June 11th, 2023
To my dear brothers and sisters- delegates to the AJC:
A personal note from a pro-democracy Israeli citizen.
Here I am, 5.5 months into my early retirement, after a fulfilling and fascinating career as a criminal prosecutor in Israel's State Attorney's Office, having argued criminal appeals before the Supreme Court for the past 26 years.
What could be better than early retirement, right?
I regularly dye my hair and have for a few years already, but my hairdresser remarked last week that this time my hair (usually black-with-just-a few-gray-strands) has turned completely white at the roots. Interestingly, my father's hair turned white overnight too- when, as a young father to two little girls, he was called up to fight in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Just days into my retirement, the Justice Minister announced the government's plan to supposedly "reform" the judicial system (Jan. 4th, 2023). This has sent my life into an intense spiral of fear and action. Protesting, translating, writing, speaking- this is the most exhausting and heartbreaking period I have ever experienced. The main forces promoting the plans for so-called "judicial reform"- specifically the far-right Kohelet-backed settler movement, and our criminally charged PM Benyamin Netanyahu (standing trial for several counts of personal corruption) are formidable and are in power.
We now know that the coalition's "judicial reforms” are just the first stage, as more than 153 bills have simultaneously been prepared by coalition MKs, targeting public media, academia, civil organizations, freedom from religious coercion, public education, workers rights, equality, free speech and LGBT, minorities and women’s rights. It has become dreadfully clear that this coalition’s vision for Israel is one of a full-blown autocratic ruler (Netanyahu) and the beginnings of never-before-heard-of Jewish Supremacy policies- simply unacceptable in a modern democracy.
Fighting for the very soul of my beloved Jewish AND Democratic country, I feel this is the battle of my life. If we lose, this country will become no longer fit to live in.
Amongst this all, the AJC (American Jewish Committee) is convening this week (June 9th-14th, 2023) in Tel Aviv. I tell myself excitedly: "2,000 brothers and sisters from the United States are here! They love Israel, they care enough to come here. What an opportunity to tell them what we are going through, how we see things!!".
I especially want our pro-democracy protest representatives to have an opportunity to tell the 2,000 AJC delegates about the dangers posed by the prolonged "negotiations" held by the coalition and opposition MKs under the auspices of President Herzog.
Criticizing the negotiations might indeed seem counterintuitive to some, and confusing to others ("Aren’t negotiations a good thing?" "What possible harm can come from continuing the negotiations for as long as possible?"), but our viewpoint is legitimate and important. Given the opportunity,we would explain that the negotiations are a charade on Netanyahu’s part, a tactic to exhaust the pro-democracy protest movement, and that therefore there is no choice but to leave the negotiation table. Given the opportunity, we would clarify that Israel’s democracy is too fragile to begin with- lacking essential checks and balances seen in other democracies- and that the compromises being considered as part of these negotiations would leave Israel’s democracy defenseless in the face of extremely determined anti-democratic forces.
I could go on in writing- but would really much rather have a representative of the pro-democracy civil protest movement invited to speak directly to the delegates of the AJC.
Yet, though AJC leaders have been approached over a month ago, so far they have declined to invite any representative of the pro-democracy movement to address the AJC Global Forum this week in Tel Aviv.
I feel so confused by this indefensible position, and so alone.
Does the AJC leadership not understand the forces and positions at play? That there is a critical protest voice, that neither Netanyahu nor Lapid are qualified or indeed expected to speak of when they address the Global Forum?
Why push us away? Why leave our voice unheard by our 2,000 brothers and sisters who have come from so far and care about us so much? Isn’t this the exact right time to listen to our pain and fear, to be with us in this sorrow, to invite us as your guests?
It is not too late to fix this: If the AJC leadership cares about what we are going through- or about our commitment, our courage, our vision- our voice can still be heard by the delegates. Let our voice be heard by all the AJC delegates, so they can hear, listen and judge for themselves.
AJC leadership: Please invite our speaker to publicly address the Global Forum any day this week. We will come with a broken heart and a hug. I know we are a family with a shared mission: to “advance democratic values”. Please don’t forget that we are fighting, day and night, just for that, and that we need to always stand together, in these times especially.
a (very) concerned Israeli citizen
Naomi Katz-Lulav is a lawyer, formerly at Israel's State Attorney's Office and currently volunteering full time in Israel's pro-democracy protest movement. She is a volunteer for USA4Israelidemocracy.org - a grass-roots group focused on US-based actions to support democracy in Israel. She also volunteers at letstalk.org.il, promoting face-to-face conversations and understanding of liberal democratic principles within Israeli society.