Local College Students Comment on Israel Situation

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Miriam Alster/Flash90 via JTA)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies in the Knesset are pushing a law that would allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings. The members of Israel’s legislative branch would just have to reintroduce a proposal and give it majority approval (61 votes). This proposal is widely seen as protection for Netanyahu against corruption charges and a way to expand the powers of the Rabbinical Court in the Jewish state.

But more than a quarter of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and more than 20% of Israelis are Arab. Israel may be the Jewish state, but it is also a multicultural democracy.

In response to the Knesset’s proposal, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in protest in recent months. Israel President Isaac Herzog has voiced his opposition.
Some of Israel’s biggest tech companies, like the software company Riskified and the cybersecurity firm Wiz, announced plans to divest from the country.

Jewish New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a longtime documenter of Israel, called this “the biggest internal clash” since Israel’s founding after World War II. He also wrote, in the same March 7 column, that for American Jewish leaders, “To stay silent about this fight is to become irrelevant.”

But what about the next generation of Jewish leaders? The Jewish Exponent tried to find some on campuses in the region to hear what they think. No one expressed support for Netanyahu and the Knesset’s proposal. But a sampling of student leaders said that, even if the proposal passes into law, they would continue to support Israel.

“I can compare it to any other organization I support, even the U.S. I definitely don’t agree with everything the United States does as a government. It doesn’t mean I want to have a coup and leave the U.S. and not support it anymore,” said Zach Weiser, a Lehigh University sophomore and the co-president of the school’s Hillel chapter. “I don’t think it’s fair to hold another country to that standard that we wouldn’t even hold our own country to.”

Ethan Lavi, another Lehigh sophomore and Weiser’s Hillel co-president, grew up in the United States with Israeli parents who moved here before he was born. He “100% supports the Jewish state,” he said. But Lavi worries that under the judicial reform law Netanyahu and the Knesset would gain too much power. At the same time, he knows he can’t do anything about it.

“All I can do is hope that things will resolve itself,” Lavi said. “I can’t really participate in protests that will get noticed because I don’t live there.”

Noah Rubin, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore and the vice president of the Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee on campus, has an Israeli father who came to the U.S. after serving in the Israeli army.

But the son is American and does not believe he should be asked to comment on Israel’s internal politics. As American Jews, “We should just be happy that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and has due process,” he said. Rubin believes that it’s his role to support Israel. He’s in the process of planning Penn’s Israel Week, with events about Israeli culture, technology and history.

“Just get people excited about being proud to support Israel,” he said.

Erez Yarden, a Temple University freshman and active Hillel member, lived in Israel until he was 6 before moving to the U.S. with his family. Yarden does not support the Knesset’s proposal.

But as an American, Yarden is less focused on his position regarding the Supreme Court than on his relationships with Israeli friends and family members. He supports Israel because his people live there, not because he agrees or disagrees with the country’s political system. He wants to keep in touch with them and make sure that they are still able to enjoy their lives.

“It’s the people that you’re looking out for. Israel remains an important land with important people,” he said. “You have problematic policies in every country. It may be unfortunate that this is a problematic policy. But in the end, you’re really only caring about the people.”

[email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here