Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Israeli government's planned judicial reforms, Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)
Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Israeli government's planned judicial reforms, Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)

Israeli pro-democracy protests should include Palestinian rights issues

Many groups have united in organizing protests against the right-wing Israeli government’s plans for “judicial reform” — human rights organizations, women’s rights groups, retired military officers and others. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have participated every weekend in giant rallies against the government’s planned judicial reform, or the coup d’état as protesters call it.

The main messages of the protests focus on protecting Israel’s liberal democracy and the independence of the Supreme Court but also on liberal values and human rights.

Unfortunately, in order to attract the largest crowds and the broadest coalition, organizers of the protests have not extended their discussion of human rights to Palestinians or the occupation. There are no Arab speakers at most of the rallies, and messages supporting equal rights for Palestinians are scarce.

The judicial reform effort is a massive legislation initiative aiming to weaken the Supreme Court, the country’s sole check and balance against the power of the Knesset, and the sole protector of human rights and minority rights in the country. These protests are indeed important and focus on important issues — but they must not ignore the Palestinians.

The fight against judicial reform has brought a strong, new sense of identity to the Israeli center-left. The goal of protecting liberal democracy now unites a large part of Israel’s political spectrum. The focus on core freedoms and human rights is a major change that must be extended to Palestinians. Restoring normalcy alone is not sufficient.

The focus on core freedoms and human rights must be extended to Palestinians.

Human rights cannot be limited by geographic boundaries and differences in race, gender or religion. Doing so violates the values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which is widely recognized as the moral compass of the state. It says that the State of Israel “will be based on freedom, justice and peace … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

We cannot ignore these core values.

Yet Israel has avoided dealing with its responsibility for human rights in the occupied territories since 1967, and generations of young Israelis witness violations of basic human rights when dealing with the civilian population during their mandatory military service.

The way Israel treats the Palestinians in the occupied territories destroys the moral foundation of the country and is contradictory to Jewish values. The renewed focus on values and human rights brought about by the judicial coup creates a great opportunity for change.

The main messages of protecting basic human rights for minorities, which is front and center in the rallies, must include the same for Palestinians as it does for women and LGBTQ people.

The occupation in general — and settler violence specifically — should be condemned by speakers during the rallies. Palestinians should be invited to speak. Palestinian flags should be encouraged, just like the blue and white flag of Israel and the rainbow flag of the gay community.

This change, a shift toward discussing the occupation, must be adopted and driven by the organizers of the rallies in Israel. The mission of the Religious Zionism Party, which is headed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, is the annexation of the West Bank without addressing the rights of the Palestinians who live there. This mission must be recognized as a major threat to Israel’s liberal democracy. Defeating this plan must be included as a priority goal for the rallies. 

While addressing human rights for Palestinians will challenge the unity of the protest camp, not doing so turns the slogans of the weekly demonstrations into empty statements.

Itzik Goldberger
Itzik Goldberger

Itzik Goldberger is the managing partner in Aviv Partners, a management consulting firm. He supports nonprofits that work toward peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians. He lives in Lafayette.