What are the most grave, immediate threats to Israel? Not Iran and ISIL. Rather, the worsening ruptures within Israel’s political system and the extremism of the Chief Rabbinate that is further alienating Israeli Jews from Judaism, and American Jews from Israel. If we want the world to respect these grave external threats to Israel, the Israeli political establishment will need to promote internal, mutual self-respect.
This past week was a bad week for internal Israeli mutual dignity. As Haviv Rettig Gur, a political correspondent for the Times of Israel recently wrote, “In a single week, ultra-Orthodox MKs overturned conversion reforms, advanced bills bolstering the rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly and reclaimed control of state religious bodies.” These political decisions amplify Israeli ill will toward the government and the Chief Rabbinate. They aggravate the many difficulties that already exist for Americans who advocate politically for Israel’s interests. They further render the Israeli Chief Rabbinate irrelevant to the majority of Israelis and stain the beauty non-coercive, loving and open approaches to Jewish living. We can do better.
During this three week period of introspection before Tisha b’Av, it’s an especially good time to reflect on the perils of family fights. As Dr. David Passig wrote in 2048, a book envisioning Israel at one hundred years old, he reminds readers that, “The (ancient) Israelite nation was defeated by invaders… only when it was deeply divided from within” (p. 371). Later, when writing about the current Israeli extreme right and left, and the competition of Israeli municipalities that promote their individual interests at the expense of the mutual societal good, he cautions: “If any of those groups would succeed in driving a wedge and splintering Israel’s collective government, it would forever hold the responsibility for Israel’s conquest by outside forces shortly after (pp.377-378).”
Of course the likelihood of a nuclear Iran and the establishment of a caliphate by ISIL are looming threats of great magnitude to Israel, the broader Middle East, Europe and the United States. But the reality is that Israel’s government has few if any options that it can exercise with regard to outcomes of Iranian nuclear negotiations. Israel’s government has more options with regard to ISIL’s encroachment on its borders. But in theory, Israel’s government has complete control of setting the agenda, tone and policies that foster either mutual self-respect across Israeli society or mutual disrespect. The further away the military and political threats are from Israel’s borders, the less influence it has. But the internal divisions that plague Israeli society and have ramifications for American Jewry can be ameliorated if Israeli politicians chose to do so.