Throughout history, Jews have played a significant role in the struggle for and ascent of democracy worldwide. With the establishment of the State of Israel, that bond between Judaism and democracy was finally realized within a Jewish state. At this moment of great peril in its history, supporters of Israel must unite to safeguard Israel’s democracy from subjugation and dismemberment by its current leader and his allies.
While in the Diaspora, rabbis from the conservative, reform, and reconstructionist movements are united in support of Israeli democracy, most Orthodox leaders have remained silent, contending that in order to maintain unity, Jews living in the diaspora must refrain from adding fuel to the political fire. However, appealing for unity while not denouncing and holding responsible the entity that is splintering it, serves only those who sow discord.
While the current government may offer unprecedented benefits to its Orthodox and far-right supporters, it does so at what cost to the country? Supporters of the government must weigh these benefits against the dismantling of democratic institutions and the violence it inflicts on the core values held by the majority of the population.
Perhaps metaphorical language may be the proper way to convey the volatility of the situation: the kippah of the secular Jew is the kippah of democracy—the kippah of the rule of law, administered fairly and humanely—values found in the Torah. The consequences to notions of unity when a kippah is snatched off one’s head should be contemplated carefully.
Half of the governing coalition’s 64 lawmakers belong to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox political parties. It is hoped that the broader Orthodox community, including those in the diaspora, will express opposition to the undemocratic agenda of the Israeli government and reject Netanyahu’s Faustian bargain with its political leaders.
For the sake of unity—unity of Israel and the diaspora, of secular and religious—Orthodox religious institutions like Chabad, which have invaluable outreach to the secular community, should come forward to firmly oppose actions that threaten to tear apart Jewish society. Many secular families trust Chabad and similar institutions with their religious questions, children, and traditions. Orthodox organizations must unequivocally support democracy, as defined by the rule of law, proper checks and balances, and the independence and authority of the judiciary. The illegitimacy of Netanyahu’s attempts to select his own compliant judges in the land of Israel must be recognized. How our co-religionists treat our most sacred values will be remembered long after Netanyahu has left the political stage.