"For Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, the story of the Kotel compromise – the agreement that was buried by the government on Sunday – was a story of arithmetical probabilities. He had no joy in canceling the arrangement that would have given non-Orthodox Jews, the majority of the Jewish people, a small piece of real-estate near the place most holy for all Jews. He drew no satisfaction from feeling that he had to cave under Charedi pressure. And yet, his cold calculation of probabilities made him break his promise to many Jewish leaders, especially from the US. It made him pass a government decision that he does not like."I guess that's one point of view: I reject that argument out of hand. We should all understand that the PM breached his own agreement because coalition politics trump the unity of the Jewish People and always will it appears; and, in doing so, threatened a rupture in our long held belief that Israel is the central address of the Jewish People -- all of the Jewish People.
The loud and public reaction to the Government decision to breach the Agreement to create a significant egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall and to the very threatening first reading of Knesset legislation that would obviate the GOI's recognition of conversions by Rabbis other than the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has been wholly appropriate -- be it Jerry Silverman's general condemnation while praising the PM's "incredibly respectful..." posture at a meeting with federation leaders, Steve Nasatir's public blast at those Knesset members who would vote to overturn the established conversion process ("The Federation in Chicago will not be hosting any member of Knesset that votes for this bill..."), and Natan Sharansky's very direct criticism of both the Prime Minister's pulling the rug of support for the Kotel deal right out from under Sharanky's and the Jewish People's feet, among other critics.
But, as all of us know, most, if not all, of the Haredi Knesset and Cabinet members and, certainly, the Chief Rabbinate, could care not a whit about visits to federations or the reactions or pressure from Diaspora Jewry...they just don't and never have and, clearly, never will. World Jewry had come to rely upon a succession of Prime Ministers to assure continued respect for and support of the unity of the Jewish People. In the past, and most evident in the parallel crisis to the present one (and it is a crisis) were the 1988 and mid-90's explosions over "Who Is a Jew?," reason prevailed over division, Prime Ministers stepped up and backed the minorities in their coalitions down from the precipice they would have created. Today? That's a different story.
In a brilliant op-ed in The Forward, http://forward.com/opinion/israel/375724/to-fight-the-kotel-decision-us-jews-have-to-understand-israeli-politics/, J.J. Goldberg explores the issues and their implications today. Simply stated, the religious political parties want a theocracy in Israel and coalition-building has given them and their patrons in the Israeli Chief Rabbinate total hegemony in matters that bear on non-secular matters and the only way forward, a new coalition built upon the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Labor and its adjuncts and Yesh Atid, seems to be but a dream (or nightmare) of getting politicians with competing dreams and aspirations into a working government. And the Prime Minister seems perfectly happy with his current political partners...until he isn't.
In an interview on the subject in JTA, http://www.jta.org/2017/06/27/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/netanyahu-defends-suspending-the-western-wall-agreement-heres-how, a source within the Prime Minister's office defends the
At the same time Minister of the Diaspora, Naftali Bennett, who had already kidnapped the World Jewry-State of Israel Initiative into a captive of his vision of Israel-Diaspora relations excluding JAFI and JFNA, sent out a You Tube video explaining how everything is just great, the egalitarian prayer space will be built out (at least in the same location more or less) as he, Bennett, originally envisioned it.
It would take a tectonic explosion to dislodge the Haredi parties from their influence within this Government...and that's just not going to happen. Many friends have pointed out in the press and in dialogue that Jews in the Diaspora should be marching in lockstep with whatever government is in power in Israel, that debate or challenge even on matters impacting on the relationship of Israel to the Diaspora, we, Diaspora Jews, should be silent or supportive. Why? As Steve Flatow wrote:
"Jerry Silverman does not live on the Golan Heights, and Rick Jacobs does not reside in Sha'ar Hanegev, and the American leaders of Conservative Judaism do not live in towns along the Israel-Lebanon border."It appears that Flatow and others conflate legitimate concerns about the impact of theocratic decisions by the GOI to the level of questioning, even undermining, or failing to support Israel's security. And those condemnations are just wrong. All of us want Israel to be secure and we believe that a united World Jewish polity supports that security in so many ways. It is not JFNA, nor the Reform or Conservative Movements that have threatened world Jewish unity, it is the Prime Minister of Israel and the ultra-Orthodox Rabbis and politicians who have conspired to do so and continue to.
Yet, North American, all of Diaspora Jewry confront the Government's decision on the Kotel issue and the Conversion legislation at a time of our great weakness. American federation Campaigns, for example, that in 1988 raised $720 million
from over 1,000,000 donors,
challenged.html?, and sent almost 50% of those campaigns
to the Jewish Agency and JDC, today we send a a little over 10%
of the net raised from less than 200,000 to
JAFI/JDC, still the best evidence of our collective support for "Israel."
And over the same period,
while there have been important gains, the Reform Movement in Israel
has really just begun to gain traction, the Conservative Movement
almost none. Aipac, whose leaders rushed to Bibi's side as the
threatening nature of the fire he ignited became clear,
has seen its influence weakened.
And the data and anecdotal information suggest that the generations
of American Jews who have followed ours have grown less
and less attached to Israel's centrality and decisions like those of the
Israel Cabinet on Sunday and the conversion legislation now supported
by that Cabinet threaten that vital attachment even more.
Those who care, and the leadership of our institutions and federations
clearly do so with passion, need to come together with those
in Israel who share that caring and passion, and create a "New Zionism,"
one that ties us together and spreads our passion to our generation
and to the generations to come. All those who know
"It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness"
must come together now.
Who can take us there?