When the Israeli election results were made public almost two weeks ago, it became apparent that the Religious Zionist party would have a significant role in the new government. Since then, there has been a huge international outcry, including from several liberal-left American Jewish organizations.
The main focus of the hysteria has been Itamar Ben Gvir, head of Otzma Yehudit, which ran with Religious Zionists in the election.
But there has also been a sense of panic with regard to Bezalel Smotrich and the Religious Zionist party more generally. And, as it turns out, the more right-wing elements of Likud, as well.
If one takes seriously the sense of alarm being expressed by some, one might think Israel as we’ve known her was about to disappear.
I write here to provide reassurance, clarifications and a reasoned perspective on what is going on.
The responses we’ve been seeing are often both overwrought and inappropriate.
Inappropriate because Israel is a sovereign state – a sovereign state that has just conducted a democratic election. Decisions on the formation of the government – and the policies enacted by that government – belong to the Israeli electorate and to those who have been chosen by the electorate.
And yet there are those outside of Israel who believe they have a right their say.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides declared last Thursday that, “We will fight any attempt at annexation [of Judea & Samaria]….most Arab countries oppose annexation.”
Let me stop here to correct Ambassador NIdes. What he is speaking about is application of sovereignty, not annexation. Annexation would be the proper term if Israel were to incorporate into the nation an area that is separate from Israel. But Judea & Samaria are part of Mandate Israel and according to international common law under uti possidetis juris remain part of Israel. Application of sovereignty would mean applying Israeli law to the area and declaring assumption of full administrative authority.
That is a decision to be made by Israel. Neither NIdes, nor any Arab state, gets a vote.
The irony here is that Nides was responding to a statement not by a member of Religious Zionists, but by MK Yariv Levin, second on the Likud list, who said, “We were one step away from applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and I hope that we will make less statements and move forward with actions.”
The statement by Nides is itself an indication of a benefit for Israel of a right-wing government. The left-wing, eager to please, has been too obsequiously accommodating to the US – and it is possible that the US has come to expect that accommodation. We need leaders with backbone.
And then there was Mercaz Olami, the Zionist arm of Conservative Judaism worldwide, which requested (or demanded, as it seems) that in-coming prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu not appoint Ben Gvir as a minister in the new government.
According to Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, “The strength of the relationship between Diaspora Jews and the Jews of Israel is based on common values. We expect the Israeli government to uphold those values in order to maintain that relationship.” (Emphasis added)
That is a shocker!!
Israel must embrace values in accordance with the values advocated by the Jews in the diaspora and not according to the vision and judgement of the Israeli electorate and those it has chosen to govern?
Please note that Rabbi Blumenthal speaks of “values” – not specifically Jewish values. What Conservative Judaism has done over the last few decades is embrace left-liberal, progressive values and conflate them with Jewish values. And there is no question about the fact that these values, with regard to social issues, are to the left of Israeli practices even now.
The rabbi speaks about “issues of LGBT rights,” for example. While not every Conservative rabbi agrees to participate, Conservative Judaism endorses same-sex marriages. Israel does not. While homosexual couples live together and sometimes raise families, they cannot marry. Likud MK Amir Ohana (pictured) – who is likely very soon to be appointed as a minister – is a prime and very visible example. But there is no legal sanction of this practice via marriage here.
There is great hypocrisy in this regard, as neither Conservative Judaism nor any other progressive branch of Judaism spoke out against the coalition formed by Lapid and Bennett, which included the Islamist Ra’am. This is even though the Muslims of Ra’am are vociferously anti-LGBT. Why was this OK?
Conservative Judaism endorses the “two-state solution.” A majority of Israelis reject this, as, certainly, do the members of the incoming coalition.
Progressive Jews in the US speak of “inclusion” a great deal. This is in some measure with regard to Israeli Arabs. I have no official data on this, but strongly suspect that in their concern for Arabs they would endorse official positions for Arabs, including those who do not believe Israel should be a Jewish state and will not sing Hatikva. That’s “inclusion.”
The right wing here, deeply concerned about the Jewish identity of the state, is opposed. For the Israeli right sustaining Israel as the Jewish State is a matter of critical importance. This position trumps democracy as conceived of as meaning full inclusion for all in all circumstances.
Ben Gvir is routinely accused of being a racist. He is not. He is not anti-Arab. He believes Arab citizens who are loyal to the State deserve to remain here, and to receive the same rights and protections from the State that are accorded Jews. He is opposed to those Arabs who seek to undermine Israel and stand against her from within.
How many American progressive Jews know that Ahmed Tibi, who sits in our Knesset and heads the Ta’al party, was once an advisor to Yasser Arafat? Just recently he stated that he was proud of his association with Arafat. Ben Gvir deplores this situation. But so do I and many others. For those who care about preserving Israel as a Jewish state, there is something inherently wrong with this, even as absolute “inclusion” would mandate his participation in the Knesset.
Ben Gvir is accused of promoting violence. He does not. He advocates standing strong against terrorists and not appeasing. We see statements from progressive Jews endorsing “peace,” which means backing away from confrontation. The right here knows that appeasement leads to more trouble down the road.
The further left the Conservative Movement goes with regard to various social issues, the greater will be the divergence. This is something American Jews must accept, and respect, without making demands.
As to specifically religious issues, there are a handful of matters that might be of concern to progressive American Jews. But the crazy thing here is that critics have jumped the gun in an attempt to preclude the possibility of certain changes being incorporated into Israeli policy.
The reality is that it is Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud who has just been charged by President Herzog with forming a coalition.
Netanyahu, I hasten to point out, does not have a reputation as a far-right politician. Let us call him centrist leaning right. Yes, he will have considerable constraints with regard to appointments and policies for his coalition because of the electoral success of Religious Zionists. But he is not without some measure of control.
I would suggest it might have been wiser for critics to wait it out and see how the government is established before expressing concern.
It is to Bibi’s considerable credit that he has indicated that no one from the outside will be able to dictate to him with regard to whom he appoints for various positions.
As to religious issues that are of concern to progressive American Jews, there are potentially a small number of problems. Potentially, because we don’t know who will be appointed to which position and what policies will be incorporated into the coalition agreement. Right now there is a good deal of talk, and a whole lot of rumors.
Questions are being raised about accepting Reform conversions. And there is talk about changing the requirement for aliyah under the Law of Return, which currently requires a minimum of only one Jewish grandparent. We’ll see.
There is talk, as well, about the egalitarian plaza at the Kotel. But, for Heaven’s sake, this has been an on-going issue for years, it is not an issue that has arisen now because of the new government.
What I want to point out is that Israel is and will definitely remain a free country. Conservative and Reform synagogues exist. Jews here can decide not to observe Shabbat and go out and drive their cars. They can eat non-kosher food.
There is no coercion and there will be none. Talk of a theocracy is absolute nonsense.
Lastly, there is a great deal of concern on the left about passing legislation that allows the Knesset to override certain rulings according to specific parameters, to be determined. This is something being worked on by Bezalel Smotrich (pictured) and Simcha Rothman of Religious Zionists and Yariv Levin in Likud.
The claim is that it will weaken democracy. Quite the opposite is true: The electorate has no say in the selection of judges. The court can overturn legislation that has been set in place by a majority of the Knesset, which has been selected by the electorate. Our court is one of the most activist in the world, thereby upsetting a proper balance of power between governmental branches. Reforms will enhance democracy.
Part of the reason for the Court’s excessive judicial activism is the fact that it hears petitions from anyone interested in thwarting government policy. The law does not require a person petitioning the Court to have “legal standing,” i.e., to be involved in the case. The US by the way, does have such a law regarding standing. The public no longer trusts the Court, and Religious Zionists hope to restore that trust with their plan.
Recently Itamar Ben Gvir put out a message intended not for American progressives but Israelis on the left. But it clarifies who he is and what he stands for:
“My brothers on the left, please give me a chance.”
Please read his words with an open mind (emphasis added):
“No, the country hasn’t come to an end. You and us together, we are the country, and we have no intention of changing that…
“But let me remind you of the long path I have taken [in the last 27 years], and how I have changed: I have matured, moderated and come to the understanding that life is complex…
“I don’t plan to apologize for who I am, but I think that if you get to know me, you will change your views about me and my positions. For too long, too many Israelis have been afraid of enemies from within and without. No more!
“The reality in which Jews flee from mobs in the heart of Jerusalem is a self-defeating and ghetto-like reality. Mothers in Beersheva should not be afraid to let their teenage girls go to the mall or walk the city’s streets; a soldier on leave in Akko shouldn’t have to take off his uniform when he comes home. The Start–Up Nation has lost its staying power to deal with threats from within. Running away, apologizing and giving in have become the norm. That’s what the election was about, and that’s why we won it.
“Our Jewish identity is not sectorial or political, it is the rock of our being and our very essence…”
This afternoon, Tuesday, the 25th Knesset was sworn in, with 23 freshman.
Please take careful note of this, which precisely makes my point above:
As part of the swearing in process, all members of the Knesset are supposed to have their pictures taken individually. The pictures are taken next to the Israeli flag and the country’s menorah symbol. MK Ayman Odeh Chairman of the Arab Hadash party, came in, agreed to have his portrait taken, then realized it would include the Israeli national symbols and walked out.
See the video of this despicable behavior here:
Netanyahu had hoped to be able to announce his new government today, but negotiations are still on-going.
All factions met prior to the swearing in. Smotrich, speaking to his Religious Zionist party, said:
“This time we will not let anyone from within or without steal our vote, and we will guarantee that those who voted right will get right. Those who chose us placed their trust in us and expect us with absolute rightfulness to fulfill what we promised them – and this time we don’t have and won’t have any excuses.”
Let us pray, let us pray. Until we have a government, we do not have a government.
Right now Netanyahu is locking horns with Smotrich over his demand that he become Defense Minister.
It is my practice to put news of terror attacks first. Today, because of the weight of all there was to report on, I am putting it last. But perhaps it should have gone first. It is very ugly, and quite unbearable.
Three people were murdered and six wounded — several critically – in a stabbing and car-ramming terror attack in Ariel’s industrial zone, in the Shomron, Monday morning. The attack took place in three different locations. The Palestinian Arab terrorist was shot dead, apparently by armed civilians.
One of the murdered has been identified as Tamir Avichai, 50, father of six. He is described as someone who was always smiling and ready to help others.
Conciliatory gestures don’t work. We need a tough government that increases deterrence substantially.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.