Progressive American Jews: Fight for the Israel you believe in
Israel’s new government should be seen as a call to action for anyone who cares about Israel’s future, about its character and about its wellbeing. This call applies not only to citizens of the state of Israel, but also – maybe even mainly – to those who are looking at Israel from outside, and, as outsiders, are best positioned to put a mirror before the Israeli public, to serve as a reality check.
The reality is that this government distinctly represents and expresses what the enlightened world, including progressive Americans who care deeply about Israel, have in recent years grown to resent about Israel’s conservative political elite.
The reality is that this political elite, characterized by a combination of jingoistic nationalism and religious conservatism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia, intolerance of dissent and disrespect for basic democratic principles, represents a set of values that is diametrically opposed to the values that most Americans, particularly young Americans, hold dear. More to the point, the reality is that this combination of reactionary beliefs, often zealously proclaimed in the name of Judaism, is the very antithesis of what most American Jews define as “Jewish values.”
For most American Jews, Jewish values are peace, equality, care for the other, whether Jewish or not, as well as democracy, human rights and tolerance – in short, progressive, liberal values.
The “values gap” is deepening not only between Israel’s political elite and the Western world, including American Jews, but also within Israel itself. Inside Israel, there is a bitter war being fought, often referred to as a “culture war,” between Israelis who hold a progressive worldview and those who are in the opposing camp.
Past right-wing governments used progressive coalition partners as a fig leaf with which to mitigate or excuse their extremism. Not with this government. Moshe Kahlon’s party does not even aspire to play this role. Don’t expect him to effectively fight, from within, for peace, religious pluralism, political moderation, a thriving civil society or the independence of the judiciary. No, despite Kahlon’s presence, this narrow government represents a narrow-minded worldview that in recent years has been gaining power in Israel, and which most American Jews deeply resent.
This is where the call to action comes in. This government, thankfully, is in fact narrow, and therefore able to be toppled. It rests on a one-vote majority. One absence, one defection, could pave the way for elections that may produce a very different government, representing a different worldview, reflecting and empowering the other face of Israel.
When it comes to the future of the Jewish homeland, Jews worldwide have a say in present politics that shape Israel’s character, in politics that could either secure it as a Jewish state and a democracy, or turn it into an international pariah in the short run, and bring about its destruction in the long run.
So how can you act? What can you do to induce change in Israel, to turn it into a country that you can, once again, be wholeheartedly proud of? First, learn more about Israel. Read, listen and, if you can, visit. Go beyond the propaganda. Seek independent analysis. Contact organizations and experts that care about Israel but are not in the sugarcoating business. Knowledge is power. From an informed position of power, share your thoughts, concerns and convictions with Israelis. Trust me, they care. Tell them, and tell your fellow American Jews how you feel about an Israeli political elite that intensifies settlement construction instead of seeking ways to end the occupation and reach peace with the Palestinians. Tell them how you feel about a government that funnels more funds to ultra-Orthodox institutions and further curtails the standing of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Tell them what democracy, religious freedoms and individual freedoms mean to you, what equal rights for minorities mean to you, what the future of Israel means to you.
If you love Israel and care about it, and if you feel estranged from its new government, this is not a time to disengage. This, instead, is an opportunity to make common cause with Israeli and American allies, and fight for the Israel you believe in.