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Naomi Chazan calls on Diaspora Jews to lobby against Israeli government

Deborah Stone
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Published: 2 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

On a visit to Australia, the former MK said Israel was facing three intersecting crises and Diaspora Jews should not hesitate to get involved.

One of Israel’s leading progressive voices has called on Diaspora Jews to lobby their governments to protect Israel’s democracy against the growing power of anti-democratic forces.

On a visit to Australia with the New Israel Fund (NIF) Australia, Professor Naomi Chazan said pressure from foreign governments had been effective in tempering the actions of Israel’s religious right coalition government. Diaspora Jews should lobby their governments to speak up and continue the pressure, she said.

Chazan, a former President of NIF, was a member of the Israeli Parliament for 11 years with the progressive Meretz party and is known for her championing of human rights, particularly women’s rights.

“There’s a tendency outside of Israel – I heard it by the way in Canberra yesterday - to say, ‘We won’t interfere in Israeli internal affairs.’ Is what is going on in Israel for Jews outside of Israel an internal affair? Or is it an issue that embraces all Jews everywhere? I would argue very strongly that for Jewish communities throughout the world what is Israel is critical to their Jewish identity.

“Ninety-five percent of Jews today live in free societies. In the 21st century, and I would say probably since the beginning of the post-World War II period, the human values of equality and equity and justice and freedom have been central to Jewish identity. They are an integral part of being a Jew in the 21st century and if Israel diverges from that it becomes a problem for Israel and it becomes a problem for world Jewry.”

"People ask me what I AM most afraid of. I am afraid of despondency and despair. We have it in our hands to make a difference.”

Chazan said Diaspora Jews should use their influence with their own governments to speak out against the anti-democratic policies of Israel’s government.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put on hold a bill that would have imposed a 65% tax on public advocacy groups that receive foreign government funding, typically left-wing civil society organisations.

That decision came after protests from the US, the UK, France, Belgium, and even Germany, which has traditionally been extremely reluctant to criticise Israel.

Chazan said the halting of both that bill and the anti-judicial changes, even temporarily, was an achievement that was only partly due to strategic protest within Israel.

“It’s been done … also frankly by something else that people have been very reluctant to engage in and that is advocating governments outside of Israel, mostly by Jewish organisations, to oppose certain measures.”

She said other democratic countries recognised the attempt to attack civil society organisations through massive taxation as from the playbook of far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

"For them it’s important not just because of Israel but also because of a deep understanding that civil society is one of the bedrocks of functioning democracies in the world today.”

Diaspora Jews should also join demonstrations in solidarity with Israelis, she said.

“You have no idea what that means to us. It makes us feel there is a community for us ... It gives us such a boost.”

Chazan said Israel is facing three major problems which intersect to create an existential crisis.

The political problem, which she describes as the vertical axis, is the distrust between the people and the government. Chazan said the process of democratic erosion had been going on for 15 years but had come to a head in the popular uprising in response to the current government.

The social problem, which she calls the horizontal axis, is in multiple conflicts between population groups: religious/secular, Mizrachim/Ashkenazim, Arab/Jewish citizens, rich/poor, straight/ LGBTQI and more. These deep rifts will require different tools, she said.

The envelope which surrounds everything is the geopolitical problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

“When people are going out in the street and talking about ‘demokratia’, in what framework? What’s the state of Israel geographically today? Is it inside the green line? Beyond the green line? Divorce is not practical any longer. We need to learn to share the land.”

But Chazan warned against giving up on Israel, saying the current crises present Israel with opportunities.

“People ask me what I am most afraid of. I am afraid of despondency and despair. Despair is not a strategy. It’s not a guideline for action. We have it in our hands to make a difference.”

She said that she was once envious of her parents who had built the state from nothing and, it seemed, left her generation with none of the major work, but today there is important work to do.

“We have the opportunity to correct the mistakes of yesteryear. If we are honest with each other, the situation would not have deteriorated as much as it has if we had not made mistakes along the way and today, we find we have to contend with all the unresolved issues that we successfully avoided dealing with and addressing in the past.”

“We have not resolved the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis. The conflict is more acrimonious and deeper than it was even in 1948.

“Religion and state. We sort of waddled through this issue before but how can you be democratic when all your personal life is dependent on rabbinical authority or on Sharia law or on Christian authorities?

“Income inequality. We haven’t dealt with [the fact] that Israel now has the highest level of income inequality in the industrialised world ... at the very bottom of the list of OECD countries.”

Noting the acknowledgement of country which begins all her Australian events, Chazan said she hoped Israel would one day acknowledge the “original inhabitants of the land”.

“I don’t want to wait 200 years,” she said.


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Israeli minister cancels LA speech due to protests and ‘bad vibes’ (JTA)

Photo: Naomi Chazan addresses an Australian audience (NIF Australia)

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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