Teachable moment

Israel today offers a lesson in democracy

For many American Jews, a trip to Israel is a way to recharge their Jewish batteries, to connect with their ancestral homeland and to deepen their appreciation of the country’s history, culture and people. Individuals, families and community missions should also add to their itineraries encounters with Israel’s remarkable pro-democracy organizers and activists. 

For those lucky enough to be traveling to Israel this year, an upcoming visit can also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage and encourage, not only those protecting Israel’s population centers, but those defending Israel’s democratic institutions as well. 

The Start Up Nation showcase, Masada and the Dead Sea, the moment at the Kotel, and a poignant visit to Yad Vashem, stirs the soul. So too, will standing with the hundreds of thousands of ordinary and extraordinary Israelis demonstrating week after week in defense of Israel’s democratic institutions. 

Except for in late March, when protests brought the country to a near-standstill, tourist and mission itineraries have remained largely unchanged, virtually ignoring the history happening in the streets of Israel.

This may be the ultimate “teachable moment” regarding Israel’s democratic values, Declaration of Independence and supreme court, and a magnificent opportunity to strengthen personal and communal bonds with the people of Israel. We have a responsibility to engage with the issues that compel our brethren overseas and to support those who are working to protect Israel’s precious freedoms. 

One way to do that is to meet with leaders of the pro-democracy movement. They can provide valuable insights into the current political climate and the internal challenges that Israel is facing. One might even attend a pro-democracy demonstration – regularly held in more than 100 cities across the country. That’s what I did last month, in Tel Aviv, Holon and Gedera.

American Jews can hear first-hand about the impact that the proposed changes to the judiciary could have on Israel’s democratic institutions and on the people who rely on them. They can also learn about the strategies that pro-Democracy leaders are using to mobilize support and to safeguard the country’s democratic values. In a time of rising anti-democratic forces in America, this information could prove useful back home, too.

Furthermore, meeting with pro-democracy leaders is a way to support the work that they are doing and to show that American Jews stand with them in their fight. These leaders are working under difficult conditions, and in some cases face retaliation from right-wing government backers. By meeting with them, American Jewish missions can help amplify their voices and provide much-needed encouragement and support.

Now is a time to engage – to connect and stand with those in Israel who are on the frontlines of the fight to preserve democracy.

Jonathan Kessler has led dozens of missions to Israel and is founder and CEO of Heart of a Nation, an organization helping emerging American, Israeli and Palestinian changemakers improve their respective political cultures. www.heartofanation.io