Israel’s elections, which have occurred twice in the past year (municipal and national), have provided Kahanists and other Jewish extremists and supremacists with an opportunity to create an atmosphere of hate, in order to win hearts and votes for their racist platform. Election slogans have begun appearing, such as: “If we get rid of all the Arabs/of all our enemies, our troubles will be over,” “Give us the power and we will deal with them…. We are saying what everyone believes in their hearts but is afraid to say out loud!” All Arabs are wrapped up in one frightening package. This is racist incitement, and it is dangerous, misguided, and illegal. It also goes against every lesson that history has taught our people.
Patriotism, hope for the future, and a deep commitment to Judaism motivated the Reform movement in Israel to petition the Israeli Supreme Court to disqualify the radical, Jewish supremacist party, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and its three leaders from running for the Knesset.
We did not take these actions lightly. But in Israel, those who have a proven pattern of racism and racist incitement are forbidden by law from running for the Knesset. We went to court to prevent the real danger of racist incitement becoming mainstream, and emanating from the highest offices in the state.
A Supreme Court panel of nine judges agreed with our assessment that two of the three leaders of Otzma Yehudit should be disqualified. In the court decision, Justice Solberg, one of the most right-wing judges on the panel, commented: “Racism is a scourge. Democracy finds it repugnant, Judaism treats it with loathing. It is a Jewish obligation to accept the Other in our midst; not to hate, not to humiliate, not to discriminate.”
Prompting the attorney general, the Supreme Court, and our country as a whole to draw a line and keep racism and racists out of the Knesset is a religious act. And ensuring that the State of Israel is a country that adheres to the biblical and rabbinic mandates to protect and respect the Other is our religious calling. The Reform movement is the only religious movement in Israel to develop a professional human rights organization, the Israel Religious Action Center, that focuses on justice, equality, and pluralism in Israeli society. The Reform movement’s congregations in Israel and abroad consistently and stalwartly stand together to defend Israel’s democracy and resist racism.
Why have I chosen this issue and not racist incitement from Muslims against Jews?
The truth is, some of the strongest and most capable Israelis are already fighting that battle. The Israeli police and Secret Service carefully and diligently monitor religious leaders, public officials, and others in the Arab sector, making sure that they are not breaking the law against racist incitement, which can carry a five-year imprisonment sentence. If there is an incident of racist incitement by an Arab, it is often in the news, and every Israeli is aware of it happening. But experience has shown us that there is very little scrutiny of racist incitement, when it comes from rabbis, Jewish politicians, and others, against the Arab minority in Israel. Many turn a deaf ear and a blind eye towards Jewish incitement. So we have decided to step into the breach, and to stand strong to defend the essence of our Jewishness and the core of our vision for Israel.
Since Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish supremacist party, Kach, were banned from the Knesset in the ’80s, his ideological heirs have tried to push racism and racist incitement into the mainstream in Israel. We will not stand idely by and allow racism to become acceptable, and to infiltrate the highest offices in the State of Israel. We have Israeli law and Jewish values on our side, and we will continue to fight for a Jewish state that is equal, democratic, and a true light unto the nations.