So do you really have no influence?
Jewish social media around North America has been responding to Israel’s election results. Irrespective of how devastated or delighted people seem to be, the underlying music has been similar: We can only observe from the outside – the decisions are in the hands of the Israeli electorate, not in ours.
This is not entirely true. There are two crucial areas in Israeli elections over which American Jewry – in particular non-Orthodox Jewry – does have a huge impact.
The Kotel, and the Palestinians.
Every pundit in Israel knows that when one is counting the parties in the pro-settlements Right-wing bloc, one automatically counts the Haredi ultra-orthodox parties. This is a correct analysis of the political reality in Israel, but has little to do with actual Haredi convictions about settling the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. As veteran Haredi politician Moshe Gafni has candidly explained: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Haredi issue. The Haredi aim in government is to take care of the issues close to their hearts – they are generally willing to back any policy over the Green Line, just so long as their own electoral needs are met.
What are these needs?
There are, of course, budgetary needs for their impoverished supporters. There are great obstacles to the idea of drafting Haredim to the army.
And then there is the issue of diaspora progressive Jewry and their “obsession” with the Kotel.
Haredim will abandon any government that “gives away” the Kotel to “the Reform”. Put another way – any government that distances itself from the Kotel Agreement could receive Haredi support on other issues, such as the Palestinians.
See how you have an influence?
In Israel’s current political structure, it is extraordinarily difficult to address simultaneously BOTH Israeli religious pluralism AND the Two State Solution. As far as the Haredim are concerned, the latter can be bought by selling out the former.
How would you react if Israel’s leaders on the Left said – “We think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than religious pluralism. We are dumping the Kotel Agreement and reaching out to the Haredim. An additional 15 votes for the Left taken from the Right will enable us to make a deal with the Palestinians.”
Would you applaud? Would you rage? Would you grit your teeth? Would you shrug? (Or would you make Aliyah and vote yourself?)
The most direct and powerful opportunity for individuals to influence Israeli policy is upon us. On April 9th, every Israeli citizen has the chance to have their say as to how Israel should best answer the Four Hatikvah Questions.
What would be the best way to ensure Israel’s security? How should Judaism, the Jewish People, and Jewish values affect policy in Israel? How can Israel’s current EIU Democracy Index ranking rise higher than 30th in the world? Are we configuring our land and its resources in the most equitable and sustainable way?
In later Headlines for Identity, we’ll look into how the political parties do or don’t address these questions, but for now it might be worth asking a more fundamental question:
Why aren’t you voting?
Why don’t those American Jews who express so much care and concern for Israel and her policies, just come over here and vote? For Jews around the world it’s real easy to get the vote in Israel: You just make Aliyah. Technically speaking you wouldn’t even need to live here. Pop over to become an Israeli citizen, and then fly in to vote. It’s not nothing, but it’s nowhere near impossible.
So what is behind this desire to critique and influence Israel on the one hand, and this unwillingness to put one’s money where one’s mouth is on the other?
Do Diaspora Jews care less than they say they do? Do they view Aliyah in such hallowed terms that they could not bring themselves to “exploit” it in this way?
Or are they simply afraid that if given the right to vote in Israel’s elections they’ll find themselves confounded over whom to vote for, like the rest of us poor saps living here?
Three thoughts about the way in which the compromise agreement over mixed-prayer at the Kotel was “frozen” by Prime Minister Netanyahu, thus infuriating the Jewish world:
For all its pain, the Kotel furore is good for Israel Education. It finally puts paid to the idea that one can teach Israel without touching on the politics that animate this place. No longer can Israel engagers maintain that we can engage with Israel as an embodiment of our religious convictions, without addressing the politics that drive this particular embodiment. Educators’ celebration of “shared values” must now incorporate issues where our values are not necessarily shared.
All this is a good thing. Since Zionism was about the Jews assuming power, it was always odd that we bypassed the mechanisms and the energies that related to the use of that power.
We can now all embrace the invigorating challenge of educating about the politics of Israel without turning them into an all-encompassing obsession…
Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit offers a useful way of looking at the compromises that were made in the process of coming up with the Kotel agreement, and what compromises PM Netanyahu made in choosing to freeze its implementation. In his book, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises, Margalit assesses when a compromise must be rejected, and when it should be accepted albeit while holding one’s nose. It is worth taking a look at the past few weeks in the light of Shady, Shoddy, and Shabby deals.
Finally, Margalit also points to what might be at the heart of the impassioned response to Netanyahu’s move: What constitutes decent behavior. While Israeli politicians such as Naftali Bennet point out that the current situation is not catastrophic for the progressive cause, since the platform at Robinson’s Arch will remain and even grow in size, Diaspora leadership will point not only to the result but to the process.
After having negotiated in good faith over the future of the Kotel, and after having agreed to a compromise – for this compromise to be summarily dumped is not only a poor result, it is poor behavior. In another of Margalit’s greats, he explores what he means by a Decent Society. A decent society is one in which its institutions do not humiliate its citizens. By extension we might say that a decent relationship between Israel and the Diaspora would be one that does not humiliate one side of the supposed-partnership.
[You might also be interested in the materials we created here about the Kotel a couple of years ago. The background is still highly relevant.]
Along with the heart-felt tributes to Arik Einstein, there has been a fascinating undercurrent of emotional hoarding on the part of some Israelis. Assuming that no one outside of Israel has ever heard of Arik Einstein or any of his songs, they then make a further assumption that it is their job to explain what he and his music meant. Yet after this double-assumption, everything closes down. Writes Israeli-born Liel Leibovitz: “I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a prick, but you wouldn’t get it.” It’s an extreme comment, but sums up a prevailing sentiment. Those non-Israelis, they won’t get it.
There is something rather beautiful and also sad about this kind of response. The character and the music of Arik Einstein made its impact in the way the best of art should: Through our hearts. His music touched millions, each of whom received it as if created for them alone. This is the paradoxical magic of art. As a result, when feeling his loss, it is a personal emotional loss that – when we are sad – we sometimes fight to “own”. “You wouldn’t get it,” is a perfect way to maintain the purity and unique authenticity of my pain. To Full Post
One of the most difficult series of questions in the Jewish world today concerns demography. How many Jews actually exist in the world today? What is happening to the Jewish population in different centers of the world? What are the relative shares of Israel and Diaspora in the overall Jewish population of the world? And as important as the numbers themselves are, the really crucial questions lie underneath the surface.
What is the meaning of the numbers? What is the nature of the changing balance of demographic power between the State of Israel and the Diaspora as a whole? What trends do they suggest? What are the implications of today’s numbers for tomorrow’s future? And perhaps the most difficult question of Jews for those who spend their lives counting Jews: Who, exactly do you count? In other words, for the purpose of demographic calculations, who is a Jew?
In this chapter we will examine the dynamics of Jewish community in the emerging Diaspora center. We will see the growth and the decline of great Jewish communities, each with their own Rabbinic leadership in different parts of the world. The basis had been laid in Palestine. The results were to be seen throughout the world. The story of the Jews was changing yet again.
Looking for a place to park our weary bones
We will be looking at themes connected with the idea and the practice of Jewish community within the historical framework that we have already established. The development of the Jewish community is an inseparable part of that story. The question that we are going to examine in this chapter is ‘why?’ Why was the Jewish community such an important part of the historical story? What was it in the Jewish community that made it so central in Jewish history?
So what did the whole thing look like?
In this chapter we will examine how the Jewish community was structured and how the values and beliefs that lay behind the whole Rabbinic system produced an institutional structure that reflected them. We will examine the institutions of the community and we will acquaint ourselves with the main types of personality that could be found in such communities. We will then go on to examine the way that individual communities fitted into a wider structure within a given center and finally we will look at the issue of relations between different centers.
The United States is the largest Diaspora community in the world and has been since the mid twentieth century. It is an extraordinarily successful community, on the whole, and there are many who argue that it represents a totally new chapter in Jewish history in that there has never been a community where life has been so good for the Jews and where Jews have been able to create such a strong community and at the same time contribute so greatly to the wider society. As with all the contemporary Diaspora communities we will examine the community by asking twelve questions about it. So, welcome to America!
The past two weeks have seen an eruption of responses to the recent ad campaign commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The campaign, targeted at Israeli ex-pats living in the United States, sought to convince the Israelis to return “home”. Though the ads were in Hebrew and clearly intended for Israeli ears in the United States, it seems that the real audience was North American Jewry. Aside from the Jewish Federation’s statement last week (and Netanyahu’s subsequent cancellation of the campaign), countless blog posts and editorials have been popping up each day since this story came to light less than 2 weeks ago. One thing is certain: these videos have struck a nerve among North American Jews. To Full Post