Bryan Schwartz
Law Professor, Author of "Sacred Goof" and "Consoulation: A Musical Mediation"

Kiddush Hashem: Jewish leaders in Israel should act like leaders who are Jewish

Israel, as the Jewish nation-state, is bound by its Jewish dimension to honor the highest principles of the Jewish tradition. “Kiddush Hashem” means sanctifying the name of the Creator by publicizing the glory of a just Creator in public, both among Jews and non-Jews. It means at times being willing to sacrifice your life rather than even leave the impression that you are abandoning your faith in response to coercion.

The State of Israel embodies that standard of Kiddush Hashem when it maintains its rule of law, judicial independence, and an army that lives up to the highest moral standards even though the state has been under the threat of destruction from the time of its creation.

The statement by Minister Smotrich – about destroying an Arab village in retaliation for terrorist attacks by some of its residents on Jewish civilians – is the opposite of Kiddush Hashem: Chilul Hashem, or desecration of God. The Minister should have apologized unequivocally and made a strong affirmative statement of the Israeli and Jewish values of avoiding harm to innocents. It was not sufficient to merely “walk it back” in a somewhat unclear manner.

As a supporter of both Judaism and the state of Israel, I remain astonished at the naivete or recklessness of some Israeli politicians with respect to how it is seen from abroad. The delegitimization of Israel continues on all fronts. The attacks from foreign governments and from many NGOs are joined in by large parts of the “progressive” left as well as the “paleo-right.” I have worked in a university for four decades, and can attest that the meaningful presence of self-affirming Jews in the academy is on the way to extinction at the hands of the willfully or effectively antisemitic elements within the “woke” movement. In the face of this hostility, the remaining Jews in North American universities are increasingly downplaying or hiding their identities. Instead of standing up for their tradition and the homeland of their people, they are becoming “Jewish-ish” – of “Jewish heritage,” “of Jewish extraction,” and “Jewish, but not a supporter of Israel.”

Israeli leaders need to take every possible step, in word and deed, to avoid providing any fuel to its haters. They should, on the contrary, be doing everything possible to carry out the mission of the Jewish people to be a light unto nations.

There are profound issues for Israel to deal with that count for infinitely more than party politics or payback for earlier injustices to their political faction.

Iran is close to having sufficient material to build a nuclear weapon. Its officials are openly threatening Jews outside of Israel as well as within with physical annihilation.

Jews who have moved to Israel or have had the stamina to stay there, despite all the threats and internal stresses, are feeling dispirited and wondering if it is time to leave.

To the supporters of judicial reform, I say this. You have some reasonable concerns and objectives. I have tried to make many constructive suggestions, here at the Times of Israel, for reasonable outcomes. But you are defeating yourselves and your people by trying to bulldoze through reforms rather than engaging in dialogues that could make the constitutional situation more stable, balanced, durable, and just. Broad democratic support within a country – not merely being the currently governing coalition – is recognized everywhere in the world as essential to legitimizing constitutional reforms.

It is not enough to cite examples from other states where such-and-such is done, yet that state is still considered democratic. Israel, when true to itself, holds itself to the highest standards. The world constantly holds Israel, unfairly and hypocritically, to a standard it applies to no other state or people, but that is the reality. Judicial reforms in Israel must not, through a stampeding process or extremist outcome, undermine the legitimacy of its justice system in the eyes of the world. Israeli soldiers and reservists are right to be concerned about the increased prospects of foreign interference if the judicial institutions of Israel are seen as untrustworthy.

Those pushing reforms might wish to aim for some consistency in their support for the Jewish dimension of the nation-state. If reformers make the appointments more legitimate by their own lights, for example, it makes no sense for them to also legally trivialize the impact of a majority decision by the High Court.

The Basic Laws now include the Jewish Nation-State law and other earlier provisions produced from the center and center-right, not the left. I ask the proponents of the reforms: Do you want these Basic Laws to be durable and meaningful? To actually be applied by the courts? Do you want any and all constitutional reforms – including your own – to potentially last only until the next fragile coalition takes power?

If your reforms are reasonable, why are you so afraid they cannot withstand a process of extensive public discussion and scrutiny? Why do you act as though you cannot reach an outcome with wide support among elected politicians or the people in a referendum?

What does the Talmud say about being deliberate in judgment? About the value of compromise and peace?

Minister Levin was behind the law requiring a referendum before Israel makes territorial withdrawals. There must be a clear demonstration of broad public support, he said then, not merely the decision of a government that is supported by less than a two-thirds majority in the Knesset. Is the standard of deliberation and support for a crucial measure to be based on any actual principle, or merely the expedience of whether you are in power and happen to agree with a particular policy?

How the government appears – to its own people, to the world – matters. There is an adage in the common law tradition that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. The actions of the current government – with its attempted bulldozing-through of judicial reform and the recklessness of some of its pronouncements – are risking the reputation of the state of Israel, within and without. There are no ultimate outcomes – staying in political power, achieving some maximalist changes to the judicial system – that can possibly justify what has already taken place and continues to occur. It is all unnecessary, and it is all avoidable. The opportunity remains to achieve reforms that leave the state and society much better off – but realizing this opportunity requires deliberation and consensus-building.

To the Prime Minister: if you do not appear to be acting in a principled and forthright manner to protect the security of Israel and uphold its values, then you are not in fact doing so. To the members of the governing coalition: do you not have within you half a minyan that will put nation ahead of party, peace ahead of pyrrhic victories? In the context of the current crisis, you have not yet appeared. You cannot wait any longer.

About the Author
Bryan Schwartz is a playwright, poet, songwriter and author drawing on Jewish themes, liturgy and more. In addition to recently publishing the 2nd edition of Holocaust survivor Philip Weiss' memoirs and writings titled "Reflections and Essays," Bryan's personal works include two Jewish musicals "Consolation: A Musical Meditation" (2018) and newly debuted "Sacred Goof" (2023). Bryan also created and helps deliver an annual summer program at Hebrew University in Israeli Law and Society and has served as a visiting Professor at both Hebrew University and Reichman University.  Bryan P Schwartz holds a bachelor’s degree in law from Queen’s University, Ontario, and Master’s and Doctorate Degree in Law from Yale Law School. As an academic, he has over forty years of experience, including being the inaugural holder of an endowed chair in international business and trade law,  and has won awards for teaching, research and scholarship. He has been a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba since 1981. Bryan serves as counsel for the Pitblado Law firm since 1994. Bryan is an author/contributor of 34 books and has over 300 publications in all. He is the founding and general editor of both the Asper Review of International Business and Trade Law and the Underneath the Golden Boy series, an annual review of legislative developments in Manitoba. Bryan also has extensive practical experience in advising governments – federal,  provincial, territorial and Indigenous –and private clients  in policy development and legislative reform and drafting. Areas in which Bryan has taught, practiced or written extensively, include: constitutional law, international, commercial, labour, trade,  internet and e-commerce law  and alternate dispute resolution and governance. For more information about Bryan’s legal and academic work, please visit:
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