Fred Shahrabani

Will Orthodox Judaism Divorce Democracy?

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s motives, are transparent. After years of praising the independence and professionalism of Israel’s Supreme Court, he has now turned against it as it hears evidence of his alleged crimes.

Netanyahu’s Justice Minister, Yariv Levin, is now poised to strike down the checks and balances that constrain absolute power, effectively subverting Israel’s democracy and Declaration of Independence, and conscripting  its independent judiciary into the service of Netanyahu’s special circumstances.

The stakes are enormous. Not only morally, politically, economically and socially; in terms of survivability — Netanyahu is throwing overboard the very model that for the  past 75 years served as the framework for the nation’s breathtaking success in nearly every field imaginable.

Thus, the risk averse Netanyahu of the past has morphed into the most untethered gambler in Israel’s history. He is going all in — betting the entire country (and its unity) — not for the the sake of Israel’s wellbeing, it is clear, but for his own.

It is deeply unfortunate that Netanyahu’s enablers in this agenda are Israel’s Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties. The fact that his partners in crime should be  religious political parties compromises the integrity of all Judaism. Certainly the Orthodox population does not seek a role that will imperil the moral strength of Judaism.

Given the radical nature of the present political agenda, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis and leaders have all spoken passionately in defence of Israel’s democracy. The silence emanating from the orthodox community, especially in the diaspora, however, is disquieting. It is absolutely necessary at this historic moment for orthodox leaders to raise both their individual and collective voices.

Given the Israeli people’s remarkable and determined actions to save democracy, it is highly unlikely that Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in this folly; the ill-gotten gains he is promising his allies will prove ephemeral.  Yet for the sake of moral rectitude and unity, it is hoped that Orthodox synagogues and congregations throughout the world will raise their voices in protest;  they must demand that Orthodox parties in Israel disassociate themselves from a pact with this dissolute and dangerous prime minister.

To our Orthodox co-religionists throughout North America and Europe: silence will be viewed as tacit support for a de facto dictatorship in Israel. Trashing the sacred values of a majority of secular and non-Orthodox Jews will create a profound and sinister wound that will not necessarily heal.  Do not allow the courts of Israel to bear false witness.  Responsibility falls on Orthodox Judaism to adhere to the highest values of Jewish tradition. Our sisters and  brothers, if not now, then when? If not you, then who will ensure the ethical clarity and integrity of Orthodox Jewry?

About the Author
Fred was raised and educated in Tehran. He hails from a family of Iraqi Jews who fled Iraq, and subsequently, in the wake of the the 1979 Islamic Revolution, fled Iran. His parents spent formative years in Israel. As Arab Jews and Zionists who experienced the generosity of Moslem culture, and in particular the high spirit, hospitality, and graciousness afforded them in Iran, his perspective is formed by many of the historic events that engulfed the region.
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