In recent day’s liberal American Jewish leaders have done everything in their power to portray the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling coalition as purposely causing significant harm to 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, have shaken the historical alliance between American Jewry and Israel, and attacked the very essence of what defines Jewish Identity. The recent conversion law controversy and egalitarian praying area at the Western Wall being indicative, they claim, of what Israel has become. These very serious accusations seem to serve the political opponents of Israel’s ruling coalition rather than reflect the facts concerning the Western Wall, where no change in the status quo has changed or to be implemented allowing for continued egalitarian praying; concerning the Conversion Law controversy, the relevant parties are mainly former Russian Olim living in Israel and not American Jewry nor American Olim. Sadly, these same liberal American Jewish leaders have joined hands with Israel’s leading opposition political parties to challenge the viability of Israel’s 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 was quoted stating that “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. In other words, Israel’s elected political leaders are not welcome in his community, and that he is calling for a boycott of Israel’s Knesset members. Again, 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 nothing short of Chutzpah.
In response to many of the declarations made by American Jewish leaders, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was quoted stating that “We will defeat our enemies. I have no doubt that we will defeat our enemies,” Friedman continued. “The question is: Can we survive ourselves?”, without identifying any particular organization. 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 of Israel, are all strikingly similar in content and in language used by the BDS and anti- Israel movements in America that promote the de-legitimation of the State of Israel. For many liberal diaspora leaders, Israel in their minds, has become an “oppressor” of Jewish rights and have repeatedly attempted in recent days to brand Israel as an intolerant society.
What seems to escape these diaspora leaders is the very fabric of democratic life here in Israel. Their suggested dialogue is based on recriminations and false accusations suggesting that they can save Israel from itself so as to survive as a democratic state are at the crux of the threatening tone of these diaspora leaders. For these liberal Jewish leaders, the status of religious pluralism in Israel has become the defining lens through which unwarranted criticism about Israel becomes justified. Rather than perceiving Israel as representing the very embodiment of a moral world, the modern day torch bearers of the Western Democratic principle, they unjustly label Israel as undemocratic. Orthodox, Secular, Jews, Arabs, Veteran Israelis, 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” in its orientation and is at the forefront of protecting the rights of all sectors of the population in Israel.
Dividing Israel into good cop, bad cop making out the ruling coalition 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 lies and here I can quote the arch Jewish liberal Peter Beinart when he writes 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 Dat-Leumi or Haredi is messy, complicated, and raises to many questions concerning Jewish identity and Jewish affiliation. Israel that accepts the Reform and Conservative movements, Israel the start-up nation, is a Jewish nation 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 Israeli’s do not inhabit “tolerant Israel” or “intolerant Israel” but the vast landmass of “middle Israel”, the place where all Jews can live together providing maximum liberties and religious rights to those living in Israel. Only then can they demand “no taxation without representation”.