Offir Gutelzon, one of the local Israeli organizers of UnXeptable, holds up a microphone while Rabbi Michael Walden blows a shofar at a protest. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)
Offir Gutelzon, one of the local Israeli organizers of UnXeptable, holds up a microphone while Rabbi Michael Walden blows a shofar at a protest. (Photo/Courtesy UnXeptable)

In Silicon Valley, Israeli expats and US Jews join global protests over Israeli judicial overhaul

Hundreds of Bay Area Israeli expats and American-born Jews marched in Silicon Valley ahead of the Knesset vote on Monday stripping the Supreme Court of part of its oversight authority over Israel’s parliament.

Joining in solidarity with hundreds of thousands demonstrating in Israel and hundreds in New York City, the local UnXeptable group’s “march in support of democracy” drew individuals and families on Sunday — brought together by their opposition to ongoing judicial changes they say run counter to Israel’s founding ideals. They carried Israeli flags, sang and chanted as they crossed the Mary Avenue Bridge, a pedestrian bridge spanning Cupertino and Sunnyvale.

In a 64-0 vote Monday, the Israeli Knesset approved a new law stripping the Supreme Court of its “reasonableness” standard by which it could overrule laws, a standard that had served as a bulwark against the country’s religious and nationalist right-wing parties. The remaining 56 members of the 120-member body boycotted the vote.

Galit Lipsitz Goldenthal, a local volunteer organizer with UnXeptable, described the vote as deeply painful.

“It feels like a shiva,” she said. “Something has been broken.”

Another UnXeptable protest is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, Goldenthal said.

“Our goal is to preserve the democratic identity of Israel, as the home of all Jewish people. With emphasis on all,” she said of the group, which is headquartered in the Bay Area but has a global imprint.

The Bay Area is home to a formidable Israeli expat community, including thousands who work in the technology sector.

On its website, UnXeptable describes itself as a “grassroots movement launched by Israel expats in support of a democratic Israel.” It sprang up in the wake of challenges to Israel’s secular, liberal identity posed by the country’s current right-wing government. The group has raised over $54,000 via a GoFundMe page and has organized dozens of rallies in the Bay Area over the past year.

Critics of the judicial overhaul say the changes will undermine the separation of powers, essential to a functioning democracy. Supporters of changes backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government say that the Supreme Court, which is not elected, has too much power, and that the judicial overhaul will not erode but strengthen the country’s democratic values. They criticize the protest movement as coming from elite, predominantly Ashkenazi and secular segments of Israeli society.

It feels like a shiva. Something has been broken.

In New York, hundreds crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday, singing and chanting during a rally covered by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“The ties between New York and Israel are so strong and so deep that when there is a crisis over there, as there is now, we feel it viscerally here,” Mark Levine, Manhattan borough president, said following the march.

In Sacramento, state Sen. Scott Wiener, a progressive, pro-Israel Jew who represents San Francisco, released a statement Monday decrying what he called the “Netanyahu government’s attack on Israel’s independent judiciary.”

“Israel must be a democracy and a place where the rule of law is paramount,” Wiener said.

Another opponent of the judicial overhaul is President Joe Biden, who has suggested that it could damage the U.S.-Israel relationship, JTA reported.

“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.