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Fighting a Religious Dictatorship

My name is Yorai Vardi. I’m currently in my third year of law school at Columbia Law. You have heard from some amazing people, and I am honored to be among the speakers today.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about my history. I was born in Israel, and raised in the United States in a traditional, secular family. I was raised to know that there is no country so moral, so heroic, and so progressive as Israel. Yet I am also American. An American Jew. And like all American Jews who support Israel, I am tired of having to explain “it’s not Israel, it’s Israel’s government.” Still, I understand the worry that if we criticize Israel, the floodgates will open.

Yes, I am worried that criticizing Israel will draw eyes to us. I am worried that making noise invites antisemitism. But I know that if we do not act against this government, we guarantee criticism. We guarantee antisemitism.

When this government gets its way, and Jews say nothing, the world will not see Jews quietly supporting the existence of a Jewish state. The world will see Jews supporting the establishment of a religious dictatorship. A dictatorship where convicted terrorists are appointed to our most important ministries. A dictatorship where our most important protector of human rights--the Supreme Court--is rendered completely ineffective. A dictatorship that already today has proposed laws that would tear away due process, make Palestinian flags illegal, and transfer control of the media to the government.

We will not let the fear of antisemitism keep us from speaking out. We will not let the fear of antisemitism keep us from fighting against dictatorship. We will not let the fear of antisemitism kill the Zionist dream of a just and liberal Israel!

My message is simple: Bibi, the Jews of the world see what you are doing. We are listening, and we are fighting! We will not let you destroy the courts to avoid a trial. Our country is not yours to sell off!

As an Israeli in New York and a Jew in America, I am fighting because I know that if we don’t fight, we will never again be able to explain: “it isn’t Israel, it’s the government.” When all strains of non-Orthodox Judaism are taboo, we will never be able to explain why it is important to have a Jewish homeland. And when there is no Supreme Court, no check on government power, we will never again be able to say “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is not a fight about Israel for Israelis! This is a fight about Israel for everyone!


Born in Israel and deeply tied to the country, Yorai Vardi is a third year law student at Columbia Law School, where he is specializing in international and comparative law.

He spoke on September 20, 2023 under the hotel where President Biden met PM Netanyahu for the first time since he was last elected.


April 28, 2024

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