COMMENTS ON THE ISRAELI ELECTION OF APRIL 9, 2019

Following this Tuesday’s national election in Israel, I write to offer comments here on the outcome, as well as to invite you to participate in an opportunity this spring to continue the conversation at the temple.

As of this writing, it appears as if incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu is best positioned to form a coalition government. While the right-wing Likud party captured 35 seats (out of the required 61 to govern, a simple majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament), tying his rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue & White Party’s 35 seats, it seems that Netanyahu is in the best position to  assemble a right-wing governing coalition. This will also put Netanyahu on track to become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, exceeding founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.  At the same time, the strong showing by Gantz shows that Israelis are far from unified behind their Prime Minister’s policies, rhetoric, and choice of allies.

This is a moment that calls for thoughtful reflection and renewal of our commitment to Israel. 

Renewal of our commitment:  because it is important for Israelis to know that America, and American Jews especially, stand by Israel’s side and will do our part to support the world’s only Jewish State—a goal that transcends policies and political parties. 

It is important for Israelis to know that we respect the democratic process that has created the present outcome, and that we support Israel’s democratic and Jewish aspirations.

It is important for Israelis to know that, as Americans and as Jews, we seek Israel’s prosperity, value Israel’s security, and see Israel as our chief strategic partner in the Middle East, and a key ally in a rapidly changing, complex and challenging world.

Israel is a central tenet of Jewish peoplehood. Her existence is paramount. Her values are fundamentally our values. Our shared commitment to her future must never waver.

This is also moment for thoughtful reflection, especially for us American Reform Jews.  The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the anticipated formation of a coalition drawn from Likud and far-right political parties, should give pause to anyone who does not wish to see Israel’s democratic aspirations and character diminished in the name of security or nationalism. 

We should be on guard about the empowerment of Israel’s most extremist voices and ideologies.  Anti-Arab incitement, invective directed by Netanyahu and his associates against Israel’s own non-Jewish citizens (more than 20% of its population), has been a distressing feature of this election cycle. 

We should feel concerned that this election will give newfound leverage to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, politicians, and rabbis, who are intolerant of religious pluralism and especially hostile to Reform and Conservative Judaism, our Judaism.  We should worry that the right of every Jew to feel fully at home as a Jew in the Jewish State will be infringed, and that non-Orthodox Jews will be subjected to further marginalization. 

We should feel concerned about the direction in which the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be heading.  A strategy that eventually leads to the morally commendable outcome of two states for two peoples seems ever more distant.  Recent talk of Israeli “annexation” of the West Bank is deeply distressing to all who seek a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict.

And, finally, we should feel concerned about Israel further becoming a wedge issue in American political life, dividing the American Jewish community against itself so as to harm Jewish unity and erode a longstanding tradition of bipartisan American support for Israel.

All of these concerns arise from the outcome of this election, alongside our unwavering support to do our part to help Israel fulfill its mandate to be a light unto the nations of the world and a secure haven for world Jewry—always. 

WRT affirms, as one of our pillars or foundational precepts, the value of Clal Yisrael, of responsibility for our People everywhere, including and especially in Israel.  This is why we will take not one, but two congregational trips to Israel in the coming year:  a family trip in December 2019, and a High School seniors trip in February 2020—and yes, there’s still time to sign up.  It is why we advocate vigorously and give generously to support Israeli causes and work tirelessly to grow and strengthen the the Jewish state.  And it is why we raise our voices in support, in solidarity, and in shared concern over the future of our beloved Jewish homeland. 

Please consider strengthening WRT’s efforts by donating to Israeli causes (I have a list of recommendations that I’m happy to share), making plans to travel to Israel, and participating in the many educational and celebratory programs about Israel that WRT sponsors throughout the year.

Thursday April 11th actually happens to be a historic day in Israel’s history and a celebratory day for all of us. Last week, the Israeli rocket ship Beresheet successfully entered into the moon’s orbit and tonight, it is anticipated, it will land on the moon!  This will mark a tremendous accomplishment for Israel and space exploration, as Israel will become only the fourth nation to land on the moon.  You can follow organized “watch parties” taking place all over Israel where they have prepared large screens and activities for children. You can find that information by clicking HERE.

Finally, we hope you’ll be part of our conversation in person.  Our congregant Yoel Magid, who regularly teaches classes about Israel at WRT, will join me in dialogue about the outcome of the elections on Friday, May 10th, when we publicly celebrate Yom Ha-Atzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day, which falls this year on Thursday, May 9th), during and following Friday night services at 7:45 PM.

Until then, I wish you a sweet Pesach season of freedom, and a beautiful spring. 

Shalom Al Yisrael,

Rabbi Jonathan E. Blake

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