President of Israel Isaac Herzog greets S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation CEO Joy Sisisky during a multi-Federation mission to Israel, March 2023. (Photo/Courtesy Federation)
President of Israel Isaac Herzog greets S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation CEO Joy Sisisky during a multi-Federation mission to Israel, March 2023. (Photo/Courtesy Federation)

S.F.-based Federation’s Joy Sisisky joins delegation to lobby in Israel against planned judicial overhaul

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Joy Sisisky, head of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, traveled to Israel this week as part of a delegation of leaders from North American federations. They were there to lobby 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.

“Today, as Israel faces unprecedented threats to core values, the pillars of democracy and human rights that are foundational to a democratic and Jewish state of Israel, it is our responsibility to stand up for those beliefs,” Sisisky said in a statement. “I am honored to be here in this pivotal moment in history to show our support with deep and abiding love for Israel.”

Representatives from more than 30 U.S. Jewish communities came to Israel for a 24-hour fly-in on Tuesday and Wednesday, meeting 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, drawn hundreds of thousands of people in Israel. American Jews have also taken to the streets to voice their dismay with the plans.

Even staunch Zionists, usually reliable in their support of Israeli government policy, are expressing concern.

Jordan Hymowitz
Jordan Hymowitz

In March, Jordan Hymowitz, who considers himself an ardent Zionist, told J. the political situation in Israel could “permanently and irrevocably negatively” change how his hedge fund invests.

“I won’t make another Israeli investment,” Hymowitz told J., referring to the millions of dollars his S.F.-based firm, Philadelphia Financial Management, has staked in Israel, especially in the banking and financial sectors.

“There’s very little chance I would invest in any of those companies again,” he said. “I don’t want Israeli exposure again.”

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.

The S.F-based Federation co-signed that letter and, on Feb. 27, issued a joint statement with the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area. The statement noted that “the most right-wing governing coalition in Israel’s 75-year history” has provoked reactions of alarm and anxiety “about the coalition’s more extreme members, whose track records of homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and anti-Arab racism stand in stark contrast to our beliefs and values.”

Also on the trip were representatives from New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Cleveland, Rochester, New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Hartford, Connecticut, Nashville, Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis.

A federation official speaking on background to JTA 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.

Susie Sorkin, a board member of the S.F.-based Federation, also joined the delegation.

“In 24 hours, we met with Israeli leaders from politics and the high-tech industry, expressing our views, concerns, and love,” she said. “They appreciated our presence and were thoughtful in our discussions. Representing our community’s voices was a privilege, and I’m cautiously hopeful as I return home.”

JTA

Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.