HIAS Urges Israeli Government To Halt Changes That Would Undermine Democracy and Minority Rights
Feb 27, 2023
SILVER SPRING, Md. — HIAS is urging the Israeli government and the Knesset to halt judicial reform legislation that presents a genuine threat to democracy, social cohesion, and the rights of vulnerable minority groups. HIAS further calls on the government and lawmakers to refrain from carrying out these significant changes without engaging in real dialogue aimed at achieving consensus, both in the Knesset and in the broader society.
In the two months since the formation of the new government in Israel, HIAS has watched with deep concern as its leaders have taken steps that would undermine the rights of marginalized groups, and the ability of Israel’s judiciary to protect these rights. “Throughout HIAS’ long history as a Jewish organization assisting refugees fleeing persecution around the world, we have seen firsthand how the lack of checks and balances on governments can put members of minority groups and other marginalized communities at risk of abuse,” said HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield. “When courts lose their independence, they lose their ability to hold governments accountable and to safeguard the human and civil rights of people at risk.”
HIAS Israel Country Director Sivan Carmel said, “As the new government moves to undermine the judiciary — the very institutions that have been on the forefront of protecting the rights of minorities in Israel — HIAS is concerned in particular about the planned introduction of the so-called ‘override clause.’ If passed, the legislation will enable Israel’s ruling coalition to rely on a simple majority to reverse groundbreaking Supreme Court rulings upholding human rights — thereby demolishing the system of checks and balances and the separation of powers in the country. Those court rulings include landmark cases affirming the equal rights of women and defending religious and other minorities from discrimination, as well as decisions impacting one of the most vulnerable populations in Israel: the approximately 30,000 African asylum seekers in the country.”
Most of the asylum seekers in question fled genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region and persecution in Eritrea in search of safety in Israel. Thousands of their children were born in Israel, speak Hebrew, and have known no other country as their home. “But instead of finding welcome,” Carmel said, “this community has been prevented from formally integrating into Israeli society despite the deep connections they have built to their adopted home. The government does not even recognize the right of their Israel-born children to stay in Israel.”
As a global Jewish humanitarian organization, HIAS believes that each human life is sacred, and every human being is entitled to live in safety, dignity, and peace. Over the years, HIAS has worked with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and other agencies to help Jewish people fleeing Europe after World War II, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa, and Ethiopia to find safe haven in Israel. Over the last 15 years, HIAS has continued to help these olim integrate in Israel while also expanding its mission to protect the rights of others seeking protection in the country — including, most recently, welcoming displaced Ukrainians and advocating for the development of a fair asylum system in the country.