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Israel Versus the Jewish World

A quiet, bloodless revolution of sorts is taking place both in Israel and in the Jewish world—America and Europe mostly—and in the relationship between them. It is worth paying close attention to it, or else it will get bloody. In Israel, the left has practically disappeared. Certainly the Peace Now movement, the flagship carrier of the peace camp in Israel since 1978, when it played such a major role in forcing Begin into signing (1979) the peace treaty with Sadat (Egypt), is stuck in standing waters, if not completely drowned already. The Labor party, which in different names had ruled Israel from its independence up to 1977, and then continued to do so sporadically under Peres, Rabin and Barak, is nothing but a small fraction now, serving subduedly whoever is in power. Israel hasn’t had a left of center ruling government since Sharon took over from Barak in 2001, after a small coup d’etat that followed the collapse of the Clinton Camp David peace talks.

But not to worry, folks, it’s getting worse. In an article in Haaretz this month, titled “Has the IDF become an army of settlers?” Amos Harel is laying out a frightening, if factual scenario. A scenario that if it to become true, may threaten not only the rule of law in Israel, but its very existence as we know it. He writes: “…six out of seven lieutenant colonels in the Golani Brigade are religious and, beginning in the summer, the brigade commander will be as well. In the Kfir Brigade, three out of seven lieutenant colonels wear skullcaps, and in the Givati Brigade and the paratroopers, two out of six. In some of the infantry brigades, the number of religious company commanders has passed the 50 percent mark — more than three times the percentage of the national religious community in the overall population.” As a result, if Israel were to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which will surely call for an evacuation—massive or otherwise—of West Bank settlements, it is no longer clear that the IDF (lacking the powerful Sharon as head of government) will be able to execute such mission. Conclude Harel: “The secular left-wing fell asleep on the job. The empty ranks it left in its wake have been filled by others.”

Meanwhile in the Jewish world the trend is in the exact opposite direction. While Jews in America, to various degrees, had always supported the Democrats, candidates and causes, over those of the Republicans, more and more are now leaning squarely to the left. Jews voted for Barack Obama in large numbers, and are still supportive of him. In Israel, on the other hand, he is hated and ridiculed; his approval ratings hover around the five points. Latest surveys show that especially among young, non-orthodox Jews, the trend away from the traditional “support-Israel-at-all-costs” is gaining strong hold. Most of them cannot comprehend why Israel should be held to different standards than any other advanced, west leaning democracy; especially when it comes to human rights abuses, occupation and rule over other people, war crimes and so on. The current young Jewish generation is mostly independent, liberal, and religiously unaffiliated. Israel, not to mention Zionism, is far from the top of their agenda, if not at all forgotten.

In Europe also, opinions among the Jews stream in that flow. So much so that a new organization came to be earlier this month. Inspired by J Street, and calling itself “JCall.” This assembly of representatives of various Jewish communities across Europe gathered around a document entitled “Call for Reason,” which castigated Israel’s occupation of the territories and the settlement enterprise, and called upon the European Union to “apply pressure on both sides” to work out a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Instead of crying foul, Jewish leaders and institutions would do better to welcome the open debate and accept intellectual and political dissidence.” (Haaretz 5/13)

Which brings me to my own Synagogue, the conservative Mosaic Law in Sacramento. In the January/February monthly Scroll, our Rabbi Reuven Taff, wrote in his column of the need to support AIPAC as the only legitimate Jewish voice in our relations with Israel. He warned against any descent—such as J Street—of publicly criticizing of Israel, and strongly trumpeted the old maxim of “support-Israel-no-matter-what-and-otherwise–be-quiet”. Many congregants reacted angrily—among them yours truly—forcing the Rabbi, in his March Scroll’s column, to write this: “…I had no idea that my comments would ignite such passion amongst members of our congregation. I received emails thanking me and emails expressing disappointment in my presenting what some felt was a purely one-sided viewpoint. One family was so upset that they decided to withhold sending in their membership dues.” He proceeded to tell the story of the arguments between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai, and at the end said this: “So, to respect that tradition (of Beit Hillel), I present from the J Street Website ―Myths and Facts. Space prevents me from publishing the entire section. I encourage you to read the entire selection by going to the J Street Website.” A revolution indeed!

Unthinkable just a few years ago, but now—the new reality! In conclusion, therefore, it looks certain that the gap between Israel and the Jewish world is growing. Israel, which had already lost the support of most Western nations, is in danger—should it continue to disregard the new Jewish voices (like it did on May 16, by denying an entry visa to Prof. Noam Chomsky, preeminent Jewish American scholar)—of loosing the support of Jews in America and Europe as well. Even more crucial: should Israel continue with its insane settlement policy, and refuse to seriously (and sincerely!) climb on the peace wagon, it may endanger its foundation as a democracy, and may lead itself toward the path of self-destruction.

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4 Responses

  1. What a moving piece! Kol Hakavod!

    Let me address just the first part of your piece.

    For many years people in Israel complained that not enough religious people serve in the military now that their numbers in the army are increasing it is considered a threat??? Now there’s a mind twister for you…

    But not to worry, since the seculars in Israel are still in control they should consider several new laws to pre-empt this looming threat. Indulge me with few lovely suggestions:

    Make a law that forbids religious people in Israel from having more than one child, alternatively. force secular Israelis to have more than one child.

    Make a law that prevents religious people from immigrating to the Jewish state.

    Make the following law: A religious person who wants to serve in the military needs to give up practicing his faith, and their faith-based-connection to the land, as a pre-condition.

    What you are really saying is, I prefer having a Jewish state without (some kind of) Jews, just be brave and admit it, than we can continue to the other parts of your piece.

    BTW, more ideas regarding new laws will be furnished upon request.

    • Interesting ideas, Noa. However, I’m not advocating any new laws, far from me to do so. I merely pointed out the direction/change taking place in Israel. As Harel wrote in his article, “The secular left-wing fell asleep on the job,” which I see as the real problem. Come to think of it, it might be a good idea for a future topic/post. And yes, I do yearn for the “good, old Israel.” And by all means, send ideas for new laws, as long as they will make Israel better!

  2. HIllel

    As painful as the above facts are (I am both socially liberal and a Zionist – a dying breed), the breach is only going to get worse with this new law in Israel that decrees that only Orthodox Conversions will be accepted. I believe this is really suicide and I don’t understand how a country which is 80% secular can allow this to happen and to threaten crucial support from the majority of the affiliated Jews in America.

    As the prayer for Israel in our Siddur says – ‘may good counsel be given to Israel’s leaders’. My heart weeps for Israel and for ‘Am Israel’.

    • To my great shame, Deni, I was under the impression all along that Israel allows only Orthodox Conversions. See my post from January — “The Wars of the Jews,” where I write “considering that the latest data shows that more observant, Haredim children are now being born in Israel than any other segment of society…” Just goes to show,

      Thanks for commenting, Hillel

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