By Rabbi Mark Schiftan and Dr. Frank Boehm
Mark: Frank, what do you make of the current political situation in Israel?
You know, I love Israel. Its creation is the fulfillment of our people’s hopes and dreams. But lately, I worry about her future as a democratic state.
Frank: Mark, I totally agree with you and am also extremely worried about what Israel is doing in attempts to reform its Supreme Court.
By allowing the Knesset to override legislative objections issued by the Court, the extreme right- wing faction of the Knesset will make significant changes. It would affect many activities of the secular Israeli population as well as Jews living outside of Israel who may want to make Aliyah.
I am concerned that Israel’s democracy will revert to a theocracy and secular Jews in Israel and around the world will suffer the consequences. It has already been reported that studying Torah and Talmud will be equivalent to military service and it has also been reported that Jews converted by non- Orthodox Rabbis may not be recognized as Jews, thereby preventing Aliyah.
When Theodore Herzl urged the world to accept a country for Jews to be able to live without fear of discrimination and death, he did not define who was a Jew. He meant all Jews. I feel powerless to weigh-in on this issue.
Mark: Frank, it is no longer hyperbole to suggest that there is a battle taking place for Israel’s soul and its character as a modern, democratic, and Jewish pluralistic nation.
The intersection and political combination of the Ultra-right wingers, alongside the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community seek to make Israel a fundamentalist, exclusionary country, one far removed from the intent of its founders and its more inclusive and tolerant Israeli citizens.
The threat from this tilt towards extremism goes far beyond Israel’s borders. It deeply affects the relationship between American Jews and the Jewish State.
The conundrum of Palestinian human rights, coupled with the efforts at narrowing the definition and subsequent determination of Jewish identity, has already begun to erode and dilute the bonds between our American Jewish community and our ancestral homeland.
So, Frank, what should we do, what can we do, to relay our urgent concerns? Many want to do something, but what exactly is something we can do with a substantial and enduring impact?
Frank: While I have, in the past, been supportive of Israel and its politics, I now feel as if Israel has crossed a red line and I must somehow protest what Ultra-right wing Knesset members are trying to achieve.
However, the question is what can I do to protest? I cannot march with Israelis on Saturdays. I cannot refuse to take part in military exercises. I cannot vote in Israel, and I certainly know that any letters I write to government officials will have no impart whatsoever. So, what can I do? Mark: Frank, I can hear the mix of frustration, anger, and sadness in your reflections. It is, without question, a particularly challenging time to be a devoted supporter of the State of Israel.
Is it becoming too controlled by the ultra-Orthodox?
Is it slowly but surely tipping away from its democratic system of government?
Is it moving towards religious fundamentalism, political extremism, and autocratic rule?
I have long argued, as have others, that the best way to support the state of Israel is by strengthening Jewish life in our own communities right here, in America. We need to reinvest some of the funds we send abroad right here, in Nashville, by strengthening Jewish education and through increasing local services and opportunities for engagement.
Frank: Mark, I know we both continue to love Israel as the land of our people’s highest aspirations. The goal now is to continue to support the Israel we love,
Rabbi Mark Schiftan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Frank Boehm: email@example.com