LFI director: We stand with Israel – and the millions of Israelis defending democracy

LFI director Michael Rubin has written the below article for the Jewish Chronicle. Click here to read the original.

Thousands of Israelis protesting against the goverment’s judicial overhaul bills in Tel Aviv on March 04, 2023 (Photo by Gili Yaari /Flash90)

For friends of Israel, the last two months have been depressing and disturbing.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving efforts to emasculate the independence of the judiciary and the repellent actions and rhetoric of his far-right allies are threatening what, for many of us, is so special about Israel’s character: not simply that it is the homeland of the Jewish people but that it is a beacon of democracy, the rule of law and minority rights in the Middle East.

Netanyahu’s judicial reforms – which will effectively give near-untrammelled powers to the government – must be opposed if we are to defend the enduring promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence: that the state will be “based on freedom, justice and peace” and that it will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”.

Our support for the State of Israel and its people has always gone beyond party politics and has never been contingent upon the political complexion of the government in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, we have often disagreed with, and opposed, individual Israeli governments on all manner of issues. But we should be clear: this government’s actions go beyond routine policy disagreements. It threatens both democratic norms and the rule of law.

As always, therefore, our place must be alongside the Israeli people – the vast majority of whom reject both the far right’s politics of hate and the government’s effort to pervert the state’s founding principles.

However, amid the gloom of the last two months, we should also be encouraged by the response from ordinary Israelis, tens of thousands of whom have taken to the streets week in, week out to defend democracy. I witnessed these truly inspiring scenes first hand when I joined a Saturday night demonstration in Tel Aviv last month. We also shouldn’t forget the sheer scale of these protests. Last weekend, an estimated 250,000 Israelis participated in demonstrations across the country. Given the size of the Israeli population, this is roughly equivalent to 1.9m Britons joining the protests – a figure far in excess of any in our history.

These numbers reflect the fact that the protests are clearly a national movement. They’re by no means confined to liberal Tel Aviv. Instead, recent weeks have also witnessed demonstrations in Jerusalem, Haifa, Ashdod, Be’er Sheeva, Beit Shemesh, Kfar Saba and Modi’in. The protests have drawn support from business and bankers, the military and security establishment, and hi-tech workers and students. And, as we have seen in recent days, reservists who habitually, and without complaint, put their lives on the line to defend Israel from the multitude of threats it faces are also making clear their discontent.

This broad-based coalition has emerged thanks to the fact that the protest movement is firmly rooted in the mainstream, patriotic centre of Israeli politics. The ever-present and ubiquitous Israeli flags underline that this is a movement of Israelis who love their country and its liberal democratic values and are not willing to see them besmirched by the extremists and careerists with whom Netanyahu has surrounded himself in government. Indeed, together with the size of the crowds on the streets, the manner in which politicians of principle – from the radical left to the moderate right – have united to defend the rule of law should bolster our confidence in the resilience of Israeli democracy even in the face of enormous threat.

For those of us overseas, the events of recent weeks also offer important lessons. The protest movement has gained traction and popularity precisely because its sincerity, motivations and good intentions cannot be doubted. The international community should similarly recognise that – like any people – the Israeli public naturally respond better to such behaviour than they do to seeing their country constantly and unfairly condemned, targeted and isolated.

When leading parliamentary delegations to Israel, I have always found Israeli politicians willing to engage with criticism and concerns precisely because they know that it comes from a place of genuine and long-standing support for their country. Such relationships are, of course, not built overnight – they emerge from mutual trust and confidence.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue – as we have always done – to defend Israel against murderous terror groups, their paymasters in Tehran and the effort to boycott and demonise the Jewish state led by the BDS movement.

But we will also stand with the millions of Israelis who are fighting to defend all that is best and most precious about their country.