Today, the Ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset have coerced the Israeli government into adopting one of the most controversial policies concerning the “identity” of the Jewish world. Having granted the Israeli Rabbinate a full monopoly on conversions, gaps seem to only grow wider among the worldwide denominations. Whether Conservative, Reformist, or Modern Orthodox, this policy has certified that there is a universal meaning of “being Jewish,” which will only be accepted by the new set of standards imposed by the Israeli government. In a time where Israel faces constant existential threats and endless political obstacles in the international community, Israel has alienated some of its most prominent supporters. A few hours after the vote was approved by the cabinet, the Jewish Agency canceled its annual meeting with the PM Netanyahu in protest of appeasing the Haredi political parties. There are three essential consequences which will proceed the approved piece of legislation:
- The first consequence is the isolation of Israel in the Jewish world. All denominations (except ultra-Orthodox), feel as if it is no longer a matter of the Chief Rabbinate not recognizing their practices and beliefs as “Jewish”, but it has become the official stance of the Israeli government. In doing so, the cabinet has not only bowed down to the ultra-Orthodox parties but it has lost significant political support among Jewish activists in the United States. Lobbyists, advocates, and interest groups will, to a certain extent, feel discriminated by the “universal Jewish identity” created by the few men sitting in a roundtable.
- The second negative effect of this policy is the political ramifications of the Law of Return. Under this decree, every individual with a Jewish parent or grandparent can receive immediate Israeli citizenship. However, with the policy passed by the cabinet today, many Israeli civilians may feel estranged from the society they live in. With the country now setting the official standards of what it means to be Jewish, one cannot help to think about the other 70 percent of the Jewish population which do not abide by “Haredi” accepted practices. Those who have served in the military, taxpayers, and everyday contributors to the growth if the Israeli society may no longer feel a connection to the imposed meaning of Judaism. With the permanent military and political challenges that Israel faces, religious exclusion of the majority of the population may not be an intelligent or strategic policy to espouse.and everyday contributors to the growth if the Israeli society may no longer feel a connection to the imposed meaning of Judaism. With the permanent military and political challenges that Israel faces, religious exclusion of the majority of the population may not be an intelligent or strategic policy to espouse.
- Lastly, the discriminatory parties of the international community will greatly benefit from this self-incriminating policy which the Israeli government has approved. By affiliating only, a small fraction of the Jewish world to the standards imposed by the Rabbinate, Israel takes a step forward towards theocratic principles and ignores the relevance of all other denominations which possess significant religious authority in their respected nations. Politically, Israel remains highly isolated not only in the region, but among several significant international players as well. This policy will only help to strengthen the false framework that Israel is discriminatory and non-democratic, a thought which the current government cannot allow to roam freely.
Today’s vote is a clear indication of the weakness growing among Diaspora Jews. Whether wielding significant political power with organizations such as AIPAC or IAC, or serving as a source of financial aid to the State of Israel (such as the Jewish Agency), it is clear that they lack a voice in Israel’s parliament. The question know becomes, what can be done about it? Is the Jewish Agency willing to risk its general commitment to the State of Israel by suspending its collaboration with the government? Will Taglit or Hillel halt their activities in campus or in Israel in protest to this policy? Can the Jewish population in Israel use their vote effectively to pressure the government to revert this preposterous legal definition of “Judaism”? Several efforts are made every single day to connect the land of Israel to Jews all over the United States, but this policy will only make it more difficult for young teens to acquire the motivation to develop the attachment to Zionism.
I have personally always defended the Haredi movement in Israel and their contribution to Israeli society. Whether it was explaining why their refusal to serve in the army or their excess dependency on welfare were not sufficient enough criticisms to their ultimate contribution to the Jewish state. Today is the first time I have ever stated that the Israeli ultra-Orthodox parties not only held the government hostage, but further divided the Jewish nation. With this criticism in mind, it should be noted that every cabinet member should be held accountable for accepting this policy. Although many will use this vote to increase negative rhetoric towards the prime minister, other cabinet members had clear power to stop this and enforce the right of the Jewish nation to interpret the religion freely. Having allowed the Haredi political parties to successfully pressure the Israeli government may be setting a slippery slope for the cabinet of Israel. The time has come to limit the influence of the ultra-Orthodox community in the making of legislation, and understand that policies such as this one, affect the entirety of the Jewish nation.