Is This a Crisis?
Jewish Americans may feel that antisemitism at home is a more immediate concern than what's happening in Israel.
Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Is there really a crisis between Israel and American Jewry? The headlines and the op-ed’s, particularly in Jewish media, say there is.
When big money American donors — the kind whose checks, in increments of $18, come in six digits or more— publicly, politely caution the Israeli government as it proceeds with judicial “reforms,” does that make it a crisis?
Flare-ups in the relationship are not unusual.
It might be the less-than-equal status that Israel accords non-Orthodox Judaism, or the government’s half-hearted support of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, or the harassment and physical attacks on women who want to read from the Torah, or a prominent rabbi declaring that “reform” Jews (a catch-all phrase) are not really Jews.
Eventually, the rhetoric cools, regardless of whether anything changes with the underlying issue.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis, in some instances more than 100,000, have taken to the streets to protest judicial legislation being advanced by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and his allies feel that the judiciary, the Supreme Court of Israel in particular, has gotten too big for its britches and aim to redress what they see as a misbalance of power. Opponents fear that the result will be reduced judicial independence, increased government overreach, and damage to Israel as a democracy.
Those marching in the street find it less than coincidental that this is happening as Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases, charged with fraud and breach of trust, along with bribery in one case. He claims that the charges are fabricated, labeling them an attempted coup by police, prosecutors, the media, and left-wing rivals.
To form a government that would hold a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu brought into his coalition right-wing parties whose leaders have expressed ideas that many Jewish Americans find repugnant.
Some, with histories of racist and virulently anti-Arab behavior, want to supplant the military and civil authority in the West Bank (also known by the Biblical names, Judea and Samaria), and spur even greater Israeli development in territory that most of the world considers to be “occupied.”
Others want to curb expressions of LGBTQ+ life that they consider to be an abomination and want to prevent pluralistic ideas from seeping into the public education system.
This may not be the Israeli government that most Jewish Americans would like to see, but this is the government that Israelis elected, within the structure of Israel’s electoral system and its method of determining representation.
And, as Israelis have said before and Netanyahu’s allies are saying anew — if you don’t like the government, make Aliyah, become a citizen, then have your say.
If not, then, as my Hebrew teacher used to say, “sheket bvakashah.” In other words, be quiet. Please.
Jewish Americans — including, I would wager, the majority of those who oppose the current government — support U.S. aid to Israel and are encouraged to vote for “pro-Israel” members of the U.S. House and Senate. The trade-off is that Jewish Americans have the right to speak their minds on Israeli policies, whether it be the occupation or overhaul of the judicial system.
At present, though, the proliferation of antisemitism in this country is considered a more immediate and personal crisis than Israel’s domestic political machinations.
Still, 15 major donors and charities issued an open letter that said: “Because of our love for Israel, we are deeply troubled by this attempt to curtail the independence of the judiciary, one of the key features that makes Israel one of the most vibrant democracies in the world.”
“Deeply troubled” is language intended to convey a sterner message. Religious and communal organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the major non-Orthodox movements, have said similar things, and in stronger language.
I’m not betting any shekels that these objections will have much of an impact. An open letter may weigh less than an envelope without a check in it.
There also seems to be concern about airing Jewish laundry in public. “We implore all parties to exert responsible leadership and avoid incendiary rhetoric,” the ADL said. “At a time of rising antisemitism worldwide, the Jewish people cannot afford such acrimony and division. We urge all sides in Israel and the Diaspora to remain committed to reasonable compromise and constructive discourse.”
I’m not putting any shekels on that happening, either.