Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Another Step in My Israeliness

I have joined the Labor party. This is the first time I have been a member of a political party here. Another step in my Israeli-ness.

I have not yet worked out my electoral choice for Sept. 17; what I do that day depends on what goes on between now and then. But my natural political home has always been Labor (I voted for Labor when Isaac Herzog headed it, just a few months after I came on aliya); I just could not have anything to do with the party under Gabbay. When I listen to Stav Shaffir, or Itzik Shmuli, or Amir Peretz, I listen in agreement. That is how I always felt when I listened to Tzipi Livni, whose voice I miss very much. She gave perfect expression to what I think. She was honest and straightforward and said what she stood for, even to those, like yeshiva students in the Gush, or heads of the settlement councils, whom she knew did not share her positions. You can wish, for ideological reasons, to settle and annex the west bank, you are entitled to your view, she said. But you cannot argue that this would enhance security because it would not. There is no one in the security, military, or intelligence community who says that it would. What guts that took. How refreshing to hear straight talk from a politician.

Labor addresses social and economic issues that matter to me. I voted Kahol Lavan last time because of the imminent danger to constitutional democracy under Likud headed by Netanyahu, with their far-right, theocratic, and Kahanist partners; because Kahol Lavan’s raison d’etre, whatever the internal differences among its factions, is protection of the institutions of constitutional democracy and a post-Netanyahu Israel; and because that party had a chance of winning.

My priorities in this coming election are the same as in the last one, a few months ago:

–an end to the rule of Netanyahu;

–open and clear affirmation, preferably, in a new Basic Law, of all the principles stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and commitment to the rule of constitutional law. The former would effectively revise/ annul the nation-state law. I will not vote for any party that does not include doing this in its platform;

–an end to the hold of political Judaism– of the haredi establishment– on government and society. Uphold respect for religion and for religious people, of all faiths, in whatever variation; pledge to end the religious-political establishment. Can’t end it? At least, take significant steps to curb it en route to ending it. By forming a government of basic principles, without the haredi parties.

I’ve said in print (“Now is the Moment: An Open Letter to Benny Gantz and Blue and White,” Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2019), that a unity government with a Netanyahu-less Likud that accepts the above goals, and which does not include the haredi parties, is the way to go and is an electoral goal that Kahol Lavan should declare preemptively, proactively. How very different our world would be, how electrifying this election campaign would become, if they did that. So far, they are doing nothing that I can discern. I hear that the big parties are saving their resources for the last few weeks before the election. I don’t buy that thinking, at least, for Kahol Lavan. They, very much unlike Likud, are a new party with a fuzzy identity, and they are not projecting “leadership” when their goal is no less than ousting an acknowledged leader whom many trust blindly, fervently, and believe is indispensable to the country’s survival (reason on its own to get him out of office); when projecting a vigorous leadership alternative is the only hope of  ousting him. This is not the way to go.

Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beitenu has called for a unity government and said he won’t give his ever-growing mandate, in the polls at least, to a narrow coalition of Netanyahu and the far-right parties, plus the haredi ones. But he pledges nothing about constitutional democracy and the principles of the Declaration of Independence because, of course, he does not support those. He is no solution. He remains a clever, highly ambitious opportunist who seems to have found his lucky streak in his campaign against “the haredim,” sic. Unlike him, I always distinguish between haredim and the haredi establishment; it is the latter which is the scourge of society. We do not need or wish a war of religion, or any other kind that can be avoided. Which this one can, and must be. The only entities whom a war of religion benefits are demagogues who use this issue while having done nothing till now to advance a society free of the political manipulation of the haredi establishment; and the haredi parties, because attack riles their base, in fact, makes their day. With such campaigns, both these sides poison our social air and do terrible damage to the fabric of a society in which we must all live. Which is of no concern to them. May the rest of us draw the necessary conclusions when we vote.

So, my priorities remain the same as in the last election. But the final calculation of what to do on Sept. 17 remains open. This is a very different situation than the one we had on April 9 and how to play this electoral game has changed. I hold my cards until I see better just what the game is.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.