Update from Bob Goldberg, CEO

Meet me in Jerusalem!

This week, a group of twenty-two community members embarked on a trip to Israel, the first community-wide trip organized by our Jewish Federation since 2018. From my perspective, it is always good to spend time in Israel. Having feet on the ground in Israel is special. You can never predict how the experience will impact someone, but it is almost always deep and meaningful. This is particularly true for those traveling there for the first time. No matter the multitude of news, books, magazines, movies or other information about Israel someone might consume, being there, meeting with Israelis, and experiencing its vibrancy, diversity, and complexity firsthand allows one to have a more personal and intimate relationship with the state and its people.

This trip is chaired by Andi and Don Goldstein and staffed by Rachel Ring, JFO Director of Development, with the itinerary organized by Jan Goldstein and Iris Ricks through their work with Amiel Travel. It is a great group, with a busy and exciting itinerary, and I am sure they are having a spectacular experience. Our Omaha friends have a front row seat to Israeli democracy at work. They are visiting at a time when Israel is immersed in turmoil surrounding the government plans to overhaul the judicial system. Israel’s government is currently led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who represents the Likud party.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy, consisting of dozens of parties, and smaller parties that become part of the ruling government coalition can have influence far beyond their number of seats in the Knesset. The Netanyahu-led coalition includes representatives from Likud, United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam. This coalition is currently moving forward proposals with major reforms to Israel’s judicial system, which would bring the judiciary under control of the government. Some of the specific changes proposed are aimed at preventing the High Court from acting as a check and balance on government actions, limiting the High Court from challenging laws even if they conflict with Israel’s Basic Laws, and giving the ruling government control over selecting judges. Opponents argue it will weaken Israel’s democracy and put minorities at risk, while supporters say it is much needed reform to control an activist court.

Our Omaha friends on this trip will hear plenty of strong opinions. They will hear from news anchors, guest speakers, hotel workers, waiters, taxi drivers, and others, who will all have vital points of view that they are eager to share with their American guests. The speed with which the government is moving these bills through the Knesset has caused deep rifts in Israel and has led to more than ten weeks of protests by hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrating to express their concern about a weakening of democracy.

Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel, has worked to negotiate a compromise, which is aimed at addressing what many consider needed changes to the rules governing the judiciary and the balance of powers, but to do it in a way that helps gain buy-in from the general population and avoids a constitutional crisis. To date, those leading the charge for these changes, Yariv Levin, Justice Minister, and MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, have said that they are open to compromise but will not stop or slow down the process.
This has led to a cacophony of voices, including our own Jewish Federation movement, legal experts, business and financial leaders, global Jewish organizations, and interested parties around the world, imploring the Prime Minister and his government to slow the process and negotiate modified changes with the goal of achieving broad national agreement. Our Jewish Federation joins many other voices in urging the leaders to embrace President Herzog’s compromises to this current crisis, and to work to preserve and strengthen the democratic system with its checks and balances, embracing both majority rule and the protection of minority rights.

Israel will soon celebrate its 75th anniversary. We are the lucky ones. We are living at a time when we can travel to and experience the modern State of Israel. Because, after all, our people have yearned for the same opportunity for centuries. I love Israel. I do not always love its government’s policies, but I love Israel and the Israeli people, and I support them. Their democratic right to elect their leaders is sacred, as is their right to protest, speak up, defend their country, and negotiate their future.

As I watch this situation unfold and keep up on the latest news hoping for compromise to be reached, I am eager to hear from our Omaha friends when they return. I am interested to hear how their front row seat to Israeli democracy influences how they see Israel, understand its complexities, and perhaps how it may inspire them to learn more, engage more, and hopefully return to Israel again and again.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bob Goldberg