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Yet another threat: Israel becomes Iran

The erosion of religious and civil rights may cast the Jewish State as just another corrupt Mideast backwater

I am not a cop or a nuclear physicist. I’m a nurse, a Jew, a mother, and an Israeli. I don’t know how to avoid being knifed at a bus stop, much less prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons. Call me skeptical, but I doubt that anyone else does either. I do know that Israelis and Jews around the world who — like me — lack the knowhow, capability, and power to affect “the deal,” can and must step up our efforts to save Israel. Not from Iran, but from becoming Iran.

We are nothing like Iran now. But the keen distinctions are blurring:

  • Israelis married in civil and halachic ceremonies in Israel and abroad may be jailed here for refusing to divorce within the Orthodox Rabbinate’s jurisdiction.
  • Orthodox officials strive to impose ever-burgeoning levels of Jewish religious observance on all of Israel citizens. They define whom we can marry, how we are buried, when we can use public transportation, and what we can eat. They extract hefty salaries and take kickbacks, while ensuring that the institutions and non-profit organizations they represent receive an outlandish share of our tax revenues.
  • Economic inequality reflects rampant government corruption and brazen monopolies.
  • Growing calls for curbing freedom of expression would deny funding to cultural endeavors that fail to toe the current party line.

People might wonder why a non-democratic, theocratic Israel is worth saving from an autocratic, theocratic Iran.

Disillusioned Jews in the Diaspora might stop donating money to Israel, stop lobbying politicians on our behalf, stop sending their children on trips and gap-year programs, stop visiting Israel themselves, and stop making aliyah.

Israelis might question laying down their lives for a nation that denies them freedom of expression, freedom of religion, even the appearance of gender equality, taxation with representation, and economic and personal security. Our best and brightest young people might shirk military duty or hop the next plane to the US, Canada, or Berlin.

Don’t get me wrong. I know why Israel is worth saving. I could write volumes on what it means to have one place on earth where it doesn’t rain or snow on Succot; where Hebrew is a vibrant, spoken language; where doctors making house calls on Rosh Hashanah blow shofar for their bedbound patients; and where all the cars on the highway stop on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Mostly, I know that Israel is worth saving because it’s my home and that of my loved ones. I know that they are worth saving. Whoever you are and wherever you are in the world, you know that about your home and family, too.

But we eight million citizens in a country the size of New Jersey cannot go it alone. Our very existence relies on our ability to persuade those who do not call Israel home that we are not just another fanatic, racist, chauvinist, corrupt backwater in the Middle East. That we are worth saving from the tens or even hundreds of millions around the world who openly profess our destruction — worth the precious cost of saving us from the handmade pipe-bombs and makeshift mortars of Iran’s proxies on our borders, and the inevitable nuclear proliferation that will plague this region with or without a deal.

Hell, I barely know how to switch the beaters on my Kitchenaid. I certainly can’t opine on the relative advantages of an IR-8 centrifuge. But I suspect that many of the talking heads that warn us of the apocalyptic repercussions of “the deal” know as much about enriching uranium and isotope separation as they do about whipping egg whites into soft, brilliant peaks.

Why let them distract us from doing the things we can do: supporting organizations, politicians, and parties that espouse pluralism in Israel; electing leaders that foster our relations with our allies; demanding a government that fights the tycoons and criminals who prevent our middle-class from purchasing homes and our poor from putting food on the table. We can use social media, the vote, our power as consumers, our power as investors, and our roles in our communities and workplaces to do all the above. We can avoid playing into the Rabbinate’s hands by choosing how and where we wed, divorce, and worship.

And instead of wasting this crucial period on lobbying members of Congress whose votes are set in stone, we can use the 60-day window to urge the US to compensate Israel for its post-deal vulnerability, by means of military and economic aid.

Some say the Iran deal will buy us 10-15 years. Others say it won’t. But who can say how much time we have left before we become so like Iran that only we can tell the difference? Before we end up like Walt Kelly’s Pogo, the primeval-forest-turned-swamp dwelling possum who looked at the changes to his home and said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am the author of Hershele and the Chicken Skates, was the English Web Content Manager for the Israel Museum and have translated from Hebrew to English for Haaretz and the ANU Museum of the Jewish People. I'm a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.