PM to Diaspora Jews: Be Patient! We say: NO!
Hiddush's simple, straightforward review of the comments regarding the Western Wall made by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Knesset, and the Head of the Opposition during the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors meeting this week, teaches us much about how Israel's political leadership prefers to deal with crises in Israel's relations to the Diaspora: it's called "Damage Control."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Their bottom line was that protesting for the implementation of the Government approved Western Wall Agreement is unacceptable. They voiced their hopes that Jewish Diaspora leadership would politely oppose such measures "quietly", going along with an open-ended dialogue rather than assertively and publicly advocate and demand change. While they called for tolerance and patience, it’s time to acknowledge that the reality of Israel's religion & state arena is terribly harsh and totally unacceptable for both Israelis and Diaspora Jewry. Today, 68 years after Israel's founding the largest streams of Judaism are officially discriminated against by Israel's political and religious establishments, humiliated, and unrecognized by Israeli law. The time has come for change.
In view of the reality, patience is no longer an option - it will only perpetuate the intolerable and immoral situation for years to come. Calls of tolerance should not be directed at the non-Orthodox streams, but rather at PM Netanyahu's partners in the Government whose worldviews are founded upon religious fundamentalism, the denial of democratic values, and a hatred of non-Orthodox Judaism. What bothers the heads of state is not the extent of the injustice, nor the harm it causes to the majority of Diaspora Jewry; but rather the "noise".
They dread the public exposure of the distorted relations between Israel and Jews around the world who are constantly called upon to contribute to Israel and lend it their political sway... all while spitting in their faces and rejecting their Jewish legitimacy, asking them to continue being patient and tolerant. Silencing the victims of discrimination and demanding that they not speak out about their pain and demand change is utterly immoral, and it only delays the necessary solution indefinitely, while perpetuating the injustice.
The overwhelming majority of the Jewish public wants freedom of religion and equality; rejects the Government's policies and Speaker Edelstein's position; and supports marriage freedom, equality for the major Jewish streams, and the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement
Particularly objectionable is the Speaker of the Knesset's false claim and demand of Diaspora Jewry! His own religious identity as an Orthodox Jew seems to dictate his flawed and misled approach (unlike the increasing number of Orthodox individuals and rabbis who strengthen pluralism and religious freedom in Israel, as we've written many times). He preached to the Diaspora leadership to “respect our differences”, and that “it is not helpful to criticize Israelis for adhering to Orthodox Judaism”. His is a cynical, false, claim that Israelis cling to Orthodoxy, and that the Jewish Diaspora should respect this. Of course, the truth is exactly the opposite, as has been shown by every public opinion study of the Jewish Israeli population on matters of religion and state, and as proven by Hiddush's systematic polling, which we have been conducting since our inception. The 2016 Israel Religion & State Index, published on the eve of Rosh Hashana showed once again that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish public wants freedom of religion and equality; rejects the Government's policies and Speaker Edelstein's position; and supports marriage freedom, equality for the major Jewish streams, and the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement that was approved by the current Government but is not being implemented.
The Head of the Opposition's sorry response is also noteworthy, for instead of forcefully and unequivocally rejecting the ultra-Orthodox parties' political extortion and pressure, he too called upon Diaspora Jewry to hold back from its battle. The reason is clear - Herzog has not yet given up on the illusion that he can persuade the ultra-Orthodox parties to withdraw their support from the Netanyahu Government and move over to him. This will never be, and it indicates a blindness to reality, but Herzog is willing to pay "cash in advance." He doesn't criticize the ultra-Orthodox parties, who have thwarted the implementation of the Government approved Western Wall Agreement and have prevented the actualization of religious freedom and equality in Israel, as promised by its Declaration of Independence. The civil parties in the Coalition and Opposition have betrayed the Israeli public and their own parties' voters, selling out to the ultra-Orthodox parties for their political support - instead of finding a way to work together for the establishment of a civil government.
Given that the Coalition is at present a prisoner to the ultra-Orthodox parties, and given that the Opposition dares not challenge them, Diaspora Jewry's protests and the work of organizations such as Hiddush are particularly critical. Stepping up the pressure, working jointly for a vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and not heeding the admonitions of politicians to “be patient” is the only way to bring about the necessary change. As with the battles over “Who is a Jew” and the Soviet Jewry movement, our determination and commitment to the cause will ultimately bring the politicians on board as well.