National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz spoke at Sunday, March 12’s protest of Israeli Finance Minister Belazel Smotrich, including his threats to women’s rights, alongside the Progressive Israel Network and UnXeptable. We’ve shared the full transcript of her remarks below.
NCJW doesn’t normally protest government officials or elected individuals. Rather, we focus on policies and issues.
Like many other nonpartisan organizations, we strive to work with politicians on issues we care about — whether we agree with them or not. But there comes a time when it is no longer business as usual.
This is that time. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich cannot be seen as just any other elected leader or politician.
The Torah teaches us not to stand idly by the blood of our siblings, and instead to engage and take action.
This is a moral emergency. We must name the deep pain that so many of us feel for what’s happening in Israel right now, a place so many of us love.
It is with that love that we come here tonight — standing with our Israeli siblings — saying there is nothing normal, nothing acceptable about this moment.
It is unacceptable that Smotrich speaks openly of his desire for a society with unequal roles for women, subservient to the roles of men in government and beyond.
It is unacceptable that Smotrich has said that he is a “proud homophobe,” who has compared the Pride parade to bestiality, threatening the safety of the whole LGBTQ+ community.
It is unacceptable that Smotrich has advocated for segregated maternity wards to separate Jewish and Muslim women, threatening grave inequalities. “Separate but equal” America tried that and we rose up together to fight against it. Americans know all too well that separate is not equal.
It is unacceptable that Smotrich has said that “Arabs are citizens of Israel ‘for now at least,” threatening the hope and promise for a diverse, democratic, and safe state where both Jews and Arabs can flourish.
It is unacceptable that Smotrich has said that he wishes the founders of Israel had expelled all of the Arabs from the state at its founding, normalizing hate and exclusion.
And it is unacceptable that Smotrich threatened what amounts to genocide, calling to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara, which has over 5,500 residents. 5,500 people with dreams and aspirations. This validates and encourages violent actions which threaten Palestinian safety and disregard human rights.
Many people ask NCJW what we learned from the fall of Roe v. Wade here in the United States, impacting millions of people’s access to reproductive care. I’ll tell you what we learned.
When politicians threaten to take away our rights we must believe them — and we must act and organize accordingly.
We cannot normalize or simply accept politicians in government who don’t act in the best interests of the people just because they were elected or invited to be in a coalition.
Yesterday after Shabbat, half a million people showed up on the streets of Israel to say loudly– De-mo-kra-tia, DEMOCRACY– to say loudly that they will not allow the government to destroy Israel’s democracy through its judicial overhaul plans. Half a million Israelis is equivalent to nearly 18 million protestors here in the United States. 18 million! Let that sink in.
We’re here today to say our friends in Israel are not alone. And that we, the American Jewish community, who believe in the original vision and promise of the State of Israel, will not stand idly by.
We will not tolerate threats against women — including segregated national parks or punishments for failure to meet modesty standards at the Kotel.
We will not tolerate hateful rhetoric.
We will not tolerate violence or extremism; racism, incitement, or discrimination.
We will not tolerate this blitz of legislation to overhaul Israel’s judiciary.
This is a moral emergency for the State of Israel.
Complacency cannot be an option.
We must refuse to normalize remarks like Smotrich’s.
We must make it clear with our actions as Americans and as American Jews that we side always with democracy, with human rights, and with basic dignity.
We just left the holiday of Purim–in which we followed the leadership of women to fight back against genocide and hate. And now we begin our preparations for the holiday of Passover, where we will see hero after hero in the Exodus story–many of whom are women–take a stand, at great personal risk, for everyone’s safety and freedom.
We must be in solidarity with our Israeli siblings, and shout out loud together with them: DE-MO-KRA-TIA!
The arc of the moral universe is long — and it doesn’t bend towards justice on its own. WE bend it — together.