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An American Jewish group tries to negotiate an end to a political crisis in Israel

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now we turn to Israel, where hundreds of thousands of people have joined street protests against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judiciary. Netanyahu made some concessions this week, but his government still plans to give the ruling party the power to select judges and overturn Supreme Court decisions. Eric Fingerhut is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America. He joined a group that traveled to Israel to ask for a compromise. And he joins us this morning from Phoenix. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC FINGERHUT: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Eric, what prompted you - what was the urgency that got you and your group to get on a plane and head to Israel in this moment?

FINGERHUT: Well, really, two reasons - and this was a delegation that represented more than a dozen communities...

FADEL: Yeah.

FINGERHUT: ...About 30 community leaders representing the broader group of 146 Jewish federations. It was two things. First, we wanted to make sure - we know this is largely a domestic debate in Israel, but we wanted to make sure that they understood the deep concern that this is causing in the North American Jewish communities and also the impact that some of the proposals, as they were originally made, would have - were they enacted as proposed - would have on our relationship. The second is we love and care about Israel. And we're watching the protests and seeing, you know, increasingly strident debate and families torn apart...

FADEL: Yeah.

FINGERHUT: ...And debates. And so we, you know, we love and care about Israel. And when there's risk, we show up, and we want to see how we can be helpful. So those were the motivations.

FADEL: Yeah. And what message did you carry about the concern of American Jews over this?

FINGERHUT: Well, really, we asked for three things. We, as you mentioned earlier, we strongly urged that there be negotiations towards compromise. We particularly urged the - them to work with President Herzog, who has, you know, offered his good offices for negotiations and has made some suggested compromise proposals. We urged them not to continue to move the original package forward as it was currently formulated and on the timetable that it was originally formulated because we really thought that that original package was, you know, - would have been very harmful. And frankly, we've seen progress on that.

FADEL: Are you happy with the concessions? Is that enough?

FINGERHUT: Well, there's been some changes made to one of the elements and also the timetable for - originally, they had said they were going to put the whole package through completely, final passage, before the break that comes for the Passover holiday soon in another week and a half. And that has now been put off until after the holiday. So it gives more time for, you know, for discussion and potential compromise. And thirdly, we really do note that, you know, the essence of democracy, of course, is both majority rule and minority rights. And that's guaranteed through a system of checks and balances. And we understand that the system of checks and balances in Israel isn't going to look like it is in America or any - necessarily any other country in the world - but that there be - we urge there be a clearly articulated system of checks and balances, so everybody understands how that would work in the entirety of the package. We didn't think that was reflected in the original package introduced. Again, it's hard to see, you know, where that is because we don't know what the final package will look like, but we do think that message is being heard.

FADEL: Eric Fingerhut of The Jewish Federations of North America.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.