Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid traveled to the U.S. this week in the midst of the Passover holiday to deliver an extraordinary message: American Jews had a duty to oppose the democratically-elected Israeli government.
Lapid, who leads the Yesh Atid party, is trying to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition from adopting judicial reforms that temper the largely unchecked power of Israel’s left-wing judiciary.
For weeks, the Israeli opposition has staged massive, disruptive demonstrations against the refomrs, claiming to be defending “democracy” — though the reforms would actually make the Israeli judiciary more democratic.
Netanyahu responded to the protests last month by suspending the reforms and allowing time for negotiations between the government and the opposition. But the opposition has kept up pressure, including from abroad.
Amid accusations that the U.S. State Department is funding some of the Israeli opposition groups, Lapid came to the U.S. to meet with Democrats and with Jewish leaders, some of whom had spoken out against the reforms.
Lapid explicitly urged them to oppose the Israeli government and to support the opposition, according to quotes attributed to him by an Orthodox Jewish group that opposes his effort to enlist U.S. Jews in the debate.
The Am Echad group, which focuses on relations between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, slammed Lapid for attacking the Israeli government from within the U.S., saying it jeopardizes both Israel and American Jews.
In an open letter, co-chairs Shlomo Werdiger and Dr. Irving Lebovics wrote:
We are writing to you to express our grave concern over your comments at the meeting with members of the Jewish Federations in New York.
In your remarks, you accused the current government of being “the most extremist in history … causing damage to security, economy, social cohesion, and relations with Diaspora Jewry.” It would be an understatement to say that the issues facing Israel today are controversial and, at the very least, large swaths of the Israeli population support the government’s actions and view them as the fruition of election promises. Therefore, it is disingenuous of you to accuse the government of undermining Israeli democracy and calling on American Jews to get up in arms to protect Israel from its own leadership.
While we can argue about the prudence and wisdom of the current government’s policies and performance, rhetoric characterizing the government as “extremist” and “undemocratic” jeopardizes the relationship between Israel and world Jews.
More importantly, when such statements move into mainstream media, they delegitimize Israel itself, and by extension pose real danger to the safety of Diaspora communities. When you go back to Israel, we in the Diaspora will face the potential consequences of even more antisemitism, powered by your words.
Israel is precious to every single one of us. We are proud of its vibrant democracy and amazing growth. We ask you that going forward you refrain from damaging, inflammatory rhetoric against Israel and its government during meetings in the Diaspora.
The letter also chided Lapid for abusing his role as opposition leader by criticizing his country abroad, violating common democratic protocol.
For many years, Jewish groups have resisted pressure from anti-Israel activists to criticize Israel or policies of the Israeli government, saying that holding Jews outside Israel accountable for Israel’s policies is antisemitic.
But Lapid appeared to do just that — and to set a precedent that it is appropriate to pressure American Jewish leaders to oppose the Israeli government, and to take positions within controversial debates on Israeli policies.
Lapid also had a special meeting with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) — who is, ironically, the author of some of the most radical judicial reforms ever proposed in the U.S., but led Jewish Democrats in opposing Israel’s reforms.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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