An Open Letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
By Rabbi Loren Sykes
Mr. Prime Minister,
I am a Zionist. I love Israel. I love what it is, what it represents, and that to which it aspires to be – a light unto the nations.
I love Israel so much that I uprooted my family nine years ago and made Aliyah from Chicago to Jerusalem. Like so many American Jews, I did so not because I was running away from something but because I was running toward something: the highest fulfillment of Zionism, to “throw our fate” in with that of the modern State and People of Israel.
I made Aliyah to be part of the greatest Jewish creation of the modern period: a Jewish and democratic/democratic and Jewish State that strives to embody the values of our Torah, our Prophets, and our Declaration of Independence. The country to which I moved is and must remain one that “will be based on freedom, justice, and peace…;” and “will ensure the complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex;” and “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”
As I write, Mr. Prime Minister, I feel the torment in my heart. These words come from the depths of my neshama (soul):
Prime Minister Netanyahu, you are wrecking this beautiful, miraculous country!
You, and the members of your party and coalition who have embraced a combination of extremism, messianism, racism, and fascism, are causing the greatest rift among the Jewish People since the Second Temple period.
One need not be an attorney to understand that the combination of:
- Emasculating the Supreme Court and the judicial branch of their role as a check and balance to the executive and legislative branches;
- Giving the coalition government the unbridled ability to nominate only their judges to the Supreme Court;
- Creating a coalition mechanism for investigating prosecutors, especially those investigating and trying Knesset members of the coalition and Government Ministers;
- Changing the law so a convicted criminal can be a Minister in the government (the Deri law);
- Permitting civil servants, from the Knesset down, to raise funds for “defense” and family “medical” issues.
Along with other misguided measures being advanced by and rushed to final approval in the Knesset by the Justice Minister and by the chair of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee creates the real possibility of a dictatorship. One only needs a little common sense to understand that a judiciary branch devoid of power, a police force, and the office of the prosecutor are fearful for their jobs if they dare investigate or try members of the Knesset, not to mention a Prime Minister, means that the Prime Minister and his government have absolute power and, as you well know, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The time has come to cease listening to the extremists in your government and begin listening to the over 500,000 Israeli citizens:
Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze;
Religious and Secular;
Right, Center, and Left;
Tzabarim and Olim;
Ashkenazim, Sefardim, and Mizrahim;
Seniors and teens;
Tzfonim and Daromim (Northerners and Southerners), Tel Avivim and Yerushalmim;
Peacefully protesting and engaging in peaceful, non-destructive acts of civil disobedience who are sending you the message that we will NOT live under a dictatorship. I, and I am certain that most citizens, will not permit our sacred country to be soiled by those who seek to reduce it to a puppet, weak “democracy” rather than the robust, Western, liberal democracy it is today.
There are those who claim that we are protesting because we do not accept the outcome of the election. This is false! True, I do not like the outcome of the election. I am not happy that you, on trial for three serious corruption charges, are the Prime Minister. Nonetheless, I refer to you as Prime Minister, an act which many Knesset members from your party refused to do regarding the previous two Prime Ministers. While I speak only for myself, I suspect that there are millions of others who feel the same way.
There are those who claim that the coalition is acting in a democratic fashion and that those of us who oppose this legislation are anti-democratic. Either they do not understand, or they choose to twist the meanings of and the differences between democracy, majority rule, and dictatorship.
Only you can stop this madness, Mr. Prime Minister. Only you can tell the Justice Minister and the Chair of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, to immediately and fully halt all judicial “reform” legislation.
The Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, has prohibited you from any involvement in this legislation due to your personal conflict of interest. It is the case that instructing your ministers and committee chairs to advance your judicial “revolution” IS a conflict of interests because it can lead to your ending your own trial. However, requiring them to freeze all related legislation, something that is not in your best interests, is clearly not a conflict.
Mr. Prime Minister, you are fighting the wrong fights and for the wrong reasons. You should be fighting:
- To neuter Iran’s ongoing efforts to create nuclear weapons;
- To reduce the cost of living for all citizens;
- To eliminate spousal abuse and murder;
- To make the country safer for all citizens, especially those Israeli Jews and Arabs alike, living in crime-ridden regions under the daily threat of gangs, protection payments, and murder, not to mention everyone from terror attacks, violent civil disobedience by Israeli Citizens living in the West Bank, and rocket attacks from Gaza; and
- To gain greater normalization for and treaties with Israel throughout the region.
Instead, due to the obsessive focus on the judicial revolution, the economy is faltering, people are suffering, and Israel is becoming a liability to our allies who stand with us if we hold shared Western liberal democratic values. While Amir Ohana and others think our allies will stand with us no matter what, they are wrong. Ambassador Nides, Secretary Austin, and I suspect that many others have told you as much. The frosty relationship that will develop with the US administration will rest solely on your shoulders, as will the collapse of our economy because you chose a judicial “revolution” and dictatorship over shared, Western liberal values.
You are the only one who can call for real negotiations without “any pre-conditions.” This requires that legislation be stopped in its tracks first. Anyone with basic strategic and tactical understanding recognizes that inviting people to negotiate while the legislation proceeds through the Knesset at lightning speed is a pre-condition in and of itself. It is the legislative equivalent of a shotgun wedding, a trojan horse. Stop the legislation. Come to the table to negotiate in an open, honest, free, and equal fashion and I am certain the opposition will answer your call.
Mr. Prime Minister, the time has come to act. It is upon you to stop this legislation fully and immediately. Only you can do so and only then can there be real negotiations. At this moment, you must choose:
Will Israel, under your watch, continue being the greatest modern creation of the Jewish People or will you be responsible for nothing short of the fall of Bayit HaShlishi?
“עֵ֭ת לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת לַיהוָ֑ה הֵ֝פֵ֗רוּ תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ׃”
“It is a time to act for יהוָ֑ה, for they have violated Your Torah.” (Psalm 119:126)
Rabbi Loren Sykes
Rabbi Loren Sykes is the Director of Teen Immersive Israel Programs and Principal of URJ Heller High. A native Chicagoan, he made Aliyah in August 2013 and lives in Jerusalem.