WASHINGTON — Zionist Union Knesset member Tzipi Livni was critical in a speech on Sunday of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for legislation that would weaken the power of the Israeli Supreme Court. Speaking in Washington at the annual conference of the left-wing American Jewish organization J Street, Livni, a former justice minister and foreign minister, warned that the proposed legislation would pose a risk to democracy in Israel. “Those trying to overcome the Supreme Court do not accept the values of democracy,” she said.
Livni warned about what she said was a trend toward the delegitimization of civil society and the press and statements by politicians casting down over trust in the legal system. Israelis and its friends abroad need to fight for “the rule of law, freedom of speech, and [an] independent legal system and a free press. This is a time to fight for democracy in Israel. Our liberal values are put on the line. We need to unite in defending them,” she said.
Speaking on the U.S.-Israel relationship, Livni said that “it’s not enough for us to speak about shared values. It’s more important to keep and cherish these values. These are the values that Israel is based upon. These are the values we all believe in.” She added that “security should not be used to act against freedom of speech in Israel or against civil society organizations.”
The Trump administration must support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Livni said, adding that it is not anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian for an American president to support such a peace plan. A two-state solution is the only way to keep Israel a Jewish and democratic state, she said. “It’s the just solution for us as Jews and for the Palestinians. It’s the only way to keep our vision.”
In a subsequent discussion on Israel and the American Jewish community, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, accused Israeli politicians from the current government of showing “ignorance” about American Jewry and its connection to Israel. He specifically mentioned Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, who said that non-Orthodox Jews won’t exist in two generations. Jacobs said that this ignorance leads the Israeli government “to miss our strength, our vitality and our commitment to Jewish values.”
Another speaker on the same conference panel was Zoe Goldblum, who leads J Street U, the campus affiliate of J Street. She took Prime Minister Netanyahu to task for what she said was his late and weak response to the violence of right-wing extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. “I’m expected to defend Israel, but Israel is not defending me," she said, adding that she would expect Netanyahu to strongly condemn the violence in Charlottesville and “demonstrators who are chanting anti-Semitic slogans -- especially when our own president won’t do it.”
In comments on the clashes on the Israel-Gaza border in recent weeks in which 34 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops, Goldblum said that she felt “horrified” by the recent events in Gaza. The American Jewish community “has a Gaza problem,” she said. It should "speak out" against Israel’s response to the demonstrations on the border fence.
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This message was in contrast to the speech by Livni, who described what she said were efforts by the Israeli army to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. Soldiers who act against those orders are punished by their commanders, she said.
In last Friday's mass demonstrations, numerous attempts to destroy obstacles erected by the army were made during the day, the army said. It also said a number of attacks were attempted, with explosives and firebombs thrown at the border, as well as gunfire.