My professional organization, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, released a statement regarding this week’s election in Israel. First, I will share my reactions, and then I will copy the press release unedited.
1. The RA leadership posted this statement without consulting the members of the Rabbinical Assembly. The statement does not come from me or the other members in any way.
2. The RA statement is, in my opinion, naïve to the mechanics of the Israeli electoral system. The parliamentary system’s essential nature is to divide the voting population into multiple competing camps during the election, and then to unite them into a majority coalition following the election. I am certain that the Arab parties were telling their people that the settlers and anti-Palestinians were coming out in droves and therefore their people should also come out in droves. This is “normal” electioneering, no matter how we in a two party democracy perceive it. In the American system, this extremism happens during the primary process, and then the national election is about “unity” or “mainstream ideas.” That is simply not how the Knesset system works. Is the Israeli system uglier or dirtier or worse? That is for you to decide for yourselves.
3. My own personal politics (not speaking for the RA, Conservative Judaism or B’nai Shalom) are deeply troubled by many of the things that PM Netanyahu said in the final 10 days of the election: negating the idea of a Palestinian state or a two state solution would be much higher on my list of problems – personally – than the voting statement that the RA decided to condemn.
4. The RA statement is factually incorrect. PM Netanyahu did not indicate that Israel was in danger from Arab voters, but that his party and government were in danger from Arab voters. That was, of course, correct. It was a call to voter turnout from his base, and it worked. Every party thinks the other parties are bad for Israel and that only they can save Israel. Again, that is normal.
5. The RA’s statement puts pulpit rabbis in a horrible position. If the rabbi agrees with the RA, then he or she alienates congregants who don’t agree with them. If the rabbi doesn’t agree with the RA, then the congregants who do will bring it up and challenge the rabbi on the topic. The RA should never create a wedge issue between a rabbi and the congregation. Here, they have done it in spades.
6. Finally, I think that the RA has exceeded both its mandate from its members and its purview as a major Jewish organization. The RA exists for the following purpose, according to its own website. I would rather it had stuck to this purpose this week:
7. The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. Since its founding in 1901, the Assembly has been the creative force shaping the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement, and is committed to building and strengthening the totality of Jewish life. The Assembly publishes learned texts, prayerbooks, and works of Jewish interest; and it administers the work of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement. It also serves the professional and personal needs of its membership through publications, conferences, and benefit programs, and it coordinates the Joint Placement Commission of the Conservative movement. Rabbis of the Assembly serve congregations throughout the world, and also work as educators, officers of communal service organizations, and college, hospital, and military chaplains. (www.rabbinicalassembly.org)
The Text of the RA’s Statement:
"NEW YORK – On Tuesday, March 17, as Israel held its elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls.” The Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis, condemns this statement and calls on the Prime Minister to unite, rather than divide, the people of Israel. Rabbi William Gershon and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, president and executive vice president, respectively, released the following statement:
The Jewish people have been subject to political persecution and vilification for over 2,000 years. It is for this reason, among others, that when the State of Israel was founded, it committed itself to the equality of all of its citizens. The Israel Declaration of Independence unambiguously states that Israel ‘will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.’ Israel’s commitment to equality, justice and democracy is the underpinning of its special relationship with the United States and distinguishes Israel from despotic regimes in the Middle East and around the world.
On Election Day, March 17, 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Israel was endangered by Israeli Arabs exercising their right to vote. ‘The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls,’ said Prime Minister Netanyahu. This statement, which indefensibly singled out the Arab citizens of Israel, is unacceptable and undermines the principles upon which the State of Israel was founded. Because we proudly and unreservedly continue our unflagging support for the State of Israel, its citizens and its values, we must condemn the Prime Minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote. It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the Prime Minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.
In the aftermath of the election, we call upon the Prime Minister to use his authority to unify all the citizens of the State of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, as demanded by the guiding principles upon which Israel was founded and of democracy for which the State of Israel stands."
Hopefully, you see my points.
Yes, Israel is a Democracy, and must be a democracy. A large portion of the Israel Arab population united to prove that the ballot box could be an agent of change for their interests. For some, that was a hopeful idea. For some others, that was an uncomfortable idea. It would have been interesting to see, as my earlier blog indicated, what Israel would do if an Arab coalition partner had the keystone role in the government. PM Netanyahu's victory makes that curiosity irrelevant for now. And that was exactly what he wanted, and evidently what the Israeli electorate as an entity has decided.
The truth is that a decidedly democratic election happened in the middle east, in which Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis peacefully went to the polling stations and passionately - peacefully - elected their leaders. That is remarkable.
For the RA to talk about the post-election democratic state as "an aftermath" indicates a pejorative view of the outcome of the election, which I have a hard time interpreting as anything but partisan within the political spectrum. I think that both the content and tone of the RA statement is off base and inappropriate - despite my own personal opposition to much of what the PM said and did in this election.
Yes it is now time for unity, but with a loyal opposition as well. That is already happening as the coalition is being put together. The only real lingering question is: will the Israel Arabs who got over their own differences to vote together take away the idea that this was a first victory for them, or a final defeat? That is an interesting and important question, which should be handled and supported without referencing "despotic regimes in the Middle East."
The RA rhetoric is even more exaggerated than the PM's.
The RA rhetoric is even more exaggerated than the PM's.