of the most significant ways you can support a better future is to learn more about Israel and Palestine and continue the anti-occupation conversation in your community. Join us in standing up for democracy and fighting occupation by getting involved with J Street U Clark. Our educational and advocacy-based events highlight the every day realities Israelis and Palestinians face and how we, as Americans, have a role in ending the conflict and promoting justice, equality, and peace.

I call upon my Jewish community to join me in denouncing the attacks on Israel’s democracy and on the safety and human rights of Palestinians. As Jews, many of us feel strong personal connections to Israel and hope to see it maintain a democratic character. Israel must embody Jewish values of democracy and expressing love for our neighbors. By calling upon our members of Congress and the Biden Administration to take push back firmly on the far-right agenda of the Netanyahu government, we can work towards a future where Israeli and Palestinian rights, Israeli democracy, and our values are all secure.