Thursday, October 18, 2018

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the US recently published an op-ed in Ha’aretz entitled “The One Speech Netanyahu Will Never Make to Diaspora Jews,” a not-too-clever attempt to imagine what it would be like for our PM to agree with him. He is quite right that Netanyahu would never say the things he has put in his mouth. 

Jacobs seems to believe that he knows what’s best for Israel better than those who live here, send their children to the army, and duck when rockets are launched at them. His movement has taken up the cause of transforming Israeli society into a replica of liberal America, whether Israelis like it or not.

In the spirit of providing free speechwriting services to important people, I have generously written a similar speech for Rabbi Jacobs to deliver to Israeli Jews. I hope he will use it someday, although the likelihood of that approaches zero. Much of what he wrote for our PM to say can be reused with minor changes, so that’s what I did. The portions in italics are direct quotations from Rabbi Jacobs’ proposed speech for PM Netanyahu. My additions and changes are in boldface.


Dear Israeli Jews,

It’s truly a gift to see so many of you here for this dialogue between our two Jewish communities, North American and Israeli Jewry. I realize that things have been tense recently between our communities. In the spirit of Yom Kippur, lingering after the gates have closed, I want to acknowledge my responsibility here.

Let’s start with the Kotel, a place that should unite – not divide – all Jews. American Reform and Conservative Jews practice mixed-gender prayer, and we would like to be able to pray our way when we visit the Kotel in Israel. We would like the members of our Israeli movements to be able to do so as well. But the 40% of Israelis that see themselves as religious or traditional – ranging from the 12% who are Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) to those for whom “the synagogue they don’t go to is Orthodox” – do not pray that way. Indeed, Haredim and some others on the observant side of the spectrum find mixed-gender prayer highly offensive, especially at the Kotel, which they treat as an Orthodox synagogue. And fewer than one-half of one percent of Israeli Jews are affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements (no, the figure is not as high as 12%. Read the linked article). 

Now, I strongly disagree with those who find offensive what I find beautiful. But because I care about Jewish unity and shalom bayit, I believe it would be wrong to impose my American-oriented views and those of a handful of Israelis on a much larger number of more traditional ones. And so I am withdrawing my demand to allow mixed-gender prayer at the Kotel.

I have accused you of “disenfranchising the largest segment of practicing Jewry in the world.” But perhaps I engaged in a bit of hyperbole. What you do in Israel doesn’t “disenfranchise” anyone in the Diaspora, where Jews are free to practice Judaism however they want. And while I strongly disapprove of the way conversion and marriage are handled in Israel (and on this, many Israelis agree with me!), I realize that this is up to Israelis to decide. After all, Israel is a sovereign state!

I believe [the recently-passed Nation-State Law] is an important one that expresses the recognition by all of us that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. I also know, however, that there are many concerns among Israelis, North American Jews, and other friends and allies. Let me set everyone’s minds at rest. The Nation-State Law does not damage the rights of minorities of any kind. And those rights are enshrined in other Basic Laws, so there is no need to repeat them here. In particular, there is no need for a “principle of equality,” which could be interpreted to grant national rights in addition to the civil and political rights that your minorities enjoy. And while my country, the US, is a “state of all of its citizens,” I understand that Israel is not. Didn’t I just say that at the beginning of this paragraph?

And, let me say something about BDS. You are a strong enough people to handle criticism from those who object to your self-defense. In this spirit, you ought to prevent entrance to Israel of those who would exploit open borders for the purpose of delegitimizing and demonizing your state. Entry to Israel for non-Israelis is a privilege, not a right.

Meanwhile, I am awaiting the Trump peace plan. I have no confidence in President Trump, perhaps, even lessthan many of you. What can I say? I hate the guy. I see myself as part of the “resistance.” [Scattered nervous laughter.]

But, I am not myopic. I know that you cannot have a secure Israel with a terrorist Palestinian state by your side. There, I said it. [Some light applause.]

My friends, your country’s security is intimately tied to the friendship of the United States of America. I pledge that I will do everything possible to rebuild bipartisan consensus  in Washington, so vital to Israel that I, following the lead of President Obama, tried so hard to wreck.

I will never sacrifice the deep bonds that exist between Israel and North American Jewry, including among progressive Jews who love Israel as dearly as I do. Yes, you [pointing to someone on stage who looks confused] heard me correctly.

In closing, I want to say you are welcome … as our dear partners and that I will try to work on my boundary issues and act as though Israel is a sovereign state, hard as that may be for me. 

Thank you.

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