Mordechai Cohen

I had an affair

However, it is not the type of affair you might be thinking of. The affair I had was that I loved what Danny Gordis wrote. For over 10 years, I have followed Danny’s writings about Israel. I have read and recommend his book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn and look forward to his next one.  Danny (I have never met him, but he has so influenced my thinking) was always thoughtful and respectful in his writing on Israel. He providing nuanced insight and articulated a sober yet aspirational understanding of Israel.  Unfortunately, my love affair with his writing came to a screeching halt after I read his (along with 2 other of my favorites) Open Letter to Israel’s Friends in North America.

In their letter, the authors talk about the proposed judicial reforms. However, they write, “this is no “judicial reform,” but a dramatic alteration that would bring Israel’s governing system closer not to the US and Canada but to Hungary and Turkey.”

Tell us what you really think. Hungry!? Turkey!?

There are important arguments on both sides of the proposed judicial reforms. One of the reasons I know this is because Danny has written about them in his “Israel from the Inside” pieces. While I only get the free version, I read it religiously. He recently interviewed an expert that shared some of the pros and cons of several of the key pieces of the judicial reform. To Danny’s credit and unlike so many others, there was no crying the sky is falling. Danny and his expert respected both sides. They did not try to delegitimize other voices and they dealt with the substantive issues. They certainly did not resort to the name calling that Israel is going to be like Hungry.

Danny also interviewed (one of the GOATS [Greatest of all time]) Micha Goodman. When Micha shared about the nuclear moment, when the reforms could lead to Israel disappearing, Danny wrote about it well. It was crystal clear he opposed the reforms and thought it could cause the country to end, but he explained what and how he was thinking. Most importantly, he didn’t demonize those with whom he disagreed. He even included how the right justifies their view.

And now back to the Open Letter, where there is no other side that is legitimate. There is a complete lack of nuance and the sky is falling.

Danny, make your position known that you oppose the judicial reforms, but accept democratic legitimate disagreement, as you have in the past. There is another side that has strong points that should not be shut down. You went way too far in your open letter. In the past, you have tried to show nuance and complexity, you should show these things now as well.  Help us with your great insights as to how to move forward, not to further entrench ourselves in quagmire by claiming the sky is falling.

The message to the Jews of North America should be that we celebrate the diversity of Israel. The proposed judicial reform issues are complex, learn about them. Take sides on them. However, know that Israel is very divided on this and that there are legitimate points on both sides. Can American Jews help Israelis deal with the real issues as opposed to name calling and painting issues with such a broad brush that stifles conversation on legitimate substantive issues? I hope so. One such issue is the nomination process for Supreme Court justices. Maybe there are pieces of the American judicial system from which Israel can benefit. Instead of saying, the sky is falling without providing a single example or sharing the complexity of some of the issues, be constructive.

Danny and company write, “North American Jews and their leaders must make clear to this government that if it continues on the path to transforming Israel into a country of which Diaspora Jews can no longer be proud, there will be no business as usual.”  I am not sure what the veiled threat of there will be no business as usual means, but it’s not the right strategy. Jews everywhere should be proud of the Israeli democratic process, regardless if the outcomes result in policies they disagree with.  You cannot only be proud when the democratic process gives you the outcome YOU want.  The beauty of the democratic process is the ability to use that very process to change governments, and therefore change policies you disagree with. If Netanyahu and his coalition go too far in their judicial reforms, then the Israeli electorate, that controls what the next government will be, can vote in politicians who will change the laws. I have great faith in Israel and in its electorate.

We must find a way to engage, be passionate about our views, but respect others and their divergent opinions. This is the Jewish way. In the Talmud, the sages vehemently disagreed with each other, but they respected the ideas of those who disagreed with them. What is missing from the conversation on the proposed judicial reform is respect for the other side, especially when there is so much disagreement. The demonization, the delegitimization, the demagoguery and calls for violence against proponents of the proposed changes must stop. Play a positive role. Do not throw more fuel on the fire.

I urge everyone to take a page from Gil Troy (my current fling) and read how “reports of the death of Israeli democracy are highly exaggerated”. See Tablet Magazine. Gil’s excellent article is nuanced, thoughtful and helps put things in context without the alarmist sky is falling rhetoric. Gil, kol hakavod.

Danny, I look forward to continuing to read your pieces. I hope they will continue with the deep thoughtfulness and incisive insights as they did before.

About the Author
Mordechai Cohen loves teaching, loves to see people excited by their Jewish heritage and loves to see people fall in love with Israel. He is married to a sabra and they have 4 wonderful children. Mordechai lived in southern California, Toronto and now Lod, Israel. He has served as teacher and administrator in a variety of Jewish educational settings; including Jewish National Fund's Alexander Muss High School in Israel and a member of the Forum of Interfaith Leaders – a joint program of the Ministry of Interior’s Division of Non-Jewish Affairs and Beit Morasha. Please note - any views expressed are Mordechai's and Mordechai's alone and Mordechai might change his views at any time. The views he expressed do not represent anybody else's views, unless of course they do.
Related Topics
Related Posts