Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

This is Zionism in This Time

To the news, as reported by JTA, that “more than 330 American rabbis, including some who occupy prominent roles in major cities, are pledging to block members of the Religious Zionist bloc in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government from speaking at their synagogues and will lobby to keep them from speaking in their communities”—


Among the things that have to happen, this.

The organized British Jewish community led the way by implementing this policy months ago, when Bezalel Smotrich went there to collect funds for his chauvinist, racist, misogynist, homophobic agenda. The British Board of Deputies said, we won’t go where he speaks and we won’t give him a platform on our turf.

President Herzog then criticized that, saying that Ministers in the Israeli government should be respected with a hearing, whatever their views.

No, absolutely not. Diaspora Jewry has a critical role to play now and we need all the help we can get. Some people and some ideas do not deserve a hearing or respect.

And to say that in this terrible moment is Zionism.

Will the racists, theocrats, misogynists, homophobes, inciters of hate, promoters of oppression, care that they are not welcome in the synagogues and other venues of people they reject and revile? No, of course not.

But we use the tools we have, and certainly, in this so troubling time, our messaging must be clear.

We have red lines. No, not everything that gets elected in a democratic election is acceptable and the people’s voice is not the only determinant of what we agree to live with or condone. 1933 in Germany was also a democratic election.

Half the voters in this country voted against what this government is about. And we need precisely what this government is setting out to destroy: constitutional democracy—that is, democracy, anchored in law that protects the rights of all, regardless of ethnicity, religion,or gender; which seeks and pursues peace, as Israel’s Declaration of Independence states are  among our founding purposes.

Fair, equal, and rational governance, burdens shared by all, no arguments from or for privilege, or its flip side, discrimination; governance in accord with established, verified, and verifiable, empirical facts about the economy and economics, about education, about civic and human equality. About public space remaining precisely and unconditionally that, sacred space for all, no place for discrimination justified on any grounds.

More and better, not fewer and lower, standards for serving in public office.

Keeping incitement to hate tref, a disqualifier for public office.

Clear separation of powers between the branches of government; clear distinction between a ruling party or coalition and the State itself; an independent judiciary, itself bound to and enforcing the rule of constitutional law, its independence, sacrosanct; a professional police force, operating under the rule of constitutional law, not as the militia of any minister; a politically neutral army, whose soldiers do not enact their politics in the performance of their duties and are severely punished if they do.

Back all the above and help those here fighting for it. Do not give a hearing, a place, or respect, to those who don the garb of our worst enemies throughout our history and speak in their voice, in their language. That they speak Hebrew does not kasher it, it makes it infinitely worse, defiling the memory of the millions of us who suffered and died precisely because of such views, spoken in other languages. It defiles the memory of the tens of thousands of Israelis—Jews, Druze, Christian, Bedouin– who sacrificed their lives as soldiers, as police and as civilians, and who continue to devote their lives for what we, not the racists, seek to build here.

Tonight, we light the eighth, the last of the Channukah lights. It is not at all obvious, not in  our personal lives, our family lives, or that of the nation, that we kindle light in a dark time. To do that takes consciousness, determination, courage.

This is a grim time.

Our solidarity is one hope in it, and this news from abroad and more like it is very welcome and needed.

Thank you.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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