Shalom Bayit

World Jewry leaders call for Netanyahu, Lapid to calm Israeli turmoil

In a joint letter, heads of JFNA, JAFI, WZO and Keren Hayesod warn against ‘polarization and discord’ ahead of this week’s Tisha B’Av 

The heads of Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Agency for Israel, World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod sent a joint letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Monday, calling on them to come to an agreement and end the turmoil over a proposed judicial overhaul bill that has rocked Israel in recent days.

The letter comes hours before the Knesset was expected to vote on a bill that would limit judges’ abilities to use “reasonableness” to strike down decisions made by the government, which members of the coalition have said is a first step in implementing the government’s proposed judicial overhaul. The letter was signed by JFNA President and CEO Eric Fingerhut, JFNA Board Chair Julie Platt, JAFI Chair of the Executive Doron Almog, JAFI Board of Governors Chair Mark Wilf, WZO Chair Yaakov Hagoel, Keren Hayesod Board of Trustees Chair Steven Lowy and Keren Hayesod World Chair Sam Grundwerg.

“We must make every effort for unity and Shalom Bayit – peace in our home,” they wrote. “We, representatives of the National Institutions and World Jewry, partners in outlining the future of the Jewish people, wish to express the concern of the entire Jewish people and aspire to strengthen the foundations of our national home.”

The letter from the heads of these international Jewish groups follows an explicit call from President Joe Biden to the Israeli government to slow down and get broad support before proceeding with its overhaul plans.

“Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus,” Biden told Axios.

Saturday night through Monday morning saw massive protests across the country, with the largest taking place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Most of these demonstrations were by opponents of the government’s proposed judicial legislation, but Sunday night also saw a large protest in central Tel Aviv, with hundreds of thousands of participants, by supporters of the overhaul. Ahead of the Knesset vote on Monday, several national franchises and shopping center chains announced they were going on strike in protest of the “reasonableness bill.” President Isaac Herzog, returning from the U.S., has been attempting to broker a compromise.

The letter does not argue in favor or against a specific piece of legislation or course of action but instead focuses on the need to mend the divisions in Israeli society over the issue.

“We urge you to make use of all the tools available to you in order to find the broadest common denominator, for the sake of Kiruv Levavot (bringing together hearts) within Am Israel,” they write.

The leaders write that this is particularly important ahead of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples — the latter of which is traditionally said to have been destroyed due to “baseless hatred” within the Jewish people.

“This week, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, when we remember the painful memory of the destruction of the first and second temple, we are at a point of great polarization and discord in Israeli society which we must find a way to overcome,” they wrote.

A senior federation leader, who was not directly involved in the writing of the letter but was familiar with the thought process behind it, said the letter deliberately did not take a side in the debate in order to highlight that the true issue is the division in Israel, and not the particulars of the legislation, as well as to ensure a working relationship with all parts of Israeli society.

“We have to be there for Israel the day after,” the official told eJP, speaking on condition of anonymity.