Protesters gather at Tel Aviv Habima Square ahead of a march toward Kaplan Street, for a rally against the judicial overhaul, March 25, 2023. (DH/Times of Israel)

Protesters gather at Tel Aviv Habima Square ahead of a march toward Kaplan Street, for a rally against the judicial overhaul, March 25, 2023. (DH/Times of Israel)

Based on a report from Ayal Merek, an Israeli-Australian and a board member of ARZA Australia, in Israel with his family. Thank you to Ayal.

As we, the Jewish people remember the Shoah with great sadness we now celebrate the creation of the Jewish homeland, Eretz Yisrael and remember those who have lost their lives fighting to preserve its very existence.

It is during this time, and particularly this year that we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel. It is therefore a time when many Diaspora Jews travel to Israel to be part of the celebrations and visit family and friends as well as attend conferences held by the WUPJ and the WZO.

Ayal Merek, a born Israeli and a board member of ARZA Australia is in Israel and has made some interesting yet telling observations. Being fluent in Hebrew, he has a unique understanding of the current attitudes of Israelis regarding the proposed judicial reforms.

He has observed more polarized views being expressed than ever before, with supporters of the Government’s reforms sending slogans and claiming it is an attempt to correct long overdue reforms of the Supreme Court.

On the other hand he says, other groups are expressing horror at the potential impact on the nature and future of the country if the changes succeed. Reforms are viewed as undermining the democratic nature of Israel and changing the balance of power by giving the executive branch of government excessive powers and weakening the Supreme Court, which many Israelis view as the only institution that holds the people in power to account.

Visiting Israel, Ayal says the stakes are high and the atmosphere heated. He reported that families are being torn apart. Siblings not talking to each other and refusing to celebrate Pesach together due to disagreements about the legitimacy of the so-called reforms.

Ayal went to a demonstration on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv during Chol Ha’Moed Pesach. He said the atmosphere was electric. From various side streets individuals could be seen carrying Israeli flags, merging into larger groups as they got closer to the main street. Gradually a river of flags filling the streets.

He described an apartment balcony window being open and the sound of a piano being played to the cheering crowd of more than 100,000 people as they walked. Then the voice of David Ben Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence could be heard, escorting the crowd on their way to the central stage where Ex Minister of Defence Bugi Yaalon spoke, warning of the danger of corrupted leadership and a professor from the Technion identified the dangerous diversion of resources from regional areas of Israel towards other groups of society.

My daughter attended the Tel Aviv demonstration with our family. She is on Shnat, a gap year in Jerusalem with her fellow Jewish Youth group Netzer friends. It was obvious that she was keen to absorb every word being said at the demonstration, so she could really understand what is going on in Israel, and to prepare her for speaking at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in a few weeks. It was an important and real lesson in Democracy for her.

Following a few weeks of face-to-face discussions with people from both sides of Israeli politics, I am cautiously optimistic. Hundreds of thousands of people who traditionally have not been politically active have risen up from their comfortable armchairs and said: This cannot continue any more. We also have our core values that are most precious to us. (Tsipor Nefesh: something very precious/of great importance/a bird of the soul) We are not willing to continue carrying the burden of this country we love, should it not be a democracy.

Recently there are signs that leading political figures on the other side (supporting the current government position) are listening and starting to change their rhetoric. It remains to be seen how things will end up.

It is amazing to see how people can interpret the same situation in such different ways. The damage to the solidarity and unity of the Israeli people seemed to have been at the point of no return, yet the extent of determination of ordinary people to draw the line seems to have struck a chord with at least some of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the political fence.

We can only hope that Israeli society will come out stronger and will end up making the reforms that are really needed, while avoiding the extreme changes that the government is currently trying to introduce.

Unfortunately for the progressive community in Israel, the current political power in government means the positive initiatives of the previous coalition government under Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid have taken a step back. It may take some time until such an opportunity will arise again. Let us hope that the Centre right and Centre left will join forces to introduce a much-needed constitution.

Israel is a miracle. I am writing this today on Yom Ha Shoah – it is a reminder of the need for unity to support the future of the only Jewish State and the continued revival of the Jewish people in its homeland (Eretz Yisrael).

Let us hope that everyone can rise above their narrow interests and above the attempts to cause division, to continue to build a strong, pluralist civil society that can accommodate the various ways of life with respect and tolerance. Amen (Amen indeed)

ARZA President, Helen Shardey

Helen Shardey OAM
ARZA Australia President
UPJ Vice President