As you all know, Israel has caved into the ultra-Orthodox parties and has suspended an agreement to create an egalitarian prayerspace at the Western Wall, the Kotel thereby breaking a deal that was four years in the making with the liberal streams of Israeli Jewry. The government asserts that the agreement is ‘suspended.’ This is another way of saying ‘shelved.’
In addition, the government also caved into the ultra-Orthodox by saying that only its conversions will be accepted by the state for status under the Law of Return. What this means is that all non-recognized conversions will not be accepted by the state for citizenship.
These two decisions make a very loud statement: Liberal Jews are not welcome. Liberal Jews do not practice Judaism. Liberal Jews don’t belong here. There is no other way to interpret this.
The problem for the Israeli government is that only a minority of the populations thinks so. Most Israelis are not ultra-Orthodox and, in fact, resent so much of their lives being controlled by what is effectively a Jewish Taliban. And the government is feeling the heat.
Major donors are pulling out or suspending their donations. Meetings with the government are cancelled by liberal organizations. And there are people who are vocally and publicly suggesting that the split between Israel and the Diaspora will only get wider and that so many people feel that the state has let them down and discarded them.
This is untenable for Israel.
Israel needs us and we need Israel. Ours is a symbiotic relationship and, should it evolve into one of constant fissure and disruption, Israel will find itself isolated from the majority of North American Jewry.
How could Prime Minister Netanyahu stand in front of any audience of North American Jews and, with a straight face, suggest that Israel is still the homeland of the Jewish people while, at the same time, agreeing that it is only the homeland of certain kinds of Jewish people? It is a question that he will have to respond to.
The added insult to us all is that he instructed the Israeli emissaries to put the blame of the crisis on liberal Jews! Frankly, this is the epitome of chutzpah. Netanyahu ought to be ashamed.
He suggested that the only way to keep his government alive was to acquiesce to the ultra-Orthodox. Whenever a government is held hostage by a minority, it bodes very badly for the government. It is unsustainable and divisive, ruinous and dangerous for the integrity of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
The only way the government will change its position is with a constant barrage of emails, letters, and public statements.
I am ashamed of Israel for the first time ever. I pray that this shanda end and ends soon.
Rabbi Cy Stanway