Michael Melchior

Pursuing the Meimad mission from beyond the political arena

For now, Meimad has shifted its theater of operations to civil society

For the first time since 1999 I am not running in the Knesset elections. Because so many friends and supporters have urged me in recent months to go back into politics and run again, I feel it is only right to provide a brief explanation why, in the end, I decided not to do so.

My ten years of public service in the Knesset and government were characterized by the satisfaction of having made tangible changes in policy in areas for which I was responsible, in legislative reforms and also in giving a unique public voice and platform to issues vital to our lives here in this country. I was privileged to represent a party that was, and probably will always remain small in scale, but large in spirit – the only party of which I have ever been a member – Meimad.

Meimad is a party that contains endless dedication to the Jewish values and identity of Israeli society and yet consistently opposes any form of coercion and religious legislation; a party whose worldview honors both heresy and fear of Heaven simultaneously; that believes in peace with our neighbors and amongst ourselves, a peace that comes from equality and justice rather than from fear and hatred; a party that believes we were exiled from our land because we loved money and neglected our fellow man, so that a return to our land can only succeed if we succeed, without compromise, to take the Jewish sources, narrative and memory and create through their light and inspiration, a society based on environmental and social justice, a welfare state of the highest principles. Unfortunately, this is the opposite direction toward which we are heading today.

With the end of my service in the Knesset, I felt, with all due respect and humility, like the High Priest upon exiting the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. I do not pretend to be the High Priest, nor is the Knesset, honorable as it is, exactly the Holy of Holies. But, indeed, I could identify with the prayer of the High Priest blessing the moment when he exited the sanctuary safely and unharmed. My feeling when I left the Knesset and the government was similar. The political world is so full of pitfalls easy to succumb to, to lose face and demean oneself and others. It is a world where we must make compromises every day. Needless to say, I stumbled and made mistakes. Yet of all the days I worked in the Knesset and the government, I feel that I played a role as the representative of many who did not have a voice, a feeling confirmed by the expressions of appreciation my work received from wide circles in Israeli society, including groups and sectors that do not share many of my positions. I will not deny that some of the compliments were somewhat equivocal. For example, when I received the “Knight of Quality Government,” the prize committee chairman Judge Michel Heshin whispered in my ear that while I deserved the prize, I should know that there were not that many candidates …

Even when I retired from the Knesset and the government, I did not choose to go to the private sector, as is the custom of nearly all of my colleagues. I continued to work for all the same important and grand goals for which I had entered Knesset, but now through the civic arena. Although civil society in Israel does not reach its potential influence in building a healthy and just society, as it does in enlightened nations, I hoped, and I still hope, that we can change this sad reality. We saw an example of this in our successful grass roots struggle to change the fiscal policy regarding the natural resources of the State of Israel. It was a struggle few, if any, thought would succeed given that the opposition included the oil tycoons and gas barons who operated a well-oiled machine of publicists, lawyers and lobbyists.

I believed then and still believe that through the work of civil society, we can act upon and influence all matters of our lives, including the issue that is so decisive to our future, both when it comes to our security and also when it comes to our value system as Jews – the issue of peace. I am saddened that until today, politicians have demonstrated an almost complete failure in their ability to break through and bring hope on this front.

As the date of elections drew close, the possibility of my return to the political arena arose. Personally, in addition to all that has been and will be said here, I have been through a year of loss, grief and bereavement and I was hesitant as to whether I had the inner strength to rise to the challenge of a task I am not sure I desired.

Over the years, I maintained close ties with many people in the political arena. There were opportunities to run in these elections which proved unsuccessful. I did not feel that I could attain an agreement or formula that would honor Meimad and its reputation amongst the Israeli public. If our goal had been limited to getting a seat in the Knesset, it is possible that we could have done so, but that is not our path. Serving in the Knesset, however respectable, is not everything. Nonetheless, I will continue to work so that the center left block will grow and will succeed in replacing the current powers, both those on the political front and those on the socio-economic one, even though chances look slim today. “כי בנפשנו היא” “Kee B’nafshenu Hee”.


About the Author
Rabbi Michael Melchior is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, and Israel-Diaspora relations. Through his work, Rabbi Melchior seeks to strengthen Israeli civil society so it may catalyze significant social change in the State of Israel. He was a member of Knesset for the Meimad Party. Rabbi Melchior continues to hold the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.