Dissent is at the root of all healthy democracies, for without dissent, without the ability to speak up and express one's opinion in opposition to those in power, democracy quickly dissolves. It might appear to remain a democracy for a time, but it won't survive very long. These past few weeks in Israel we have witnessed a dangerous descent. And while the situation with the Palestinians is also deteriorating rapidly, sadly, this descent was an internal matter, a matter of one Jewish group attacking and spuriously seeking to destroy another Jewish group.
The New Israel Fund (NIF), a 30-year old, reputable and honorable organization that funds and supports some of the most important civil and human rights groups in Israel, has recently come under spurious and slanderous attack by a right-wing extremist settler group calling itself 'Im Tirtzu,' ("if you will it") borrowing the catch phrase of Theodore Hertzl. The name in and of itself is a sad and twisted turn of ironic history, for Hertzl sought to build a country where Jews could live in safety and security from an increasingly dangerous, anti-Semitic world; now, we are witnessing the danger from within. This settler group, with financial backing from the well-known Christian evangelical minster, John Hagee, is seeking to silence the voice of civil and human rights in Israel, and is now pushing for a Knesset inquiry, which will be brought to the floor again this week. Claiming that the grantees of New Israel Fund monies are behind the Goldstone Report, an outlandish claim, this group has already slandered, and defaced personally, the name of former MK and NIF president, Naomi Chazan, protesting outside her home, threatening her, hanging posters of her with horns on her head. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so serious. The irony of a Jewish group, so-called religious people, using the oldest anti-Semitic tactic in the book, horns, about a fellow Jew, is almost incomprehensible. Those who care about freedom of speech and democracy should be outraged at these actions, whether or not you agree with the policies of NIF. Sadly, the Jerusalem Post bowed to pressure late last week and fired Naomi Chazan from her column. What will be next? Defenders of NIF are calling this a witch-hunt, reminiscent of McCarthism. As Americans, we understand and need to help Israel in this struggle to not make the same mistakes.
Thankfully, there are Knesset members who are standing behind NIF, attempting to block this inquiry proposal. We are calling on concerned Jews, the world over, to contact Prime Minister Netanyahu's office and express our outrage and concern, and call on him to protest these actions. This group thought that it could dismantle the NIF without anyone noticing, without the international Jewish community raising its voice. And thankfully, with the success of J-Street, there are now powerful allies in Washington to make the case to our congressional leaders and the President. There is a huge amount of money available to these extremist groups, so we must work extra hard to spread the grassroots message. Click here to learn more and send a message to the Prime Minister: http://www.nif.org/media-center/nif-under-attack.html
I close with this thought: during the Roman advancement on Jerusalem, in the year 70CE, there was a key component that allowed the empire to succeed with such force and dominance. The internal strife of the various Jewish sects, with infighting, assassinations and power wars, so weakened the Jewish community, the external enemy just sat and watched, and waited. The rabbis of the Talmud say that the 2nd Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred among the Jewish people. With all of the study of Talmud that takes place in Israel, it is sad that this history is emerging to repeat itself, once again, in the heart of Jerusalem. I pray that we get our act together before the external enemies see fit to pounce. We always pray for peace with others, but today I pray for peace with ourselves. And may democracy and freedom stand fast in the face of fear and hatred.
Follow Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rabbijoshua