Webinar Transcript- Israeli Democracy with Hadar Susskind and Susie Gelman

Ori Nir  00:11

Thank you for joining this webinar this special Americans for peace now webinar with Susie Gelman and our own Hadar Susskind. I'm Ori Nir with APN. As we always do, before we start quick logistics, you know, this webinar is recorded, you can find the video recordings on our YouTube channel, and the audio on Peace Cast our podcast this was it will be there. The the audio problem will be there sometime later today and the video tomorrow. The other thing that we always tell you is that you are welcome to ask questions. And you can do that as of now. When you do it, please use the q&a tool that's on the bottom of your screen, not the raise hand tool. And please keep your questions short. And with that, I'm going to hand the baton to my colleague Hadar please go ahead.


Hadar Susskind  01:03

Thank you, Ori. Yeah, so you know, everyone knows -- you're laughing. This is the moment when I usually filibuster for a minute or two to let all of the participants actually join into the conversation. But I think, you know, this is really, I mean, it is a remarkable day, not in a good way, in a very bad way. But I think, you know, there are a lot of moments that we look back on Israel's history and American history. And I think this is going to be one of those where we look back and say, Oh, my God, what did that day mean? And what happened coming from it? I obviously have thoughts and I know Ori does. But before we go forward, I just want to say again, we are very pleased to be joined by our special guest today. Susie Gelman. Hello, Susie. I'm sure many many of you know Susie well, but just in case you don't. She has been the longtime Chair of Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Federation of Washington, various roles in the Jewish Federations of North America, in a number of other pieces, and is the person that I very often sit next to in meetings with dignitaries, and Susie, we are happy to have you here with us today. You know, if those of you who registered for this when we first sent out the invitation last week, the idea was for us to discuss President Herzog's recent visit here. You know, his conversations with the White House with Congress, US Israel relationships. All of that is important, we will still get to all of that. But needless to say, it has been surpassed by events a little bit. So you know, first of all, I'm going to start with that. I think and, you know, we saw many of us here in the US woke up this morning to the news that the Knesset that passed the third reading of the bill, you know, eliminating the reasonableness Standard. And now that we have the word again, you know what that means is that the Supreme Court, at least according to the government, and we'll get to this no longer has the power to stop actions from the legislative or executive branch. And of course, in Israel's parliamentary system, the legislative branch and the executive grant branch are more or less the same thing. So we're talking about the ruling coalition. And you know, the court for all of its challenges, and all of its frankly, failures in the past has been a very important check on many elements of Israeli politics, including occupation and settlements, etc, but also relating to the Orthodox relating to gender segregation issues, LGBTQ equality issues, and so many other things. So what this really gets at is nothing less than the heart of Israeli democracy. If this goes forward, the way the government intends it right now, what we see is a ruling coalition that can do basically whatever it wants. So you know, tens of thousands of Israelis, I'm sure you saw marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands were all out in the streets. And after the vote today, we saw people right now still late at night, they're blocking the roads. And we've seen Israeli police and paramilitary units, using water cannons, and for the first time, what they refer to as skunk water, which is a chemical irritant against Jewish Israeli citizens. And I say Jewish Israeli citizens on purpose, because we know they've done so against Palestinians in the past, but it is new that they've done so against Jewish Israeli citizens. Susie, Yeah, I mean, it's hard to know where to start. Did you? Did you ever think you would see that and what, what do you think about today, please?


Susie Gelman  04:35

So the answer is no, I never thought I would see that. Today is the fifth of Av, Chamishi B'Av, and I hope, when future historians write about this time, it will not be the equivalent of Tisha b'Av, but I think we have to think in those kinds of very draconian terms potentially, in terms of the significance of what happened today in the Knesset, because for all of the lead up to this moment and to passing the second and third reading and by the way, Hadar it seems like they advanced their schedule on this. They did it in as they did it as quickly as possible, despite the massive protests, and as you noted, and was what's happening with a friend in Israel, who at nine o'clock at night, and let's face it, it's very hot in Israel right now. People still pouring out into the streets. Did you say right now protesting, but I think what is different about this moment, is while there are other things I know, we're going to talk about some of them in terms of annexation activity that has been going on since this government came into power, what, seven months ago, but in terms of the Supreme Court, and basically neutering a very important power that the Supreme Court has. And I think we should talk a little bit about that, because the reasonableness standard sounds sort of amorphous and hard for those of us raised in American jurisprudence, perhaps to understand although it is practice and other Commonwealth countries, Australia, Britain, Canada. But in any event, what happened today was that everything that up till now was potential or theoretical became real. This is the moment this is the Ad Kan moment of for Israeli democracy. It cannot be overstated how significant this vote by the Knesset was. And I would note, the entire coalition voted 64, the opposition demonstrated against the legislation by not voting. So it was the the vote was 64 to nothing meaning that Bibi's entire ruling coalition voted in favor of abandoning the reasonableness standard. Let's just take a minute to very quickly unpack because I'm not Susie Navod, I'm not an Israeli legal scholar. But as I understand it, as you said Hadar,  because Israel first of all, let's not forget does not have a constitution, it does not have a Bill of Rights. What it does said are a series of basic laws. But as you noted, the the legislative and the executive branch and Israel are essentially one the same. So the only check, the only check on government power or government action lies within the Supreme Court. I know that there have been criticisms of the utilization of the reasonableness standard, that at times perhaps it was overused, there certainly has been criticism of former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice, Aharon Barak, on that. And he's been protested against by the way over the last few months. But the point is, for example, I think using an example probably is the best way to understand the reasonableness clause. Aryeh Deri, who is former government minister, who's been convicted and jailed on charges of tax fraud and bribery. Bibi wanted to bring him back and and by the way, as part of Deri's plea bargain, he said he would not serve as a government minister. Lo and behold, Netanyahu and his coalition got elected last November. He wants to bring in Aryeh Deri, I think, first to be interior minister and eventually be finance minister. And just think about that for a second, a financial--


Hadar Susskind  08:45

convicted of bribery and corruption and


Susie Gelman  08:48

tax fraud, and he'll be overseeing the enforcement of the tax code in Israel. So the Supreme Court ruled that that was unreasonable. That it flew in the face of Deri's own plea bargain. But not only that, that basically because of his prior convictions and serving time for them, he was essentially unfit to serve as minister. The reasonableness standard is what would have kept me from serving the government. Well, now that's gone. I think there's another question to be raised about what happens next. I know we're gonna get into this. But for example, will the supreme court now say that this passage of this law abandoning or negating the reasonableness standard, will Supreme Court deem that to be unreasonable? I think that's entirely possible. Then what happens? The Knesset says Well, you can't say it's not reasonable, because we just voted overwhelmingly that that standard no longer exists. So then you you plow Israel immediately into a constitutional crisis. So I'm going to stop there and let you react, Hadar, and then we'll just keep this conversation going.


Hadar Susskind  09:56

Thanks, Susie. So, you know, I'm glad you mentioned that last piece, a number People have asked it already. And I was gonna mention it also, that is, you know, as we talk about next steps, I'm sure there will be continued protests, obviously, there's political organizing, there's going to be many other things. But we already know that this is being challenged in the court. And that is, you know, the likely result is that the court will rule that this is unreasonable, and the government may not do it. And the government will, of course, respond by saying, you don't have the power to say that anymore. Which point? I don't know, we'll see.


Susie Gelman  10:28

We are, we're already in uncharted territory. And I think when we get to that point, and it sounds like we're gonna get to it fairly quickly, because unlike our Supreme Court, that things move very fast in Israeli Supreme Court, at least at this level. So I expect that hearing to take place very soon.


Hadar Susskind  10:46

And again, you know, you mentioned there are some things that we know that this is going to impact. Deri, you know, can minister can other ministers be appointed in certain roles, things like that. But there is no doubt that this will impact almost every element of Israeli political life, including very specifically the occupation settlements, you know, and Israeli Palestinian relations. And I think it's actually really key to note that, you know, while a lot of the conversation we're hearing here in America, and frankly, on the street in Israel is, you know, Democratia, right? It's talking about democracy. And Israel's democracy is very important and is in and of itself worth fighting for. But the, you know, the settlers and the settlers in government, are very clear that their reason for doing this is to be able to move forward with their annexation plans. They're not subtle, they don't hide it, they say it out loud and clear that the court has been an obstacle in their desires to annex the entirety of the West Bank. And now they've gotten rid of that obstacle. So although we know that the anti occupation block has been a an important minority, but a minority in the protest movement, there's no doubt that the issue of occupation and annexation is central to why this has happened.


Susie Gelman  12:06

100%. In fact, I think, in all of the discussion over the last few months about judicial overhaul and the various elements, and let's not forget, by the way, this is only one, this is the first one that's passed. But there are other aspects, such as who serves on the judicial selection committee, trying to tilt that. So basically, the ruling coalition, that the judicial selection committee is under the control until now of the coalition until now, the formula was such that you couldn't have a majority simply of the ruling governmental coalition, you had to have some votes. That included the opposition. And what that meant was, every time a new Supreme Court Justice was appointed, essentially, for the last few years, there's been some horse training get a conservative jurist alongside a more liberal progressive one. That's how they managed to work around the fact that it wasn't just government by, you know, that Bibi's coalition could just put in whoever they want there. And clearly, but that's going to I'm expect that we'll go ahead. I mean, I don't think they're going to stop with with this. You know, there's also talk about and I do want to get back to the occupation and some activity, but there's also there's some talk about the override clause, basically, that the, as part of this architectural judicial overhaul, and by the way, please many audience members do not use the word judicial reform. It wasn't ever reform, it is anti-reform. But in any event, that the override clause meant that would mean if it were past that, essentially, the Supreme Court could not override any particular action of the government. But it's almost irrelevant, because once you get rid of the reasonableness standard, it's it's green light to essentially whatever the government wants to do, and takes away the power of supreme court to review and, frankly, to stop some of the most extreme actions that this government would take. Back to the settlement enterprise, as you said Hadar, clearly, the focus on judicial overhaul is all about annexing the West Bank. And I would just note, I heard from a friend that all of the buses that poured into Jerusalem for the pro overhaul or pro abandoned standard vote came from the West Bank. I mean, so you really got this. It's the dichotomy between those who want to see Israel remain secure Jewish democratic and those who want to rule over greater Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. You now have, I think, if I were a member of the settler movement, I would be feeling very, very good right now because I would feel like I've just been handed the keys to the kingdom, more or less and, and yet not you know hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been pouring out in the streets they don't want to see their democracy uprooted. I think we also Hadar we need to get into the shared values, shared interests, United States, all that, but where does this go? Because the passion that we've seen the outpouring of support in defense of Israel's democracy. I mean, I have I think we have to take a step back and say to ourselves, that is remarkable. That is truly remarkable. And it is the one aspect of all this that does give me hope on a rather dark and disturbing day. But where does it go? I mean, I think one thing we had to be concerned about, quite frankly, is civil war in Israel. I mean, you're already seeing some violence you're already seeing the police using as you mentioned, not just water cannons on Jewish Israeli demonstrators, but what is it skunk water? Which I think it sounds awful, and I guess it just makes you smell like it's gone? Good. Probably very hard to get.


Hadar Susskind  16:33

It's not a skunk that it smells like.


Susie Gelman  16:35

Oh, worse. Okay. In any event, you know, Itamar Ben Gvir is in charge of the police and clearly made it very clear that he wants him to come down really hard on the demonstrators and frankly, crack heads and draw blood. The demonstrations are not going away. They're just going to continue both the Pro and the con. And, I mean, I do worry about violence spiraling out of control. I think we also need to think a little bit about what does this do to Israel's security? Right? Because you have thousands of Israeli Army Air Force reservists, some of the more elite units like Sayeret Mantal and others. I don't even know where Mossad is going with this, although was it? Was it the chief who said he'd be on the right side of history, whatever that was?


Hadar Susskind  17:27

He did. The other thing that the Mossad in particular has done because many of the various intelligence units, folks are refusing service, the Mossad in particular, issued a an internal edict that said that the senior leadership cannot be part of the protests, because of their role, but that actually mid and junior level Mossad, you know, members, employees, whatever you want to call them, are actually part of the protest movement. And when I, when I was there a few months ago, and out at the protests, I was with somebody who said to me, Oh, I know this person, this person and this person who are all, you know, Mossad staff were out there protesting. I mean, the the response from the military and the intelligence communities is, I think, a really crucial part of this. Because as you look at the leverage, you know, we've all had the conversations of, you know, everyone knows, obviously, the endgame here is you need a new government, right? You need different different elected officials who are going to make better decisions for the entirety of the state. But how to get from here to there is, you know, protesters out on the street, are incredibly important, but they themselves cannot, cannot bring about a new election, you need the pressures on the people in government. And I think the refusal of the pilots, the doctors, including the whole medical association is on strike. Israeli hospitals are working only on an emergency basis right now. We're about to see, as you mentioned, general strike probably being called from the Histadrut, I think, probably literally any minute right now. So we're are in a situation where the key levers of power, the key elements of the Israeli society, are standing up and saying no, and the question is going to be there, you know, what is going to be the response of the government to that?


Ori Nir  19:12

What I thought we could do is to talk a little bit just to advance the conversation to talk a little bit about what we think that repercussions will be. We talked a little bit about the economy. We can talk a little more about society, if you'd like. And Israel's international relations, just add that in terms of the economy. We saw today that the stock exchange took a nosedive. So that kind of signals to us where things are going good economically. But maybe let's talk a little bit about what is happening to Israeli society under this duress, and then international relations, obviously, with a focus on US-Israeli relations.


Susie Gelman  19:58

Hadar, do you want to kick that off?


Hadar Susskind  19:59

Sure, I mean, I think, you know, again as Susie, you mentioned that, I think, a very real danger of civil war, right? Nobody, Nobody enjoys saying those words or sets them lightly. But I think the violence that we're seeing and the buildup of real hatred, and you started off talking about Tisha b'Av, I mean, everyone is sort of making that obvious analogy is, is really scary. We know that, you know, just like in America and other places, there are very serious societal fractures. And I think this is both, you know, making them clear and exacerbating them. And one of the things that, I'll just tell you every morning when I, when I see the protests, and I see violence from the police, or I see, you know, right wing supporters, again, it happened today, you know, drove cars through groups of protesters, you know, all of those protesters on the left, are all of those Tsayot Matcaz veterans who are refusing to serve. They're all, right, we know this in Israeli society, almost everyone is a veteran. And although they don't have firearm and gun violence issues there, thankfully, like we do here, it is a country that is heavily armed. And that's not just the right wing. And I think, you know, that fear for me is very, very real about is this going to, you know, degenerate into into sectarian violence.


Susie Gelman  21:26

I think the prospects of that are certainly there, Hadar. And that's why I raised it when I raise it, because this is something that's been going through my mind last few weeks, and the build up to this. And now that it's happened, you know, there's obviously so much anger, particularly on the sides of those who on the side of those who really wants to defend Israel's democracy. And this is, this is a real threat to Israel's democracy, a very real threat, very tangible threat. So where's that energy going to go? I mean, interestingly enough, and I believe Ben Gvir, even at one point before, he forced the Tel Aviv Chief of Police to step down for not being tough enough on the protesters. But I don't remember who it was. Now, some, some security official police or others said that the violence is coming from the right wing, not from the left wing, the left wing protesters have been generally pretty peaceful.


Hadar Susskind  22:31

That's been very true. And it's a very intentional part, you know, we had Shikma Bressler one of the leaders of the protest movement on a webinar with us a few weeks ago, we talked about that. They've been very intentional about making sure the protests are peaceful.


Susie Gelman  22:45

But you raise the question if someone is attacked,


Hadar Susskind  22:49

Right, that that's been the case so far. And I'm very I mean, I'm very glad, I want to be 100% clear, I'm, you know, in no way advocating, I'm terrified by the concept, this could degenerate into violence.


Susie Gelman  23:00

Do you want to get into a little bit of the International repercussions? And particularly, you know, US-Israel?


Ori Nir  23:10

Just one thing that I thought would be interesting to add here in terms of how this impacts Israeli society, and that is that just an observation that I saw, David Grossman, the author making an article that he published in Haaretz, and that is that, because this has become such a pressure cooker, in Israeli society, all sorts of pressures and hatreds and, you know, internal strife that takes place in Israeli society, between secular and religious between Mizrachim and Ashkenazim and so on and so forth, are enhanced, and are, you know, exploding under under this pressure. So this is also kind of an interesting thing to mention. But I think it'd be great if we if we turn a little bit to the US Israel relations and talk about--


Susie Gelman  24:00

I'll just follow up on the point you're making already first, very briefly, which is, as you were saying that it reminded me of when former president Reuven Rivlin talked about the four tribes that represent Israel, it's probably a lot more than four. But the fact is, yes, just to underscore your point. Who knows what Benjamin Netanyahu was thinking these days, but he is allowing Israeli society to be torn apart on his watch. And I think that is something we need to take note of as well.


Hadar Susskind  24:34

Yeah, I mean, there were I don't remember who I first saw put it out today. But somebody said, you know, Netanyahu is just determined what the first line of his obituary is going to be, you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving Prime Minister who oversaw the destruction of Israeli society was more or less what it said. You know, one thing so let's talk a bit I mean, again, we could keep going on on this but let's talk about the US Israel piece and what this means. I think, you know, it's interesting For us to sit here, oftentimes people in Israel will say to us, but others in the US or globally, Oh, you don't understand you haven't been through this, you don't know what it's like. I think in some ways, and again, it's not a perfect parallel. But in some ways, we have been through this quite recently, right? You know, Ori what you were just talking about, about how this is exacerbating all the tensions and bringing out, you know, religious, racial, ethnic, regional, everything else. I mean, that was the Trump years. And you know, we're still dealing with it here, of course, that it hasn't disappeared, just because Biden is in office, we're dealing with those repercussions. And we're dealing with all of these people who, you know, are pushing those variety of views in different ways. And I think, having been through it here, we can look and see what's happening there with a different kind of understanding.


Susie Gelman  25:52

Let me pick up on what you said. Because it's, you know, Hadar, of the criticisms of those who have on this side of the ocean, who, whether it be in the administration, or American Jewish organizations like APN, and Israel policy forum and others who've taken pretty strong stances since this government was elected in terms of what it was planning to do, and speaking out constantly against that. But, you know, there's been an attempt to shut down that conversation by saying this is an internal Israeli matter, it's a matter of, you know, elections have consequences. And this is the consequence of that of a democratically run election and it was democratically run election, as far as we know, anyway. But it isn't just an internal Israeli matter. I mean, I want to get a little bit into the security implications of what is happening, frankly, if I were Hezbollah, or Iran, I'd be paying very close attention to what's going on. Because if you have reserve units not able to basically function, and the Israeli Air Force, reservists are key. I mean, to keeping the air force going, it's not like--


Hadar Susskind  27:08

if I can interject for one second. Just so to make sure everybody understands this, you know, reservists units are the core of the actual function of the military, certainly the Air Force and other special forces units, but particularly the highly specialized, highly trained jobs, right, it's not 18 and 19 year olds doing those, it's people are going in these roles for 7, 8, 9 10 years.


Susie Gelman  27:30

If they don't show up for training, they may not be prepared when they need to be prepared for whatever might be happening. So I think first of all, we need to look at the external threats. This clearly is an issue that affects Israel security, not just its military and intelligence preparedness, but you know, how the rest of the world is looking at Israel and seeing this turmoil? And what what that might mean to Israel's enemies. So I think that's, that's something to be concerned about. And then the other question is, what does this mean to Israel's friends, first and foremost, the United States? So as we know, and we haven't really been able to talk about President Hertzog visit last week, which seems now like 100 years ago, light-years ago, but in any event, it did happen not even a week ago, six days ago. I know five days ago is a joint session of Congress. And of course, when he met with President Biden in the White House, I think there was very strong messaging on both sides about the resilience of Israel's democracy and President Hertzog talked about that, in his remarks before the joint session of Congress, he spoke he mentioned at least twice by my account, the importance of an independent judiciary. You know, he did, he certainly did his best last week to reinforce bipartisan support of Israel. And I think you saw that you saw that in in the joint session. It was overwhelmingly bipartisan, and certainly supportive what of President Hertzog was saying and what he stands for, because as we know, he worked very, very hard to try to achieve some sort of compromise on judicial overall. Unfortunately, at least to date, he clearly has not been successful, his efforts, unfortunately, not for lack of trying. He and many others, but he didn't lead the charge on this. But at the end of the day, he doesn't really have any authority other than moral authority, which I think he has tried to exercise extremely well. But He also warned by the way Hadar, he also warned about civil war not so long ago, so I can't imagine how he's feeling at this point. But as we know, the United States has been signaling. Even I believe last night, President Biden said something made Another statement trying to they didn't understand why they need to rush into this. There's been all the all the messaging around, you need to do this by consensus, something this, this major shift needs to be achieved through a national consensus, not just the ruling party basically forcing it through. So, you know, obviously what the United States had to say on this, ultimately, I mean, I don't think the members of Netanyahu, his coalition, give one whit what the United States government says or thinks.


Ori Nir  30:37

Yeah, I actually disagree. I think I think that they are, I think that they are sensitive to it, and they do care. And therefore the question that I wanted to ask both of us just to kind of zoom out a little bit, and we will get back to the matters of the day, because we have a lot of questions about it is, as you know, longtime Washington animals who've been here for a long time and dealing with Congress and dealing with the administration, do you see if you can give a few examples to show how it plays out? Do you see a major change in the overall attitude of people toward Israel in general, toward this government more particularly? How does it how does it play out?


Hadar Susskind  31:24

Alright, I'll start with this Susie, and then we'll go to you. So, you know, I actually am going to start in the moment. So I think, you know, one of the things APN said in our statement earlier this morning, and then we've been saying around this is that, you know, this issue is, you know, really fundamental. Fundamental to Israel's democracy, fundamental to, you know, the, quote, unquote, shared values that the US and Israel have fundamental to issues of occupation, annexation, human rights for Palestinians, and that all of us need to be willing to step out of the comfort zone and respond appropriately to that, right that it can't be, whether it is, you know, Jewish leaders and organizations or members of Congress, or President Biden, or anybody who engages and has a voice on this needs to be willing to acknowledge that this is a big thing, and not just issue another statement that says, Well, we have concerns about, you know, as we're also used to, and so I think, well, as far as I'm concerned, I'll say, my grade on President Biden is incomplete. And that's because he has over the last weeks month, two, three, actually, he's actually spoken out more, spoken more strongly and taking a few specific real actual steps more than he has done in the past. And this is somebody who, you know, many of you if you've been on our webinars before, and you've heard me say this, you know, I think President Biden deeply, deeply cares about this. This is not another issue for him. It's something he's cared about for many years. It's something he personally knows a lot about. And he is probably the last American president to have grown up with the kind of political education and identity that he's got where the the AIPAC people were his best friends for so many years. You know, that's kind of what he what he grew up with politically over the decades. And obviously, he's, you know, close to many, many people in the party and on the left now on this issue, but that's his education and where he comes to. So I actually think he has moved for him saying the things he said and doing the things he's done is progress. And, personally, I think it is insufficient for where we are. And then likewise to members of Congress, there have been a lot of statements. You know, it was very comfortable for Democrats to support President Hertzog when he was here. That's why we saw both statements and all the applause standing up, because it was easy to cast him, and correct to cast him, as the opposition to Bibi when it comes to the judicial coup. Right. Bibi and his government are trying to do this thing. Herzog is trying to stop this thing. True. And so we're going to applaud him on that front. The problem with that is that you know, all those congressional statements, those other comments, almost none of them said the word Palestinians, said occupation, talked about, you know what this actually means beyond just democracy and shared values. And some of them did. And, of course, we saw that pushback, we saw that pushback against the members of Congress who, you know, boycotted the speech, who said they weren't coming and who made, you know, various remarks about why they weren't coming out a lot of pushback from the sort of majority of the institutions in the Jewish community. And I'll say for full clarity for people who didn't know, you know, we encouraged members of Congress to attend this speech. We sent something up to Capitol Hill that explained what the President's role is, and that he is not, in fact, a representative of the government because he's not and there were people on Capitol Hill who didn't understand that. But we also respected the right of people to protest and so, you know, when when members of Congress said they weren't coming in protest of Israeli policy, others, some other organizations and people attacked them and said it's antisemitism who said, No, it's a protest of Israeli policy like, you can disagree with the policy. But that's what it is. It's a protest of the policy. And I think we are seeing a change in order to get to the bigger picture question. You know, I think we've seen a bigger change in the last three years than in the 20 years before that. We've now seen members of Congress on the floor and on public statements, talk about cutting aid to Israel, or conditioning aid to Israel or other things, which again, you can support or not, that's not even my point for the moment. But five years ago, that had never happened, right. The first people to talk about cutting aid in Congress was, was during the 2020, Gaza War, when Bernie Sanders


Susie Gelman  35:47

Actually, the 2016 presidential election.


Hadar Susskind  35:50

That's true, you're right. But on the floor of the Congress, Bernie, and then a group that was really 10 or 11, House members that everyone just says it was AOC, because for good and bad, everything puts every everyone puts everything under her name, you know, they all call for cutting, there was a $750 million in aid that was supposed to go that week. And we actually had suggested delaying it until there was a ceasefire, said, Hey, you know, let's try to get them to a ceasefire faster by holding this. And that group said no, cut it, don't send it cut aid. And you know, you can disagree with that position. I disagreed with that position. But none of them spontaneously combusted. None of them were hit by lightning, all of those people were reelected to office like, like it or not, that's now actually a view in Congress minority view. But it's a view and many more people, including, you know, handfuls of Senators now, are talking about conditioning aid are talking about making sure we're not supporting occupation or talking about, you know, responsibility for things like Shireen Abu Akleh's killing. So I think that we're seeing a tremendous change. And I will stop and hand it back to Susie.


Susie Gelman  37:01

So I want to react to what you said, I first want to start off by saying while I'm speaking in my capacity as a private citizen on this webinar, Israel Policy Forum, which I just stepped down from his chair, after seven years, consistently taking the position that we don't think conditioning aid is an effective way of trying to pressure Israel to either do something or not do something. Because money is fungible, and it does go to Israel security. I think there is a question about the next memorandum of understanding because we are right now there's a 10 year MOU $3.8 billion a year for 10 years, 38 billion. I believe that's that expires in 2028. So it's ways out. But there are other potential levers that I think are being considered potentially one is, will the United States continue to defend Israel in international fora? The United States has been counted on almost entirely to defend Israel at the UN. If you remember, at the end of Obama's term as president in December of 2016, there was UN resolution 2334, which the United States abstained from didn't veto but abstain from it, because it happened to mention settlements and criticize settlement expansion. And, of course, the Democrats got a lot of criticism for that. So I think that there is the possibility of, you know, these are different tools, whether or not the United States will exercise any of these, but not be such a staunch defender of Israel in the UN, particularly if Israel continues to move ahead with annexing the West Bank, which we haven't even really talked about, but it is happening as we speak. Certainly, when you legalize illegal outposts, and you basically wipe away the evacuation from 2005, when Israel left Gaza, it also evacuated four settlements in the northern West Bank, which are now apparently open for business again. So and clearly there are going to be more steps being taken privatizing Palestinian land, etc, etc. So will the United States be counted on to defend Israel? No matter what I think that's one question. I think the the US visa waiver program which Israel desperately wants, could now be a victim of this. Why should the United States rush to give the Israeli government something it desperately wants? And by the way, it makes sense that Israeli shouldn't have to get a visa to come to the United States, whether they're Palestinians, or Jewish Israelis, whatever. But you know what's going to happen with that? What's going to happen with Saudi normalization, which, again, both this administration and frankly Bibi Netanyahu desperately want Saudi normalization. You're already seeing some effect on the Abraham Accord countries by the actions of this government. I guess I would characterize it as a bit of a cooling of relations, even though there still is normalization. And there's still, you know, all the trade and technological agreements, all that advancement is proceeding, but it does feel a little bit like there's a cooling from the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, I guess, do we count Morocco? I guess we count Morocco.


Hadar Susskind  40:41

We count Morocco and the Western Sahara.


Susie Gelman  40:44

Yes, what's going to happen with the Saudis, because that clearly is the big fish here. So I think that there are things that United States could do if it chose to, short of conditioning aid to express its displeasure with where things are going. The only other thing I want to say, though, is we do have to remember that we are now we're in you know, we're heading towards the 2024 election. And I think everything that happens on this side of the ocean, at least amongst our elected officials, going up to the administration has to be viewed in that context, as well. We saw last week, a very minor example of how support for Israel gets weaponized by Republicans. When Jayapal may but I would consider an unfortunate common calling Israel a racist state, as opposed to just talking about racist actions, but that was a bridge too far. And of course, the Democratic leadership came down on her. She walked it back, but then you had that resolution passed by Congress that did like exactly what you said, and are made no mention of Palestinians or two states are any that. So I think however much Democrats might come out in in criticism or something stronger, based on on, you know, what happened today and what could be happening in the next few weeks in the Knesset, not next few weeks, Sorry, they've got one week till their summer session ends. And so they've got one week before they go on break. But who knows what they'll do in that one week, if anything more they've done enough already is my opinion. But in any event, I just think we can't be naive about the fact that this is all happening with the overlay of a critical election for the United States in 2024. And how those politics will play into whatever the administration or members of Congress, Senate, do with regard to Israel.


Hadar Susskind  42:36

Yeah, it certainly will. I mean, that's just a fact. Ori before we go on one thing.


Ori Nir  42:41



Hadar Susskind  42:42

Susie, I agree. 100%. And we've actually, during the transition between when Biden team was on its way into office, we sent them a long list of policies and actions and steps, we thought that they should, that they should pursue, they've done a few of them, there are quite a few of them, they haven't done and we continue at different moments. And I think we'll do so again, to suggest here's a range of things, right? If you go, you know, from the the mildly mildest, you know, comment of, of disagreement up through, you know, that that issue of whether or not Bibi is coming to, to the US, I'm pretty sure that the foreign ministry staff are not packing for that trip, because I don't think that's happening anytime soon, you know, all the way up to presumably sort of cutting aid as like, the biggest thing that could happen. There are many, many, many, many steps in between here and there, and some of them are concrete in terms of things like aid, but some of them are, like you said, diplomatic cover and the United Nations and other fora and, and all sorts of other steps. It could be simple things that, you know, like, reversing some of the Trump policies that still haven't been addressed, like the issue of labeling settlement goods, right, that's long standing policy, American and European that says that, you know, goods coming from the settlements are not made in Israel. Israel, you know, according to US law, international law, and frankly, at least until today, Israeli Law, settlements are not Israel. But the Trump administration changed that policy. And, you know, we said about it, then and continue that, you know, a Palestinian child made in the West Bank, if they don't enjoy the benefits of being considered made in Israel, then a bottle of wine shouldn't either, right. And while that's while that issue was directly related to the, you know, judicial coup, where the administration did take that action, now, it obviously sends a message and takes a step. So anyway, many things that could be done. Ori I hand back to you.


Ori Nir  44:33

Right, so I do want to address the some of the questions that we've we're getting from the attendees, we have dozens of questions here. As I pointed out in the chat, we're not going to get into the nuts and bolts of the Israeli judicial system and you know, all that kind of stuff. There's resources. One really good one is the IDI Israel democracy Institute. You can also find a lot of resources on the website of the Association for civil rights in Israel. So we're going to leave those questions with regrets, but we're not going to address those. The the two questions that I wanted to address to you, and I'll ask them both, and you can decide how you want to answer them. One has to do with the issue of the Constitution, the fact that Israel doesn't have a constitution. And the question and this reflects several of the questions that we got on the q&a tool, from our attendees, is whether what is happening now that will give a push to the movement in Israel for a constitution, Klal Yisrael, the constitutional movement? And the second question, which again, reflects quite a few of the questions that we're getting here, and this is the, you know, what do we do? How can we help? And so when we talked about what the Biden administration may do, people are saying what can American Jews do? So I'll leave you with those two questions.


Susie Gelman  45:52

Let me start with that. I'd say first and foremost, what American Jews can do and must do is not walk away from Israel. That's number one. I think we need to be supportive of those who are literally using their bodies as a weapon to fight for democracy. And there are ways to support the protest movement. I'm sure you could put in the chat some of the different organizations, but there are certainly ways to support the protest movement, which I expect to continue. It takes it does take resources to run these protests. That's one. Second, there are demonstrations that take place on this side of the ocean, Unacceptable, which is a movement of Israeli expats who live outside of Israel, whether it be the United States or Europe, whatever. And, you know, we participated -- APN was one of the sponsors of the march, protests against Smotrich's visit, and I believe, also then the one in front of the Embassy, but, you know, Unacceptable is continuing to run these protests. And I think that we need to stand in solidarity with our Israeli sisters and brothers when it comes to protesting and making our voices heard. I think those of us who have relations with members of Congress need to be an open dialogue about our concerns and what constructive things Congress might contemplate doing. At this juncture, those of us who have connections to the administration should do likewise. I mean, I will say when you were talking earlier about President Biden, I have spoken directly with him about his commitment to the two state solution which is unshakable. His commitment to Israel's future is unshakable, and his commitment to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, is also unshakable. So we need to be reinforcing those views within the administration, as well as in Congress. But most importantly, this is not a time to say govolt and walk away. I think it will be more of a challenge for those of us who are in America, in the leadership of American Jewish organizations, to try to explain what is happening and reassure people that while this looks like a very dark day, there's a long fight ahead for Israel's future. And it may take a generation Hadar, I know we want to see this government fall and hopefully more center center left government come in to be elected. That to me is somewhat optimistic right now, as I see it, not impossible, but it would take, you know, I don't even know what what new elections would necessarily reveal in terms of what the makeup of the next government would be.  I'd be willing to find out. I'd be willing to find out too. Although chas v'chalila (God forbid) it could be a more extreme government, which is also possibly a little hard to imagine. I do think that ultimately, a greater partnership between Jewish and Arab parties, as we saw in the last coalition are essential to Israel's future. So those are just some initial thoughts about what we as American Jews should be thinking about and doing.


Hadar Susskind  49:22

Thank you. So I'm gonna get to the American Jews in a minute, but I just have to follow up on what you just said. I actually think partnership between Jewish and Arab parties is good and is important. I actually think and we're going off topic here a little bit. So I promise not to go too far down the rabbit hole, everyone. But I think we need a new Jewish Arab party, not just partnership between Jewish Arab parties. I think there is not a successful political future for Israel, that doesn't include that. And there have been and there are parties, including Likud by the way that have had both Jewish and Arab members, but I don't believe that there have been truly joint Jewish Arab parties where both of those groups feel equally invested and equally represented, and that it represents those constituencies collectively. And I think that's essential. And I don't know how soon we're gonna get to that either, Susie, but I think that's essential for Israel's future. But to come back to the American piece, you know, I agree with everything that that you said. And I think there's more that I, you know, I would add, we need to speak out in every context that we can, so with other American Jewish organizations, with other leaders, with other political activists, political donors with, you know, anybody who we know who has, or could have, a voice in this space, because we are still fighting back on years, and, frankly, generations of political education, that have taught our elected officials that they should, you know, they've taught them the code words, unbreakable bonds, and special relationship, and all of these things, and many, many, many of them don't know how to get past that successfully, and don't know how to say things that they say to me privately. And I'm sure to you, too. They don't know how to say those things publicly without being afraid that they're going to be called anti-Israel, and that they're going to be called antisemitic. And because they are there, right, they are called antisemitic by other organizations. And so all of us need to reach out to them. You know, for people who have relationships with members of Congress, that's great. If you don't have a relationship with your member of Congress, email them anyway. call their office anyway. And if you don't have the email, if you don't have the number, email us at APN, we will happily give it to you. APNDC@peacenow.org. That's good. I got that. Right. Right. We are happy to connect you with your congressional office, whether you know them or not. And they need to be hearing from people that we want them to speak out, we want them to fight for Israel's democracy, we want them to fight for human rights. We want them to fight against occupation and annexation. So I think that is the biggest hurdle for so many of our elected leaders. And the only way we help them get over it is by them hearing over and over and over again, from as many people as possible that we're urging them to do that, that we want them to do that.


Susie Gelman  52:12

And I just go back to the question, the audience question that already raised about is this moment for the question of Israel having a constitution this this in some way helped propel that conversation? I think ultimately, it may very well. Because I think what this moment is showing on steroids is what happens when you don't have a constitution. But I think it's going to take a lot more than just, and by the way that conversation has been happening over the last several months, led by IDI and other organizations and other individuals in Israel. So it's not like it's not out there in the public debate that Israel needs constitution. But I think first now, there needs to be a whole different infrastructure somehow created, which will take time, it may very well take a lot of time to create a new infrastructure that gets Israel back to its basics. I mean, the truth of the matter is, I'm sorry to say this, but the polls showed the Declaration of Independence, the language in the declaration of independence would not pass today. So that's the reality we have currently, but it is, you said, it's about education. You know, Constitution is not just a piece of paper. It's a living, breathing document. I mean, we see in our own country that it's far from perfect, the enforcement in the interpretation of it, depending on where you stand or sit. But in any event, I think, ultimately, I guess, the hope here. So let's maybe try to be a little bit hopeful. On a day that's not most hopeful. The hope is that eventually this you know, we're seeing one extreme right now that the pendulum swings, and that Israel gets back on track as a Jewish and democratic country. And of course, there needs to be something done about the occupation that cannot go on, indefinitely. You know, we we haven't talked that much about the fact that the demonstrations have focused on democracy, but inherently and and this is becoming part of the conversation in Israel. You can't have a true democracy, if you will indefinitely over 5 million people. That's just not possible. So if there is any optimism on a rather dark day, it would be on my part, just to say that I think this is this is an inflection point where it goes from here when we can be hopeful that it eventually gets Israel back on track as it democratic country is a Jewish country that represents all of its citizens, and not just, you know, the extremists who are currently in power.


Hadar Susskind  55:10

Indeed, indeed. Thank you. Susie, I really want to thank you for joining us today and for being in this conversation and being in this work with us. Ori thank you as always, and thank you to everyone who joined us and you know, we will be in touch. We will be in touch with more steps. We will be in touch with what we're doing to share what you can do and we will continue to fight the fight. So thank you all.