In what may be a first, pro-Israel members of the Montreal Jewish community will be taking their concerns for the country’s democracy to the streets, protesting the Netanyahu government’s contentious judicial reform plan.
A noontime “gathering,” as it is billed, is scheduled for May 5 outside the Israeli consulate in Westmount Square.
The action is being organized by Montreal Jews for Democracy in Israel, and the date was chosen because it coincides with Pesach Sheni, the so-called second Passover, a holiday celebrating freedom.
The group describes itself as “a growing grassroots coalition of members of the Jewish community who support and love Israel and who are concerned about its future.”
An online petition has also been launched by the group, with the goal of collecting 1,000 signatures. By May 3, there were 770 names listed, headed by Rabbis Boris Dolin of the Reconstructionist Congregation Dorshei Emet, Lisa Grushcow of the Reform Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, and Schachar Orenstein of the Lev Shul, an open community synagogue.
Rabbi Dolin said the action was initiated by leaders and other members of Dorshei Emet and the Temple, and both he and Rabbi Grushcow will speak at the event. “We are supporting the people in our congregations who we believe represent so many others in the Montreal Jewish community,” he told The CJN.
“While we hope and wish that our gathering and the petition will promote a real change in the government of Israel, I think our goal is more local. We want this event to be a catalyst to allow a more nuanced support of Israel, where instead of simply always ‘siding with Israel’, we can fight for a better country and government and openly welcome more diverse views and more meaningful conversations about the situation,” Rabbi Dolin said.
The primary goal of the gathering is to show support for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been marching and protesting over the past few months in support of democracy, he said.
“We strongly believe that there needed to be a place in Montreal to show our support for Israel in a more nuanced way that recognizes the current reality in the country itself—as is done in so many other places in the Diaspora–where people can both hold Israeli flags while at the same time say clearly that they do not support the changes that the new government has made.”
He said thought went into the terminology used, that this is presented as a gathering and not a demonstration.
“Because of the delicate nature of Israel activism in Montreal, we felt that the term ‘gathering’ makes our values the most clear. We are not as much protesting as supporting the Israelis who are on the streets and the democratic values that everyone knows are so important.”
Asked if there is concern the sight of Jews holding what would appear to be dissent outside the Israeli consulate could play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, Rabbi Dolin responded:
“Unfortunately, the default position in Montreal for many years has been that we should show our love for Israel by expressing solidarity, going to the large Israel rally on Yom ha-Atzmaut, and only quietly and privately expressing concerns or protest. This has always been an unrealistic expectation that treats Israel as more of an idea than a reality, where any questioning or challenge puts people on the side of ‘anti-Israel’ or left-wingers. This is unfair to our community, and doesn’t do much to help Israel or Israelis.”
He noted that in other cities in the Diaspora, the Jewish community “can proudly support Israel and challenge its leaders to be better, holding an Israeli flag in one hand, and a protest sign in the other.”
In Toronto, weekly rallies have been organized by the group UnXeptable, an international group started by Israelis, protesting the judicial reforms.
“We believe that everyone who cares about Israel should be able to say openly and proudly that Israel can do better, and to show this publicly is a way of saying we demand accountability and ethical values from all governments—even the State of Israel,” Rabbi Dolin said. “As Jews we are commanded to never ignore suffering or brokenness in our world…especially in the Jewish state. This is the most Jewish way to be.”
The organizers have contacted Israeli Consul General Paul Hirschson, and Rabbi Dolin said he “welcomes” their presence and “appreciates that we are gathering to express our support for Israel in a peaceful way.”
Those coming are requested to limit themselves to the single issue of judicial reform and not bring up other concerns. They are asked to carry a supplied sign reading “Protect Israeli Democracy” and an Israeli flag.
The online petition at change.org, which only Jews are asked to sign, makes no specific demands but rather is more a statement of principles and recognition that the Montreal Jewish community has “a special bond with Israel.”
A key line is “many of us who are deeply connected to Israel maintain a policy of not intervening in Israeli politics. This neutrality can no longer be justified.”
The petition also cites a March 27 message from Federation CJA that states: “For the past 12 weeks, Israelis have expressed their love for democracy and passion for their Jewish state through demonstrations, strikes and civil discourse…We support our brothers and sisters in Israel as they work to uphold Israel’s Jewish and democratic values.”
Among the notable signers are philanthropist Brian Bronfman, businessman Ilan Gewurz, lawyer Deborah Corber, Holocaust survivors Eva Kuper and Rachel Gropper, and musicians Deborah Kraus and Matt Herskowitz.