After decades of political brinkmanship and hand-wringing, countless tears and letters and protests and arrests, after multiple Israeli Supreme Court decisions and governmental committee commitments (not to mention thousands of Israeli leaders’ posturing at American Jewish fundraising events as supporters of Jewish pluralism), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today froze plans to dedicate a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall. This is a betrayal of trust on every level, and there is no turning back. It is likely that many establishment well-intentioned American Jewish leaders will respond vocally to today’s horrific decision (some already have), but will then sit, once again, at the table with Israel’s leaders, pretending (even to themselves) that they aren’t being skillfully used as a PR shield for Netanyahu’s craven betrayal of Jewish values in our very home, once again.
Today is a very bad, no-good, rotten day for this American Zionist rabbi.
To those who consider Ha’aretz’s left-leaning journalists suspicious, please note that these fiery words are from an Op-Ed by David Horovitz, executive editor of The Times of Israel, who writes:
Israel’s Diaspora-savvy prime minister, in capitulating to [Israeli Ultra-Orthodoxy’s] narrow-minded demands against his better judgment, showed that survival in office now even takes precedence over the deepest sensibilities of the global Jewish nation he aspires to lead.
I have much more to say about the Kotel (the Western Wall), which is at once fetishized by many Diaspora Jews and irrelevant for most Israeli Jews. Judaism is more alive and pulsing, colorful and vibrant, in Tel Aviv cafes and on the streets of Jerusalem than they are allowed to be at (or even near) the Kotel, and for the vast majority of Israelis, the Ultra-Orthodox stranglehold on their national Jewish life has already alienated them from any sense of ritual meaning. For now, I’ll simply say that this moment has been coming for a very long time. A very long time.
There is plenty of responsibility for enabling and allowing it to happen. Diaspora Jewry has been played. And we have allowed ourselves to be played. Out of love for our homeland, we’ve allowed ourselves to be abused by its politicians. (Here is a Hebrew piece I wrote in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv three years ago on this topic. Here is its English sister piece that appeared in The Jerusalem Post).
Judaism is suffering and Jews are suffering. As my dear teacher and friend Yossi Klein Halevi remarked to me years ago, Israel needs Diaspora Jews, who are distant enough from existential threats to think about the long term. But are we? Have we been? Have we been blinded by our love of Israel from seeing that it has thus far been unrequited?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most public face of the global Jewish People, has led the global Jewish community over a cliff. Jewish unity has been torn by his political machinations and moral cowardice.
The problem is that, when it comes down to it, we’ve willingly jumped.
I will never cease in my defense of our People and my love of our homeland. My work as a Jewish leader in the Diaspora is not a “compartment” of my Jewish worldview. My heart and soul (and spiritual devotion and political action) have always been and will always remain firmly rooted where my family lives, especially in our homeland.
But I know that my commitment, as an American Rabbi, to Israel’s well-being is not reciprocated by its leadership. Today is only the most recent slap in my face. I am seen as a tool for garnering American political, intelligence, and military support for Israel. Not as a leader. Not as a rabbi. Not as a brother. What Israel’s leaders don’t understand is that my love for Israel makes me willing to endure (some of) what’s being done. What of those Diaspora leaders who have every right to say they’ve had enough?
Our descendants will look back at today with more clarity regarding these truths than many of us are willing to accept today. It is a painful realization that we must use our political and financial power to shift public opinion in Israel (as is already the practice many conservative philanthropists), until leaders worthy of our People’s legacy are elected. Politics will always be messy. Principles will always collide. But today’s decision is beneath us, an insult to the dreams of our People, a capitulation to Jewish religious fundamentalism by unscrupulous, conniving politicians, and a wound to our family’s health.
History has its eyes on us all.