Liberal Jews to Israel: Do It Our Way or Else

In recent days, 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 to American Jewry, have shaken the historical alliance between American Jewry and Israel, and have attacked the very essence of what defines Jewish identity.

The recent conversion law controversy and egalitarian praying area at the Western Wall are indicative, complainers 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 the status quo remains in effect.  Concerning the conversion law controversy, the relevant parties are mainly former Russian Olim (that is, immigrants making aliyah to Israel) living in Israel and not American Jewry or American Olim.

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 [the] 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 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, "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 pose a strategic danger to the well-being of the State of Israel.

"Yesterday," Friedman said at a B'nai B'rith journalism awards ceremony in Jerusalem, "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. That's something unthinkable in my lifetime, up until yesterday."  Boycotts, questioning the legality of governmental decisions, encouraging members of Congress to threaten to withdraw their support of Israel – all are strikingly similar in content and in language used by the BDS and anti-Israel movements in America that promote the delegitimization of the State of Israel.  For many liberal diaspora leaders, Israel has become an "oppressor" of Jewish rights.  These people 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.  They suggest that they can save Israel from itself so as to survive as a democratic state.  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, they unjustly label Israel 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 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, as arch-Jewish liberal Peter Beinart puts it, is 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 and complicated.  It raises too 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 Israelis inhabit not "tolerant Israel" or "intolerant Israel."  Rather, they inhabit the vast landmass of "middle Israel," the place where all Jews can live together, providing maximum liberty and religious rights.

The writer, a 25-year veteran of the IDF, served as a field mental health officer and commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer.  Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGOs implementing psycho-trauma and psycho-education programs to communities in the North and South of Israel and is a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria.  Contact: medconf@netvision.net.il

In recent days, 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 to American Jewry, have shaken the historical alliance between American Jewry and Israel, and have attacked the very essence of what defines Jewish identity.

The recent conversion law controversy and egalitarian praying area at the Western Wall are indicative, complainers 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 the status quo remains in effect.  Concerning the conversion law controversy, the relevant parties are mainly former Russian Olim (that is, immigrants making aliyah to Israel) living in Israel and not American Jewry or American Olim.

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 [the] 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 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, "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 pose a strategic danger to the well-being of the State of Israel.

"Yesterday," Friedman said at a B'nai B'rith journalism awards ceremony in Jerusalem, "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. That's something unthinkable in my lifetime, up until yesterday."  Boycotts, questioning the legality of governmental decisions, encouraging members of Congress to threaten to withdraw their support of Israel – all are strikingly similar in content and in language used by the BDS and anti-Israel movements in America that promote the delegitimization of the State of Israel.  For many liberal diaspora leaders, Israel has become an "oppressor" of Jewish rights.  These people 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.  They suggest that they can save Israel from itself so as to survive as a democratic state.  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, they unjustly label Israel 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 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, as arch-Jewish liberal Peter Beinart puts it, is 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 and complicated.  It raises too 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 Israelis inhabit not "tolerant Israel" or "intolerant Israel."  Rather, they inhabit the vast landmass of "middle Israel," the place where all Jews can live together, providing maximum liberty and religious rights.

The writer, a 25-year veteran of the IDF, served as a field mental health officer and commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer.  Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGOs implementing psycho-trauma and psycho-education programs to communities in the North and South of Israel and is a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria.  Contact: medconf@netvision.net.il

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