FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
We, members of Ruach Hiddush, representing the full spectrum of Jewish denominational life, join with lovers of Zion and supporters of Israel in expressing grave concern and dismay regarding the alignment of the Jewish Home and National Union parties with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party in order to improve their chances of gaining parliamentary seats in the upcoming Israeli elections.
Generally, Ruach Hiddush is exclusively engaged in pursuing the vision of the State of Israel fully upholding the promise of religious freedom, diversity, and equality in shouldering the civic burden. We refrain from entering the partisan fray. But the Otzma Yehudit party denigrates the rule of law, the civil judiciary, the civil rights of non-Jews in general and Arabs in particular, and militates on behalf of religious coercion in the name of the Jewish religious tradition. Given the gravity of this situation and the attempt to hijack the Jewish religious imperative, we feel compelled to add our voice to those who have condemned this development.
For us, the significance of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state stems from our ancient and ever-renewing Jewish tradition. The thrust of this tradition is expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which speaks of the Jewish State as anchored in the “principles of liberty, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel, upholding full equality of social and political rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion, race, or gender.”
Clearly, the founding vision of our beloved Israel is the antithesis of racism, discrimination, and injustice towards any of its residents, whether Jewish or not, whether religious or not, whether male or female.
Therefore, we join together with other major mainstream Jewish organizations in decrying the abuse of the Jewish tradition in the service of racial discrimination, violence, and inequality.
The strength and future of Israel and the mission of the Jewish people will be served best by honoring the Image of God in each human being which equalizes us all, as Rabbi Akiba taught, “Beloved is humanity for it was created in God’s Image. Humanity is even more beloved because God gave it dignity by informing it that it was created in God’s Image, as it says, ‘For He made humanity in the Image of God’ (Genesis 9:6).” (Avot 2:14)
Statement approved by:
Rabbi Uri Regev, Founder and CEO of Hiddush, the Israeli patron of Ruach Hiddush
Rabbi Dr. Michael Chernick, Chair, Ruach Hiddush Executive Committee
Executive Committee of Ruach Hiddush
Rabbi Les Bronstein
Rabbi Pam Frydman
Rabbi Elliot Kleinman
Rabbi Mark Howard Levin
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Gordon Tucker
The recent explosion in anti-Semitic expression including acts of anti-Semitic violence in numerous quarters around the world is not only frightening and alarming, it is eerie and perhaps even ominous. The inevitable and logically-necessary descent of rabid anti-Zionism into the exclusion and even hatred of Jewish people is in plentiful evidence, and rabid anti-Zionism continues to provide an obscene, self-righteous veneer to anti-Semitism. Which is not to say that the “left” is the only worrisome quarter, for plainly it is not. We are living in a time when we need to be vigilant, to be unflinching in calling out anti-Semitism, to be strengthening old friendships and actively cultivating new ones. It’s a serous time.
Human nature is such that when a particular group feels besieged and targeted, when it feels that the world has abandoned its ethical and civil codes in its behavior toward it, that this group then responds by loosening its own commitment to these very same ethical and civil codes. Not out of the belief that “two wrongs make a right” or that “you have to fight fire with fire”. Rather out of the belief that the rules just aren’t the rules anymore, that we have entered an amoral jungle, a time and space which simply exists outside our normal ethical commitments. This is a very human response. It is the way of human nature.
And this is precisely the reason that God gave us religion. Religion’s revolutionary and radical claim is that there is no such time and there is no such space, that there is no such thing as the amoral jungle, that human beings – even when engaged in a state of warfare – are always accountable to the norms of God-fearing, God-loving, God-revering behavior.
Last week’s appalling decision by Habayit HaYehudi, the political party representing Religious Zionism, to join electoral forces with Otzma Yehudit, the Kahanist political party whose platform is rooted in and founded upon racial hatred, is a precise manifestation of this awful tendency of human nature that religion was intended to correct. (Much has been written in recent days about Otzma Yehudit’s ideology and politics. I think that Yossi Klein Halevi’s essay summarized it best. See https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-desecration-of-israel/) The defense that HaBayit HaYehudi is offering is that the State of Israel and Zionism itself are under siege from enemies both within and without the State, and electoral victory must be assured even at the cost of bringing the racists out from the political cold and into cabinet-level power. This represents of course, nothing less than the utter rejection of the mantle and responsibility of religion, rendering HaBayit HaYehudi’s claim to be the “Religious Zionist” party a mockery and a sham.
And frankly, it renders its claim to be a Zionist party at all to be a mockery and a sham, certainly in the sense that Israel’s Declaration of Independence which guarantees that the State “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”, is considered a foundational Zionist document.
It is heartening that numerous important and influential thinkers within the Religious Zionist community have condemned this turn of events. Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein and Rabbi Benny Lau have been among the most public and courageous. And it is heartening that many America Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (through Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice chairman) have expressed their grave concern, in particular over the Prime Minister’s catalytic role in the political merger. (The National Council of Young Israel is one of the few organizations that has expressed its support for what has happened, and individual Young Israel synagogues must now express outrage at their leadership.) More voices of ethical and religious clarity are still needed. Absolutely including yours. Perhaps the worst outcome can still be averted.
There’s no underestimating the importance of this political moment in the history of our beloved Medinat Yisrael, and even in the history of Judaism as a great world religion. Yes, we must love and support Israel, and confront anti-Semitism, but לא כך – not this way. For the sake of all that we hold sacred, never this way.