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A Tale of Two Women





This tale of two women is also a tale of two countries, of two democracies and societies, which are going in two different directions, and are growing apart and away from each other. As such, it represents a widening chasm not only between these two countries, but between the two largest Jewish centers in the world, and demonstrates a dangerous fallout, separation of ideas, ideals and codes of conduct and behavior, appropriate – and not so appropriate – to these evolving modern times. It seems ominously clear that, unless these issues are decidedly addressed, with immediate efforts in both countries being made to limit their scope and reach – and I don’t see that as being currently the case at all – it will bring the American Jewish people and the Israeli Jewish people into a major collision course.

Now, you ask, what about these two women of the title? Well, let me tell you. In the space of a month, in these two different countries, two women were appointed to uphold and protect the law of the land, in their positions as United States’ Attorney General and Israel’s Justice Minister. The first to be sworn into office, indeed after a protracted, lengthy and laborious process, was Loretta E. Lynch. She is the first African American woman to hold this important office, but was chosen for it not only because of her racial background – important a factor as it was – but rather because of her extensive legal background and work as “U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, (where) Lynch oversaw federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island,” (according to Wikipedia). Her impressive legal work, to go along with her educational background – a “Doctorate from Harvard law School” – had prepared her for this crucially important job. As result, her nomination and candidacy withstood the extensive, grueling examination by the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate, led by republicans (she was appointed by president Obama ), which nonetheless voted to confirm her appointment. Following that, so did the entire Senate.

The other woman (so to speak) is Ayelet Shaked, who was just sworn in as Israel’s new Justice Minister. She has no legal background or training whatsoever, no working experience in the field, and no educational degree as an attorney. Apart from being young and pretty, two attributes the Israeli press and media had made a big hullabaloo about, she holds a degree in computer engineering, and had served for two years in the Israeli Knesset. She was also Prime Minister Netanyahu’s secretary for two years, before a breakout in relationships, until the latest political maneuver that has brought her and Naftali Bennett, chairman of The Jewish Home Party (a religious party, though she herself is secular) that favors annexation of large parts of the West Bank, and strongly opposes the Two-State solution, into the government at the last minute. And it so happened that a woman without any legal background, “a right-wing extremist who in the past has entertained quasi-genocidal thoughts will now be in charge of Israel’s entire justice system,” (as reported in Haaretz.) “Among other things, she is one of the originators of the so-called ‘nation-state bill’ that aims to turn Israel’s democratic values into unwanted subordinates of its Jewish identity.”

Loretta E. Lynch first action as US Attorney General was to visit Baltimore, following the riots and unrest there lately, the result of the killing by the police of an unarmed black resident in a mostly black neighborhood of the city. She came there to calm the boiling spirits and mounting rage of the local people, and to reassure them that a full investigation – her first major act in office – would be conducted by her office into the Baltimore Police Department response in this matter, and into the long, problematic relations between the police and the black community in Baltimore, citing a “serious erosion of public trust.” A thorough examination into the complex relationship will take place, including into allegations of excessive force, unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and the results will be known to all. Her past legal work, her educational credentials, and her standing in the black community assured the local population, and America as a whole, of the respectful turning of a new page.

What Ayelet Shaked first action would be remains to be seen. Judging (what a loaded word in this regard) though by her past remarks and actions, and her party’s platform, including her party leader’s actions and remarks, it might be directed (as reported in The Times of Israel) towards “splitting the attorney general post into two or even three different offices, giving the Knesset the power to overrule High Court of Justice decisions, and reducing the voting power of Supreme Court justices on the Judicial Appointments Committee.” What next, maybe solidifying the Apartheid policies in the West Bank? Perhaps certifying the annexation of the occupied territories – against any and all international laws and courts – and declaring the Palestinians officially second class citizens? Perhaps deporting all African asylum-seekers? Passing her own, so-called “NGO bill,” which limits the donations received by human rights groups and other left-wing leaning organizations?

As I said, it remains to be seen. Maybe she will surprise us all, but I doubt it. What clearer to me is that Israel is moving away from its core Jewish values; a government with the slimmest of majorities, representing right-wing, religious orthodox polices, with a Justice Minister such as Ayelet Shaked, will move Israel farther away not only from America, and from the rest of the Western World, but mostly form the Jewish people of America. Especially the young ones. At the same time, it will bring Israel closer to isolation, apartheid-like state de facto, and a collision course – the Pope treaty of recognizing the Palestinian State is a case in point – with the rest of the world.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

Jewish Values



Recently, a friend of mine told me a story: A rabbi in a large Jewish congregation – say, somewhere in the great state of California – was asked by a permanent member of the congregation for the rabbi’s opinion and thoughts regarding a panel discussion to be centered around the issue of “Jewish values in relation to Israel, and the important role that the American Jewish community has in engaging in such a discussion.” The member of that congregation was happy to learn that the rabbi thought it was a great idea, and furthermore proceeded to suggest some important topics for discussion, and esteemed candidates to participate in that panel. The member was disappointed, however – though by no means surprised – that the rabbi, for “obvious reasons,” did not feel comfortable participating as a panelist. Even more so, the rabbi thought that other rabbis in town will react in a similar fashion.

My immediate reaction to that story was surprise, and indeed disappointed at the rabbi’s stance on the matter, in particular the rabbi’s refusal to participate in such a panel discussion. My friend, while knowing I was born in a kibbutz in Israel, and that to date I still carry with me certain naiveté, nonetheless asked me why I was so surprised by that. Here’s my response:

What was the rabbi afraid of? And why was that rabbi so afraid? Was the rabbi afraid to discuss, and expose the community to the problematic issue of Israel’s occupation and rule over other people for the last 48 years? Was the issue of ruling, by military means, over other people, depriving them in many cases of basic human rights and national aspirations, inconsistent with Jewish values? And if so, what to do about it? And if not so, if it’s not an occupation, what is it? If it’s an annexation, de facto – by the settlers, in cahoots with the various governments since the Six-Day War of 67 – then what about the rights of the Arabs, the Palestinians there to vote? Isn’t that, well… an apartheid, to deprive them of these basic citizen rights? And if the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria – call it what you will – is part of greater Israel, what about the danger of the Jewish people becoming a minority in the not-so-distant future, losing the characteristic of being a Jewish, democratic state?

Was that particular rabbi – be it a he or a she – afraid to touch, and open all these wounds? Even though, the rabbi is the spiritual and religious leader of the congregation? And as such, isn’t the rabbi supposed to discuss these issues? Was the rabbi further afraid of talking and debating the question of the Israeli Arabs, citizens of the state, some 20 percent of the population, and their status as “second-class” citizens? Especially in regard, and in connection to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perceived racist remarks about them before the last elections. Furthermore, was the rabbi afraid to discuss the ethnic question? The great divide, the “ethnic demon” as it is called in Israel, which is still so prominent in its society, and separate – in income, education and position of power – Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

Too hot to handle, for that rabbi. But what about the Jewish-State Law? What about losing the democratic values to a stricter, more orthodox, religious regime? And what, if we are at it, of the danger of Israel – due to the foreseen makeup of the new government – becoming even more theocratic in nature? Do away with pluralism, religious pluralism in particular, maybe? Put forward more objections and changes to equality between the sexes, for instance, in marriage and in divorce. And to go along with that, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. What so difficult, what so frightening in talking about, and discussing these issues in the open, here in America. Maybe we should tell the Israelis what we think about these matters, and maybe we shouldn’t. But why not talk about it here, among ourselves? Jews in America engaging in conversation about the future of Israel? And with it, the future of the Jewish people as a whole? What can be more natural, essential even, than that?

Perhaps that rabbi didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, or was simply afraid of losing the congregation rabbi’s job. What’s not in doubt in my mind, as I told my friend, is that the rabbi, like other rabbis in that California town, and indeed throughout the land, was afraid. Period. Exclamation point. You name it. Which reminds me that when it comes to Jewish values, none is better than Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his famous saying, to remind us all what our world, and us Jews within it, are all about: “A person walks in life on a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.”

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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