We Must Not Be Silent
By Rabbi Tuvia Brander and Les Loew
As we explored together on Shabbat, perhaps the most perplexing and shocking aspect of the infamous Golden Calf saga was the deafening silence of those representing moral authority and the voice of reason. While they were certainly righteous individuals around, the Torah reminds us that being righteous in and of itself is not enough – one must have the courage to call for what’s right even when such a voice is sorely unpopular.
It is in that spirit that we feel compelled to address several distressing events of the past week. Two weeks ago, the Religious Zionist party, Jewish Home, announced a unity pact with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Might), a small fringe party led by disciples of Meir Kahane known for their hateful rhetoric and extremist views.
As proud American Religious Zionists, while we feel duty-bound to use our resources and power to help protect, support and bolster the State of Israel, we are often wary of wading into Israeli politics and domestic policies as we feel unworthy, neither having served in the IDF nor actually living in Israel. However, when a political party that brands itself as the “home” party for Religious Zionists makes an alliance with one that espouses extremist views, hateful racist rhetoric, and violence, we are distressed. When an umbrella organization implicitly besmirches the good name of our Young Israel by supporting and legitimizing this brand of morally bankrupt politicking, we cannot be silent. We must speak out.
To quote Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, a leading figure in the Israeli Religious Zionist community and rosh yeshiva (head of the academy) of Yeshivat Har Etzion:
“The addition of Otzma Yehudit’s people to the Jewish Home’s party list is not a political issue, but a religious and moral one. Anyone who participates, directly or indirectly, in the inclusion of a group of people that worships power, is indifferent to violence, honors a murderer, and is full of hate towards many Jews and non-Jews bears responsibility for the Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) that they will certainly bring to the Knesset as religious representatives.
It is preferable to take a position that is politically weak but moral and principled than it is to seek political gains that entail joining with these people. The Torah and the Land of Israel will not be saved by a political gain that depends on morally bereft ideas – they will only be severely damaged by it.
We love Israel, we believe wholeheartedly in its religious, spiritual and redemptive qualities, and we continue to work and pray every day for its physical and spiritual wellbeing and advancement. We also hope that the broad and politically diverse world Zionist community does not see the politically motivated but morally bereft decisions of these party leaders as representative of us Religious Zionists. We hope that this move strengthens and emboldens the more moderate wings of our religious group.
As we pray each week:
“Our Father in Heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first flowerings of our redemption. Shield it with Your loving kindness, envelop it in Your peace, and bestow Your light and truth upon its leaders, ministers, and advisors, and grace them with good counsel before You.”
Rabbi Tuvia Brander is spiritual leader of Young Israel of West Hartford. Les Loew is the synagogue’s coordinator.
Lessons to Be Learned
By Howard R. Zern
In the article “An Extremist Rabbi’s Legacy is Again Haunting Israeli Politics” (Jewish Ledger, March 1, 2019), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engineered the extremist Kahanist party joining with his Likud coalition. The prime minister evidently wanted to increase his likelihood of being reelected, which is not a certainty, nor that this party will qualify for a seat in the Knesset. This move was rightfully condemned by most of the parties in Israel, many American Jewish organizations, and some of Israel’s American supporters.
American Jews seem concerned about how we would explain the prime minister’s decision to Israel’s supporters, including those in Congress.
There are lessons to be learned for Americans and American Jews here. First, I would ask how is the Israeli situation materially different than the current American situation? We have three new virulently socialist, antisemitic House members – Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez – who are extremists and were un-electable as socialists, yet were elected as Democrats. The three believe in the eradication of the Jewish State of Israel and are members of the Socialists of America and the Justice Democrats, two organizations dedicated to the subversion of the Democratic party.
Their beliefs were well known prior to their election from their own statements and actions. How is it that they were even seated in Congress? Why were they rewarded by being appointed to key committees (Oversight and Foreign Affairs)? After their election, why were Tlaib’s and Omar’s initial antisemitic comments and provocations initially ignored? Why was there only a slap on the wrist by the Speaker only after Omar commented about Jewish lobbyist financial influence over Congress, thereby questioning the entitlement of Jews to exercise their First Amendment rights? Omar’s belated apology was disingenuous.
The answer is as simple as the Likud’s reasoning. In this case, party leadership badly wants to beat Trump in 2020; they apparently took support from any place they could, even from people/groups with extremist positions. None of the current 10 presidential contenders have yet to demand the resignations from these three; Sanders seems to have endorsed Omar. Many American Jews and Israelis have criticized the possible Kahanist participation in an Israeli government and do not want them seated in the Knesset even as an insignificant party. Why aren’t we Americans demanding the same moral clarity within our own American political parties that others expect of us with regard to Israel?
If someone can explain to me how our American situation is so different than the Israeli one, then please do. There is a double standard applied to Israel by some American Jews and other American supporters that are not applied to our own political parties. Behaviors mean more than words. So, If we Jews are expected to denounce extremism in Israel and others expect of us the same, then we are all also duty-bound to denounce it and take action wherever it takes place and to hold others to the same standards expected of us – that includes applying that standard to even a traditionally favored political party.
Howard Zern is a resident of West Hartford. His articles on the Middle East and international politics have appeared in various local publications.