Ewa Gavrielov demonstrates in a Hebrew T-shirt that reads "Savtot lema'an hademokratiya" — "Grandmothers for Democracy" at a protest organized by UnExptable in front of Israel's San Francisco consulate, July 25, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Ewa Gavrielov demonstrates in a Hebrew T-shirt that reads "Savtot lema'an hademokratiya" — "Grandmothers for Democracy" at a protest organized by UnExptable in front of Israel's San Francisco consulate, July 25, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Why aren’t American Jews joining Israeli expats in the streets?

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On July 24, Israel’s Knesset passed a law that effectively guts the ability of the Supreme Court to overrule corrupt appointments and discriminatory laws. The voices of our brothers and sisters from Israel have made it clear: This is the first step in the dismantling of Israeli democracy.

Some opponents of the judicial revolution are now speaking of Israel’s “Second War of Independence,” as multiple Haaretz opinion writers have put it. Others are warning that the state has not faced such a threat to its existence since the Yom Kippur War, whose 50th anniversary is coming up in October. But this time, the threat comes not from the outside but from the inside: from fanatical settlers and Jewish supremacists, extreme opponents of democracy and far-right religious parties.

Last Tuesday, a rally was held in front of the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco so we could add our voices to those on the streets of Israel. There were maybe 200 people there, mostly Israelis and old Bay Area lefties, organized by the Israeli expat protest group UnXeptable.

Where was the Jewish community — the Federation, the Jewish Community  Relations Council, the rabbis and their congregants? There were a few individuals from these groups who showed up, but not collectively or in significant numbers. They should have been co-sponsors with UnXeptable of this and other Bay Area protests.

We note that the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and JCRC Bay Area issued a joint statement saying that they are “deeply troubled and saddened” by the law’s recent passage. National Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have expressed similar sentiments.

Rachel and David Biale at the July 25 protest in front of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy David Biale)
The authors, Rachel and David Biale, at the July 25 protest in front of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy David Biale)

Welcome as these expressions are, they are beginning to sound like the “thoughts and prayers” that get conveyed after mass shootings in this country. If our compatriots in Israel can brave searing heat to march to Jerusalem, we American Jews should be doing the same on the streets of the Bay Area to show our support.

Beyond street demonstrations, we need to consult with the extraordinary civil society protest movement in Israel to see what its leadership would find most helpful from us. Do they want us to lobby the White House and Congress to condition aid to Israel on reversing last week’s vote and dropping plans for related measures? Would they find it useful if we engaged in selective boycotts of those promoting apartheid and autocratic rule? All options need to be on the table — but in full coordination with those on the ground in Israel fighting what is still only the beginning of a long battle.

We have been told by mainstream Jewish organizations for years that our fate is bound up with Israel’s. And so it is. But we are now facing a crisis without precedent in which the country that we love and support is being hijacked by those who intend to distort it beyond recognition.

Can American Jews live with an Israel discriminating against LGBTQ people, women and Israel’s Arab minority? How can we as Jews, with our long history, tolerate Jewish settler pogromists who terrorize Palestinians in their towns, such as Hawara, and on their farmlands?  How can we reconcile ourselves to their goal of annexing the territories and turning the occupation into full-fledged apartheid? And how can we support an Israeli government that includes indicted leaders and convicted criminals such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Aryeh Deri, respectively, or racists such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir?

This is the fight of our lifetime as Jews. We can wash our hands of it and retreat into our own communities. But, like it or not, we are all bound up together as Jews with the fate of Israel. History will judge us based not just on our words, but, more importantly, on how we organize in support of our courageous Israeli cousins.

David Biale
David Biale

David Biale is emeritus Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of History at UC Davis.

Rachel Biale
Rachel Biale

Rachel Biale, an Israeli native, is a Bay Area Jewish community professional and author.