(JTA) — A delegation of U.S. Jewish federation leaders is lobbying in Israel against the government’s planned overhaul of the judiciary, a rare step that underscores the degree to which the proposed changes have rattled the U.S. Jewish establishment.
The delegation came to Israel for 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, and includes representatives of more than 30 U.S. Jewish communities. The delegation met with lawmakers from the governing coalition as well as the parliamentary opposition. Their main focus was on a proposal that would allow a simple majority of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to override Supreme Court rulings.
A statement from the Jewish Federations of North America, which is organizing the trip, singled out “the threats this proposal could have on Israel’s checks and balances and in safeguarding minority rights.” The delegation, the statement said, “also voiced concerns over the implications that this reform may have on government support for Israel in North America.”
Israel’s Supreme Court has acted as a bulwark safeguarding the rights of vulnerable populations — including women, LGBTQ Israelis and Arab Israelis. The proposal to sap the courts of much of their power and independence has drawn sharp criticism from a range of establishment American Jewish organizations and public figures with reputations as defenders of Israel, as well as Democrats in the United States, including President Joe Biden. Protests against the proposed changes have, for months, brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets across Israel.
Defenders of the proposed changes say the courts have been afforded the unwarranted power to overturn laws passed by the Knesset, and that the reform will allow the country’s government to better reflect the will of Israel’s right-wing majority.
The trip is notable because the federation system — whose local branches aim to act as representatives of their local Jewish communities — has historically avoided criticism of Israeli government actions. Last month, the federations’ umbrella organization took the extraordinary step of writing to Israeli political leaders to oppose the override legislation and to urge compromise.
A federation official speaking on background said one concern is that the organized Jewish community in the United States is at the forefront of defending rights for LGBTQ people, ethnic and religious minorities and women. Critics say the proposed reforms threaten to erode those rights in Israel.
The delegation comprised representatives from the federations’ national leadership as well as from large and small communities. Metropolitan areas and states that were represented include New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Cleveland, San Francisco, Rochester, New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Hartford, Connecticut, Nashville, Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis.