First Fruits, Like Campaign Promises, Are Not Yet A Harvest: Ki Tavo

This week’s elections may be the first fruits giving hope that we can heal our democracy, but they are not yet the harvest.

Most of this week’s Torah portion is blessings and curses, but we begin with the ritual of bringing our first fruits (bikurim) to a kohen (priest) in the place that God will choose.  The place that was eventually chosen was the Temple in Jerusalem, although we do not learn the location in the Torah.  The ritual described became associated with the holiday of Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). The words we were to recite to the kohen of how our ancestors were wandering Arameans and oppressed in Egypt, entered our Passover Haggadah.  As I have written before, this is not a ritual only relevant today for farmers, or to be relegated to the ceremony developed on the kibbutz.  We all have spiritual first fruits. When I was a congregational rabbi I developed a synagogue ritual based on the kibbutz tradition.

However, it is important to try to distinguish between our bikurim and our assif, between our first fruits and the spiritual harvest for the year we celebrate on Sukkot.

For those of us across the political spectrum concerned by the threats to Israel’s democracy posed by the spectre of putting our leaders above the law and undermining our court system, this week’s elections were bikurim, but were far from an assif.  These threats seem much less likely. However, we have a long way to go before we know whether there will be a government at all, and what its policies will be.

For those of us concerned with socioeconomic justice, the picture is even less clear.  If there will be a government, and if Kakhol Levan will have some influence over economic policy, we must remember that Yair Lapid as Finance Minister was an advocate for neo-liberal economic policies opposing public housing, etc.   Public housing is not mentioned in the Kakhol Levan platform.  Different parties that are potential coalition partners are across the spectrum in terms of socioeconomic policy, and some are internally divided. The tens of thousands whose hopes were raised by decisions of the outgoing government to resume the building of public housing have no idea whether those first fruits will become a harvest.  In general, Israelis living in poverty will need to wait to know whether there will be a new government that takes responsibility for social ills, or one that believes that this is not the responsibility of government. There were many campaign promises about education and health care.  These bikurim will now face the reality test determining whether they become an assif.

I had to do a Google search to find out what Kakhol-Lavan’s position on asylum seekers is. I was pleased to see that they are for finding ways to help the veteran residents of South Tel Aviv by spreading the asylum seeker population throughout the country. They are for going back to the agreement reached with the U.N. Commission on Refugees that PM Netanyahu briefly agreed to, then quickly backtracked under pressure. That agreement would have set up an orderly process for finding decent host countries for approximately half of the asylum seekers currently in Israel,  if Israel committed to absorbing the remainder.  Kakhol Lavan says that Israel does not need to hunt down children of foreign workers born here.  The fact that these and many other policies were not talked about during the campaign is worrying.  Will there be a government?  How will these positions fare as coalition partners negotiate? How will positions be translated into policy?

I ask the same questions regarding the intent to pass a basic law on equality alongside the Nation State Law.  I couldn’t find anything about Kakhol Levan and the “unrecognized” Bedouin villages, although their platform does commit to including Israeli Arabs on planning and zoning committees.

While Kakhol Levan may wish to reign in aggressive settlers breaking Israeli law, I don’t believe that they will be committed to respecting international law regarding occupation.  In fact, I am not sure at all whether how much daylight there is between Kakhol Levan and the Likud regarding Palestinians.  We can expect an aggressive settler campaign to build more outposts and to make life nearly impossible for Palestinians in Area C.  Just this week we have been dealing with renewed efforts to prevent Palestinian shepherds from accessing grazing areas in multiple locations.

In Rashash, it was not clear whether the army and police were supporting or opposing settler efforts to keep the Bedouin from their water sources.  The settlers from the Malakhei HaShalom outpost that is illegal according to Israel, let alone international law, both directly attacked shepherds accessing a water source not previously in question, and called security forces to expel them and us.  In one case, we were detained, until it became clear that we were not in a live fire zone.  In this video clip, my narration alternates between Hebrew and English:.

Narrative is in English and Hebrew We are detained

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שבת, 14 בספטמבר 2019

If we have a new government, will it choose to enforce at least the limits on violence and unauthorized expansionism in Israeli occupation law, and protect Palestinians and their property?  Or, will settler aggression be ignored or supported? Will the chipping away at the rights and protections we won for Palestinian farmers in the 2006 Morar High Court decision be stopped and reversed? Will we heed the warnings from this week’s Torah portion, “Cursed be s/he who moves his/her neighbor’s landmark (Deuteronomy 27:17), and “Cursed be s/he who subverts the rights of the non-Jew living among us, the orphan and the widow?” (27:19).

We are commanded that when we bring our bikurim to the priest, we must declare that we have taken care of the Levite, the non-Jew living among us, the orphan and the widow. “I have not transgressed Your Commandments, and I HAVE NOT FOGOTTEN” (26:13).  Bikurim, like campaign promises, give us hope for what can be.  If first fruits are to become a harvest, we must now engage in  the very hard work to cultivate our , and hold our leaders to their commitments.  Remembering that our ancestors were fugitive Arameans (26:5) and how we were oppressed in Egypt (26:6), we must not forget our obligations towards the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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