Trouble on the Right

In college I was a leftist. I used to joke that I was slightly to the left of Mao Zedong. I slowly discovered that the left acted the way the right did–lots of exaggeration, small distortions, even lies. I coached myself to read across the political (and religious) spectrum. I have tried to be open to right, left, and center. As I became more open I realized the great power of ideology–you need ideology to get things done. But it is dangerous to read reality through the lens of one particular ideology. My study of Judaism helped me understand that one of our great teachings is the danger of avodah zarah which at its core is about worshiping a part as if it is the whole. I love the Hasidic teaching about how if you hold a coin close to one of your eyes and close the other eye, all you see is the coin.

I say all this because lately I’ve become convinced that Israel’s right wing is in trouble. It may not look that way. The right wing is certainly popular. But our right wing is increasingly looking at reality as if only it has clear lenses. Our right wing seems of late to be convinced of our power and the importance of us not being afraid to use our power. But it is precisely in the realm of power that we are most vulnerable. Our current government has focused on two kinds of power–economic and military. This is the first government in our history that has ignored a third kind of power which is crucial for our survival and well being–diplomatic power. Prime Minister Netanyahu has put all his eggs in the Republican and Trump baskets. No previous prime minister ever sided with one side of America’s political spectrum. This is a recipe for disaster. In March on my last trip to the U.S. it was obvious to me that Trump is leading the Republicans to a huge defeat–Congress and the White House will soon be in the hands of Democrats. Many of those Democrats are on the left wing of the Democratic Party and that left has become increasingly impatient with and even hostile to Israel.  I can easily imagine a time when we will pine for the days when Obama was president.

The danger is America joining with Europe, Russia, and China in sanctions against Israel. The more closely aligned with Trump we appear the more we are vulnerable to this scenario playing out. A crucial lesson about power, one that we learn from Tanach, is that power must be used in moderation.  There have to be limits on the use of power.  That’s what Shabbat and laws like “peah” are all about.  There must be tzim-tzum.  Without limits on power you entice yourself into an exaggerated sense of possibilities.  The Likud likes to point out the handful of African and Middle Eastern countries that are becoming our friends under Netanyahu’s leadership.  A clear eyed look reveals that these are not countries with clout and they add up to nothing compared to a united America, Europe, Russia, and China.

Pirke Avot reminds us–who is wise? The person who learns from every person. It’s time for all of us, but especially our right wing which currently holds the keys to power, to approach the tough decisions we have to make with an open heart and a willingness to see through the lens of the other.

About the Author
Bill Berk was born in California and graduated college from the University of California, Berkeley. He attended rabbinical school (HUC) and served congregations in Palo Alto and Phoenix. Bill made aliyah in 2006, and worked at the Hartman Institute running their educational programs for rabbis. He has worked at Keshet and Makor in the field of educational travel.