This Is Not Politics; This Is Judaism

Should American Jews weigh in when it comes to the Israeli elections?

No.

Citizens of Israel, who defend Israel, who face the risks and pay the price for living in Israel decide who leads the country. That’s the blessing of a democratic State of Israel.

Can American Jews weigh in regarding moral issues and Jewish values? Absolutely.

This has become especially relevant in recent days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged the merger between Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party, and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an extremist right-wing party led by Kahane’s disciples. The merger will increase the united party’s chances of gaining enough votes to enter Knesset.

Some argue this is politics as usual. It is quite common for elections to bring out unsavory tactics in an effort to win.

At the same time, this is not “business as usual.” Otzma Yehudit includes voices, views, and personalities that are way outside the mainstream in Israeli life and are anathema to Jewish values. Adherents express and promote such policies as expulsion of Arabs who are not “loyal” to the State and strict segregation between Jews and Arabs. These are policies that do not reflect traditional Torah values as expressed in public life.

This has elicited strong reactions from across the political and religious spectrum.

Many in Israel’s religious Zionist camp were outraged. Rabbi Benny Lau wrote:

“As someone who dreams the dream of the return to Zion, I will fight so the doctrine of Kahane doesn’t enter the Knesset because it is a racial doctrine like the Nuremberg Laws.”

Some criticized the harsh comparison between Jews and Nazis. It’s a sign of how charged the issue is.

In the US, AIPAC joined American Jewish Committee (AJC) in condemning the views of Otzma Yehudit as “reprehensible” and “they do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Presidents Conference and a prominent leader of the American Jewish community, noted, “For those who follow this, there’s a lot of concern…What we have to deal with is how it is perceived and understood in the United States…And we have to be very careful because it feeds certain tendencies that are very concerning to us…politics can’t dictate everything.”

These are voices which do not criticize Israel lightly – certainly not internal Israeli election politics. It’s unprecedented! That’s a good indication of how important the issue is seen by the mainstream American Jewish and pro-Israel leadership.

I think the best reason that we cannot remain silent was expressed by Yossi Klein Halevi.

This situation is a chilul HaShem, a desecration of God’s name. Hate and racist ideology have no place in Jewish politics – even if one thinks it’s necessary for a greater good.

This is a chilul HaShem. That’s why Jews need to speak out – even if it’s an internal Israeli matter. When there’s a chilul Hashem, we can’t just sit back and let our Israeli brothers and sisters speak up. Yes, Israelis – who by and large reject extremist ideology – will be the ones to decide this issue at the ballot box. At the same time, all who are dismayed, pained, and outraged by this terrible arrangement can – and should – express an opinion.

Israel will, please God, survive regardless of who wins the upcoming elevation. It will thrive when our connection with and support for Israel are deeply rooted in love and commitment to Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying God’s name, through our dedication to Torah and Jewish values.

About the Author
Rabbi Elie Weinstock is Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. A believer in a Judaism that is accessible to all, he prefers "Just Judaism" to any denominational label.
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