Uncategorized · September 13, 2023 0

Is Democracy Only For Jews?

Marty Levine

September 12, 2023

I was working on another article. It was one looking at the meaning of repentance during a time when we seem to want to rewrite the past so that it is all shiny, clean, and noble.

But I had to put that piece on hold when I read Alon Pinkas’ Haaretz article, “American Rabbis, Tell Your Congregants: The Israel You Knew Is a Relic of the Past.” The title grabbed my attention, and I was ready to just repost it to my Facebook account after I read it’s lead.  It was framed as a call to America’s rabbinic community as they get ready for Rosh Hashanah, the days when they can count on their biggest audiences showing up in their synagogues. Rabbis, he advised, “while you’re ruminating and toiling writing your New Year sermon (the Drasha), know this: The Israel you referred to in previous years is gravely endangered. In fact, to a degree, it no longer exists…”

This is a message I have been sharing in my channels for years, since the days, decades ago, when I first drove along the separation wall and saw the reality of the occupation and began to see it for what it truly is — apartheid. But I read further I saw that Pinkas, like so many American and Israeli Jews, is worried about themselves only. The ongoing brutality of Israeli policies toward their Palestinian citizens and, even worse, their treatment of the millions of Palestinians who live as non-citizens under the control of Israel is not even a whisper of concern.

Pinkas wants the Diaspora Jewish community to know as a new year begins that they are losing “their” Israel.

“North American Jews (as well as those in Britain, France, Australia, Argentina, and so on) are essentially being asked to shift the paradigm, to change their mind-set, to dispense with clichés, to be critical on an issue they habitually veer away from and to look at reality without flinching. This is a big ask, particularly for rabbis who see in front of them a mixed audience and a confused community.

Israel as a unifying element in Jewish identity is no longer relevant.”

That’s what the problem of the moment is, and not that the fantasy Israel the Diaspora Jewish community has made central to their identity that ignores the lives of millions of non-Jews. The Israel that Ignores, even brutalizes them, in the name of Jewish peoplehood, is okay.

The problem of the moment is that a version of Democracy that does not include such basic principles as one person or equal rights for all under the law, must be defended because the rights of all Jews may no longer be equal.

Here’s how Pinkas puts it:

“These are not normal times. Israel is undergoing a formative, defining confrontation over its very identity. You are part of it, not a distant cousin who casually pays attention and is paralyzed by risk-averseness. The Israel you thought you knew is a relic of the past.

It’s reversible, to be sure, but right now the trajectory is ominously bad. Think about what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote here in Haaretz this week: If Netanyahu’s coup succeeds, ‘Israel will be dominated by a cocktail of far-right Jewish religious nationalists, Jewish supremacists and ultra-Orthodox Jews, uncommitted to democracy.’

Friedman recalls a warning he gave to friends – very likely matching your congregants’ profile – after Israel’s extremist government was formed: “You did not go to Camp Ramah with these people. Your family did not vacation in the Catskills with these people. Your parents did not meet these people on their last UJA tour to Israel. They are to the right of the far right. But now they have positions of real and central power…

This is a government that is trying to codify your exclusion, refusing to recognize Reform and Conservative Jews. A government that is legislating over 225 laws that would make Israel a hollow democracy with strong theocratic undertones. A government that shares no values with you or your congregants. A government that accommodates and tolerates antisemitism as long as the antisemites don’t care about settlements or democracy – and they don’t.”

Haaretz even knows that this piece totally ignores the occupation and the fate of the Palestinian people. Here are its keys for  its readers to use to go deeper:  Judicial Coup, Jews in America, Jewish Diaspora and Rosh Hashanah!

This cannot be what Judaism has been teaching its people and the world for thousands of years. This cannot be what it means when we read that all people are created in God’s image. Is it not as written by Erica Brown  “The worth of a person is not transactional; who are you that I should pay attention to you? The better question to ask when we withhold our attentions is: Who am I that I should ignore you?”

This cannot be what we mean when we take on the words of Hillel as our own, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn”?

This cannot be why we regularly are reminded to remember that we were slaves in Israel and that we must treat all with kindness. As Rabbi Jonathon Sacks taught “Kindness brings redemption to the world…Wordsworth was right when he wrote that the “best portion of a good man’s [and woman’s] life” is their ‘little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love’”

Are we as a Jewish Community ready to forget another oft-quoted teaching of Hillel “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14?”

Are you ready to edit it, as Pinkas has, so that it reads only “ If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” and forget about everyone else?