I was in Dubai last week as scholar-in-residence for the Jewish community and led prayers at the brand-new multi-faith Abrahamic Family House. But just as my heart swelled with Jewish pride, it was felled by the mess going on in Israel.
Amidst massive protests against his government’s proposed judicial reforms, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister. A general strike then shut down Ben-Gurion International Airport. I was stuck in Dubai trying to fly back to Tel Aviv.
During the huge protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, not a single New York airport was shut down. In Israel, it seems, the first group to be punished is the tourists. But were we at fault?
I ask this question not to challenge the right to protest, but to note that even protests have boundaries. Certain Jews ought to consider this as they increasingly pummel Israel in the media.
Let me be clear: Anyone has the right to criticize Israel. But the criticism should be accurate and fair rather than fanatical and extreme.
For decades, former head of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman has been an American Jewish hero in the battle against antisemitism. He has justly earned our respect and gratitude.
But on the issue of Israel’s proposed judicial reforms, Foxman told The Jerusalem Post, “I never thought that I would reach that point where I would say that my support of Israel is conditional. I’ve always said that [my support of Israel] is unconditional, but it’s conditional. I don’t think that it’s a horrific condition to say: ‘I love Israel and I want to love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism.’ If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.”
Let’s unpack that. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s worst critics admit that Israel is in need of some kind of judicial reform. Why? Because the Israeli Supreme Court, while highly respected around the world, has become an oligarchy with judges appointing other judges and no accountability to the people.
In the United States, Supreme Court justices are nominated by a president elected by the people and confirmed by senators also elected by the people. In Israel, no such procedure exists. The people have no say.
Moreover, judicial overreach in Israel is real. For example, the Supreme Court blocked a proposal to institute the death penalty for terrorists. This is a no-brainer here in the U.S., where Timothy McVeigh was put to death for murdering 168 people, including 19 children. Few were opposed to the capital punishment meted out to this evil mass murderer.
One of the reasons I was in Israel last week was to participate in the graduation of our son Yosef from Sayeret Golani, a distinguished Israeli combat unit. This is our third child who has served in the IDF. If you ask me, as the parent of three IDF soldiers, whether I believe in the death penalty for terrorists, the answer is, sadly, yes.
Israel needs a Supreme Court with the power to strike down inhumane laws and prevent a tyranny of the majority. But there must be balance, as there is here in the United States.
On Sunday, Noa Tishby, who has done an admirable job standing up for Israel, posted on her Instagram that she had been fired from her position as Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and the Delegitimization of Israel. She said that she had been let go because of her criticism of the Netanyahu government.
It is sad that Tishby undermined her credentials as a defender of the Jewish state with this petty complaint. She knows it is completely normal practice here in the United States and around the world for ambassadors to be replaced with every change of administration. My friend Elan Carr did an amazing job as America’s antisemitism envoy under President Donald Trump, but he was quickly replaced by Deborah Lipstadt, who is also doing excellent work, under President Joe Biden. Elan did not pen a screed attacking America publicly after he was replaced.
Noa Tishby would be wise to amend her public comments, as she is falsely maligning the Jewish state and its democratically elected government.
Then there is the utterly bizarre story of Asaf Zamir, Israel’s largely undistinguished consul-general in New York. He finally got noticed by New York media last week, but only because he resigned and humiliated the country he is supposed to represent.
Here’s how ABC 7 reported his actions: “Israel’s Consul General in New York—Asaf Zamir—says his decision to resign should not be seen as a rejection of Israel or its people, but rather a move to join the fight for Israel’s future and democracy. Zamir says the political situation in Israel has reached a critical point—as evident in the chaos there now.”
Was this chaos more chaotic than the current riots in Paris? Did the French consul general in New York denounce Emmanuel Macron and resign in protest?
The answer is no. And why? Because the right to protest is proof of a free democracy, even in France, where it has led to widespread violence and destruction of property.
Unlike France, the demonstrations in Israel have been peaceful. Netanyahu has paused the judicial overhaul and his government is participating in talks with the opposition, overseen by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog. This shows that public protest in Israel works.
So, before Abe Foxman, Noa Tishby and Asaf Zamir eulogize democracy in the Jewish state, it would be wise for them to get their facts straight, lest they not only fail in their goal of defending Israel but participate in its defamation.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the author of “The Israel Warrior and Judaism for Everyone.” Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.