(JTA) — Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a veteran Jewish Democrat from the Chicago area, spoke earlier this week at a demonstration in her district against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul — the latest sign that Democratic officials are embracing the Israeli antigovernment protest movement.
The protest on Sunday in Evanston, Illinois was organized by UnXeptable, an Israeli expatriate group that has held demonstrations across the country and globe in solidarity with the massive weekly street protests taking place in Israeli cities. The protest movement opposes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to weaken the judiciary — the first element of which took effect last week.
For months, Democrats in Congress have criticized the overhaul, and in March, 16 of the 20 Jewish members of the House of Representatives (including Schakowsky) called on Netanyahu to suspend the legislation and reach a compromise with the parliamentary opposition. President Joe Biden has also repeatedly spoken out against the overhaul effort. But Schakowsky’s speech on Sunday was the first time a member of Congress had addressed an anti-overhaul rally.
“Despair is the enabler of injustice, and so we cannot afford to be in despair,” Schakowsky, a deputy Democratic whip in the House, said at the protest, which drew about 150 people. “We have to be in action right now, and I think that the work that you’re doing here, in the United States, the work of hundreds of thousands of people in Israel, is going to absolutely make a difference.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America, the party’s Jewish outreach group, is also featuring weekly talks about the protest movement. Prominent Jewish Democrats, once hesitant to pronounce on Israel’s internal affairs, have grown emboldened to speak out in part because several Jewish establishment groups also vocally oppose the court reform.
Schakowsky’s speech came a week after she joined another 12 Democrats in introducing a non-binding resolution saying that Congress “stands with all Israelis seeking to defend liberal democracy, judicial review, and independent political institutions acting in a system of checks and balances.”
The Congressional resolution has little chance of passage in the Republican-led House. But many of the sponsors are in the Democratic leadership, including Schakowsky; Connecticut’s Rose DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee; and Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Additionally, five of the sponsors are Jewish: Schakowsky, Nadler, Daniel Goldman of New York, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Jamie Raskin of Maryland.