I wrote a column for yesterday’s Times of Israel in which I called out certain leaders who appeared ready to ignore their ideologies with regard to the Ulpana/Beit El evacuation due to external considerations. Of course, politics involves compromise but I took specific issue with politicians who just two days ago heroically announced that they could not adhere to the Prime Minister’s policy but were then on the verge of caving to the pressure and supporting it. Every party can and should reach out to the public, as a Yisrael Beiteinu representative did in his Times of Israel response to my column, in order to explain themselves. Voters can then decide whether to accept these explanations or to hold the leadership accountable for their decisions. I felt that it was important to prepare voters as to the significance of today’s vote and am happy that my column led to healthy and necessary debate.
As part of the Yisrael Beiteinu response, an attack was launched against MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, chairman of the Am Shalem movement. In that attack, MK Rabbi Amsalem was challenged for remaining in the Shas party despite standing in opposition “to their central principles and current policies.” The suggestion was also made that MK Rabbi Amsalem is remaining in the Knesset simply to enjoy the benefits afforded to members of Knesset despite disagreeing with his patron party’s policies.
I am thrilled that these issues were raised to the fore since they actually demonstrate MK Rabbi Amsalem’s true herosim and why his leadership is so needed in our times.
MK Rabbi Amsalem grew up in the Israel haredi society and continues to serve as a haredi Rabbi. Upon entering the political world in 2006, he was stunned to see the corruption and how how poorly Shas represented its constituents. Estimates indicate that eight of the eleven Shas seats actually represent traditional and Zionistic sephardim who do not support the party’s extremist tendencies. This reality became more and more clear over time and reached a point where Rabbi Amsalem had no choice but to courageously speak out against his party leadership – as a representative of the voter’s desires, not against them.
Let it be clear that MK Rabbi Amsalem could have sat quietly for decades and gained all the benefits of a member of Knesset. But instead of setting aside his beliefs to secure his position, the accusation I leveled against some current ministers in my column, he actually risked his place in the Knesset to represent his and his voters ideologies. He advocated for yeshiva boys to serve in the IDF and join the work force, and for the rabbinate to represent moderate Judaism, especially with regard to conversions, as opposed to its current extremist policies. He also leveled criticism against his party’s unwillingness to fight against discrimination in all forms – against Sephardim, Ethiopians, women, and other groups – and has emerged as a leader in the battle for the rights of those groups.
Sure enough, he was thrown out of the Shas party and will now attempt to make these reforms as the head of the Am Shalem movement, an approach which by no means guarantees him a place in the next Knesset. Rabbi Amsalem chose not to leave the Knesset because he believed he was continuing to represent his voters’ ideologies and because this platform enabled him to begin working on these important reforms in the current Knesset.
I am now traveling through North America where, in city after city, Jewish leaders are lauding MK Rabbi Amsalem’s courage and leadership. This “courage” included standing firm in the face of substantiated death threats for a period of six months. And, contrary to the accusations of the Yisrael Beiteinu representative, included risking his standing as a member of Knesset.
Israelis are tired of decades of self-serving politicians and are searching for leaders who put ideology before personal gain. Those who do so are nothing short of heroes in the times of corrupt leadership in which we live and MK Rabbi Amsalem has emerged as such a hero. It is no wonder that tens of thousands of Israelis from all walks of life are rallying around his message and supporting his Am Shalem movement.