Constitution “just like in Canada”? Bring it on!
A speech I delivered during a rally to protest the proposed constitutional coup in Israel, Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. February 25, 2023
Good evening, friends. My name is Ariel Katz and I am an Israeli-Canadian and law professor at the University of Toronto.
This morning, my mother, who lives in Nes Ziona (south of Tel Aviv), wrote the following on Facebook: “I’m 89 years old. Going to a demonstration tonight. How does one protect themselves against a fist blow?”
It took me a couple of minutes to understand what she was talking about, and realize that she was referring to what Prime Minister Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday. Apparently, during a cabinet meeting yesterday, Netanyahu spoke about the Israeli protesters who oppose the constitutional coup and added: “I would like to give you a fist to strike them”. A fist to strike them.Read more
His office later explained that he wasn’t talking about fist blows literally. Maybe. But even if he only spoke metaphorically, his metaphor still speaks volume. The truth is that Netanyahu and his coalition have decided to give a lethal blow to the liberal democratic principles and aspirations upon which Israel was founded, and they are determined to institute a radically different constitutional order.
Let’s make no mistake. There are many things in Israel’s judicial system that can and should be fixed. But this so-called reform isn’t about any of them.
When one considers that that some of the proponents of this judicial overhaul are outright Kahanists, openly homophobic, and self-declared fascists; that members of the coalition routinely propose to limit the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and threaten another Nakba; that others are persistently hostile to any notion of equality of women, LGBTQ, asylum seekers, non-Jews, or anyone whom they consider not to be sufficiently Jewish or not sufficiently loyal; when you read their manifestos, and listen to their grievances, and then analyze their proposals, the inescapable conclusion is that what drives these proposals is an outright rejection of the notion of a liberal democracy committed to protecting human dignity and advancing human flourishing. Instead, what drives this so-called reform is a desire to entrench Jewish supremacy. This is terrifying.
This is not the vision on which the State was founded. This is not a vision that most Israelis endorse. This is a future that we must strongly resist.
Which is why I came here today. To resist. To protest. And to stand in solidarity with my 89 years-old mother, with my sisters, with my Israeli friends, with you, and with the growing number of Israeli activists who inspire us with their resolve to resist this dark overhaul.
This is a dark and frightening moment. In the face of such threats, it is natural to take a defensive stance: to protest against the proposed changes; to resist the threat; to view this struggle as a struggle to save Israeli democracy.
But you know what? This is not enough. Like many difficult moments, it is also a moment that provides great clarity about what is at stake, and such clarity brings new understandings and opens up new opportunities.
We should not limit ourselves to only protesting against, but instead, we should also begin fighting for. Let’s not just say to what we oppose, but also what we advocate for.
Let’s not limit ourselves to defending the status quo. Instead of trying to save Israel’s fractured democracy, let’s turn this moment into a struggle for a true and expanded democracy.
Because let’s face it. Israel’s democracy has many strength but it is also woefully flawed. Speaking about an Israeli democracy rings a bit hollow while the occupation of millions of Palestinians continues. Our justified concerns about the dangers to our human rights are a tad less convincing while we continue to deny the most fundamental rights from others.
So you know what? Let’s use this moment to demand a constitutional overhaul and let’s begin envisioning a different and brighter future for all those who inhabit our homeland.
We’re here in Canada, and as many of you might have heard, among the various lies and half-truths that proponents of this judicial overhaul advanced, was the claim that they were proposing things that were “just like in Canada”. The comparison to Canada was an inaccurate and misleading nonsense. It has been thoroughly debunked in a statement of Canadian jurists that I’m proud to have contributed to.
But let’s actually talk about Canada. As Canadians and Israeli-Canadians, let’s tell Netanyahu and Rotman and Levin: “Do you want to use Canada as an example? Bring it on.”
- Let’s adopt a full Constitution with a Canada-like Charter of Rights and Freedom.
- Let’s adopt a constitution that recognizes that the country belongs to two nations, not just one.
- Let’s demand a constitutional order that celebrates national, religious, cultural, ethnic, and linguistics diversity and sees such diversity as a source of strength, rather than a threat.
- And a constitution that recognizes the rights of those who lived in our country before we began settling it.
- And let us not be afraid to begin reckoning with the price that Palestinians have paid when we sought our salvation and pursued our remarkable project of national revival.
If Canadians can begin having such difficult conversations, so can Israelis.
So yes, let’s go for a constitutional reform and let’s use Canada as an example.
Thank you for listening to me and let’s send a message of strength, solidarity, and hope to our brothers and sisters in Israel.