Opinion | As the Most Senior Jewish Member of Congress, I Now Fear Deeply for the U.S.-Israel Relationship

By Rep Jerrold Nadler, originally in Haaretz

The United States is facing enormous challenges to our democracy. I have seen them firsthand. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I led two impeachments of former President Donald Trump for his administration’s attacks on our precious democracy. Despite these challenges, I have also witnessed the value of democratic institutions in safeguarding the rule of law; they have no substitute. 

Accordingly, this fight to protect and defend democracy drives my work on every issue about which I am passionate, including the U.S.-Israel relationship.

I care about Israel very deeply. My Jewishness and love of the Jewish state is fundamental to who I am. As a proud graduate of Crown Heights Yeshiva, I treasure the tradition of Jewish learning from which I come.

It is also personal to many of my constituents. I am the most senior Jewish Member of Congress, and I represent the district with one of the largest percentages of Jews in the nation. My district is a mosaic of the different streams of American Judaism, from ultra-Orthodox to Reform to secular.

I take seriously the strong commitment that the United States has to advancing our shared values and strengthening Israel’s position as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state.

That is why I am particularly distressed about the latest reported plans of Israel’s new minister of justice to undermine the judiciary and the system of checks and balances.

Enacting the Override Clause, stripping legal advisors of their authority, canceling the “reasonableness standard”—all of these proposals undermine the judiciary’s authority, which is fundamental to a functioning democracy.

With a unicameral legislature like Israel’s, in which there is no real distinction between the ruling coalition and the government, it is even more important to preserve the ability of the courts to have appropriate oversight of the government and serve as a check on its power. The Override Clause would mutilate that essential guardrail.

These proposals dismantle the vital separation of powers and protections of civil rights and liberties, which Israel’s judiciary has courageously defended, from LGBTQ+ protections to women’s rights. Its judiciary has helped to make Israel a beacon of freedom in its region.

We know this from our own experience in the United States. Our judicial branch and system of checks and balances has been fundamentally stressed in recent years. Among the many results of this are damage to our own constitutional separation of powers, an undermining of our electoral system, and a fifty-year setback of abortion rights.

Deeply disturbed, the majority of Americans are fighting these developments because, in part, they hold the principles of an independent judiciary as central to their understanding of a thriving American democracy.

The alliance between our countries is, in large part, rooted in these high democratic principles. I fear deeply that this critical relationship could be irrevocably strained should Israel move forward with the Justice Minister’s proposed anti-democratic judicial amendments.

I write these words out of love and as a representative of Americans for whom Israel is an essential element of their identity. I am heartened by the thousands who peacefully took to the streets recently to protest these changes and make their voices heard. It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out against these dangerous moves. 

As we have painfully learned in the United States, democracy is not something to be taken for granted. It is the responsibility of all of us, everywhere, to fight for it.

U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D) represents the 12th Congressional District of New York.