Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
Liberal American Jewish leaders have done everything in their power to portray Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling coalition as purposely harming the strong alliance between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel. These leaders have leveled accusations that Netanyahu’s actions constitute a slap in the face of American Jewry, shaking the historical alliance between American Jewry and Israel and attacking the essence of what defines Jewish identity. The recent conversion-law controversy and egalitarian praying area at the Western Wall are indicative, they claim, of what Israel has become.
These serious accusations seem to serve the political opponents of Israel’s ruling coalition rather than reflect the facts concerning the Western Wall, where there is no change in the status quo regarding egalitarian prayer groups. Concerning the conversion-law controversy, the relevant parties are mainly olim from Russia, not American Jewry or American olim. Sadly, these same liberal American Jewish leaders have joined hands with Israel’s opposition political parties to challenge the democratically elected ruling coalition–all in the name of what they define as Jewish unity! While disagreements may arise, there is no justification for the contempt and condescension being leveled at the Israeli government by this liberal Diaspora leadership threatening to rethink their support for the State of Israel.
A senior official of the Chicago Jewish Federation and one of the most influential leaders in the American Jewish federation world stated, “The federation in Chicago will not be hosting any member of Knesset that votes for this bill. None. They will not be welcome in our community.” He added: “We’re past the time when we’re standing and applauding and being nice because they’re members of Knesset or because they hold this position or that position.” Israel’s elected political leaders are not welcome in his community and he is calling for a boycott of Israel’s Knesset members. All in the name of Jewish unity. Declaring war against the government, lecturing to Israel about how Israeli society is intolerable–while not living in Israel, while not being part of the daily effort to live with the complex reality here in Israel–is pure chutzpah.
In response to many of the declarations made by American Jewish leaders, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was quoted (without identifying any particular organization) as saying, “I have no doubt that we will defeat our enemies. The question is: Can we survive ourselves?” He was apparently referring to comments by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said in an Israeli TV interview that the repercussions of the Western Wall and conversion decisions could pose a strategic danger to the well-being of the State of Israel.
“Yesterday, I heard something that I never thought I’d hear. And I understand the source of the frustration and the source of the anger. But I heard a major Jewish organization say that they needed to rethink their support for the State of Israel,” Friedman said at a B’nai B’rith journalism awards ceremony in Jerusalem. “That’s something unthinkable in my lifetime, up until yesterday.” Boycotts, questioning the legality of governmental decisions, encouraging members of Congress to threaten Israel to withdraw their support are all strikingly similar in content and in language used by the BDS and anti-Israel movements in America that promote Israel’s de-legitimization. For many liberal Diaspora leaders, Israel, in their minds, has become an “oppressor” of Jewish rights and they have repeatedly attempted in recent days to brand Israel as an intolerant society.
What seems to escape these Diaspora leaders is the fabric of democratic life here in Israel. Their narrative is based on recriminations and false accusations–suggesting that they can save Israel from itself so it will survive as a democratic state. This is the crux of the threatening tone of these Diaspora leaders. For them, the status of religious pluralism in Israel has become the defining lens through which criticism of Israel becomes justified. Rather than perceiving Israel as representing the embodiment of a moral world, the modern-day torchbearers of the Western democratic principle, they unjustly label Israel as undemocratic. Orthodox and secular Jews, Arabs, veteran Israelis, and new immigrants all enjoy equal rights and are subject to judicial review should they feel that their democratic rights are being impinged. Israel’s Supreme Court of Appeals has adopted “judicial activism” as its orientation and is in the forefront of protecting the rights of all sectors of the population in Israel.
Dividing Israel into “good cop, bad cop,” and making out the ruling coalition as an amalgamation of Dirty Harry and The Chosen so as to make Israel palatable to young liberal American Jews is avoiding the real issue at hand. The problem is, to quote Jewish liberal Peter Beinart, that young liberal American Jews “are not especially connected to Israel because they are not especially connected to being Jewish.” Supporting Israel, including Jews who are dati le’umi or chareidi, is messy and complicated, and raises too many questions concerning Jewish identity and Jewish affiliation. Can Israel always be agreeable to the palate of liberal American Jews who would prefer to remain Jewish from afar?
I can assure my liberal Jewish brethren in North America that most Israelis do not inhabit “tolerant Israel” or “intolerant Israel” but the vast landmass of “middle Israel,” the place where all Jews can live together, with maximum liberties and religious rights. Only when Jews live here can they demand “no taxation without representation.”Â v
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ronjager.com.