There is something deeply disturbing in watching the new Netanyahu Government totally cave-in to the grotesque remarks of the coalition partners from the charedi world concerning Reform Jews. The remarks on their face were an obnoxious dismissal of millions of Jews, especially American Jews. The utterances from the Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay of the Shas Party, were appalling. The fact that the Prime Minister’s only public response has been to say that Azoulay does not speak for the Government is embarrassing. (It is not surprising, however, since that was exactly what Bibi did when the Minister of Housing announced the initiation of additional building units in East Jerusalem precisely while Vice President Biden was visiting Jerusalem.)
Without addressing the substance of Azoulay’s remarks, this episode speaks legions about what is wrong with politics in Israel. The Prime Minister in any coalition Government builds his Cabinet based on understandings between the lead party–in this case Likud–and the other smaller coalition party members. When a Minister speaks out publically it is or should rightly be assumed that his remarks have been cleared by the Prime Minister—in this case Netanyahu. If a Minister expresses random policy thoughts which are at odds with those of the coalition and does not retract them he ought to be ousted from the Cabinet—at a minimum. In this instance when the Minister besmirched the name of millions of Reform Jews throughout the world Netanyahu ought to have dismissed him from the Government.
Unfortunately, the politics of this coalition are such that either Bibi actually believes what Azoulay said and is only mouthing dissent to play the “good guy” and appease Diaspora Jewry; or the coalition is so tenuous that Netanyahu could lose his Government if he attacks the charedim. In other words, there was an implicit understanding when the charedi parties joined the coalition that they would be immune from any retribution if and when they criticized or attacked the non-Orthodox Jewish communities. On a substantive level, no effort would be made by the new coalition to pursue and liberalize the conversion law as had been begun legislatively by the previous Knesset.
Do Israeli leaders actually believe that they can disregard the sensitivities of Jews throughout the world and then expect them to rally to their side whenever Israel whistles? This approach will not be tolerated by world Jewry forever.