Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in the Jewish Press: Diaspora Blues
November 15, 2022

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in The Jewish Press

American Jews have every right to complain about, lament, oppose and even support the policies of the Israeli government. What happens here affects Jews in the Diaspora and for many American Jews, their whole Jewish identity is subsumed by the Jewish state. Threats to divorce the State of Israel are heartfelt but hollow because shorn of Torah and mitzvot, Israel remains for many their only link to Jewishness. Their right to attempt to influence policy is assumed, as is the right of Israelis to consider what they have to say or to ignore it because we are a sovereign country that makes its own decisions.

That being said, the jeremiads that are gushing forth from American Jewish leaders are a bit overboard – whether about Binyamin Netanyahu’s return to power, Itamar Ben Gvir’s ministerial role, or various legislation being considered to order to preserve and strengthen Israel’s security and Jewish identity. And these Diaspora complaints must be put in perspective.

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It is undoubtedly true that most American Jewish leaders – those of the alphabet organizations that are somewhat redundant, whose missions overlap, who are mostly unelected and represent a small fragment of American Jewry – did not want Netanyahu to prevail and again become prime minister. Having failed to prevent his election, they are now trying to convince the public – and influence the Biden administration – that the only way Netanyahu and Israel should retain their support is if he rejects the will of the Israeli electorate and forms a left-wing government. And if Netanyahu forms a right-wing government as he has promised to do then these leaders (and add to that a few tendentious American Jewish journalists whose support of Israel is always contingent on policies that will weaken Israel both militarily and spiritually) are demanding that he not enact policies that are the natural focus of any right-wing government, especially one comprised of a majority of Sabbath-observing, religious Jews.

In other words, they didn’t want Netanyahu. Now that they have him, they are seeking that he govern in exactly the opposite manner from which he has pledged to govern. From their perspective, he should fill his government with centrist and leftist retreads and just occupy his seat until a more left-wing government to their liking takes power in the future. When the left is in power, they are charged with diluting Israel’s Jewish character, impairing its security and territorial integrity, and pursuing the two-state illusion. When the right is in power, they should just be place keepers until the left returns.

There is something wrong with that picture, especially since it utterly disregards the will of the people of Israel.

Thus, American Jewish leaders are aggrieved that Ben Gvir may have a senior role in the government, even as Minister of Internal Security. G-d forbid that serenity should return to our streets and highways, with wrongdoers – ranging from stone throwers to snipers – punished mercilessly. G-d forbid that illegal Arab building should be stopped everywhere and that real Jewish sovereignty return to the Negev and Galil. G-d forbid that a Jewish-centered curriculum – involving familiarity with the Bible and Jewish life – be restored to the Israeli secular educational system whose students are largely being educated without any knowledge of their heritage and patrimony, Judaism. G-d forbid that laws be passed limiting the Knesset oversight of the undisciplined Supreme Court and repealing the “grandfather clause” of the Law of Return that allows third-generation Gentiles to acquire automatic citizenship in the Jewish state. The latter insanity has engendered demands for mass conversions and public Shabbat desecration in commerce and transportation to accommodate this population. Here is a suggestion: repeal that clause and require that all third-generation offspring of Jews who wish to make Aliyah first convert according to halacha in their country of origin.

These leaders and their media acolytes have joined the chorus that a Netanyahu right-wing government is a “threat to democracy.” If they possessed even a modicum of self-awareness they would realize that the greatest threat to democracy is ignoring the will of the voters and turning elections into a farce.

For sure, a left-wing government – Jewish in name but not practice or values – plays better in America. American college campuses are rife with anti-Israel activism where supporters of Israel are routinely harassed and threatened without consequence. Many American Jews are convinced that peace will follow the two-state illusion like night follows day and are uneasy with governments who perceive that process as a dangerous delusion. And American Jews are concentrated in states (New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois) where progressivism rules the roost and dominates the media and culture. A proudly Jewish, nationalist Israel is a tough sell in that market. But we need not subvert our democracy – nor should we destroy this wondrous opportunity to build a sovereign Jewish state in the land G-d granted to our forefathers – just because American Jews have largely lost touch with their heritage, are drowning in a sea of intermarriage and assimilation, and are worried about what the Democrats and the New York Times will say. They will always be more comfortable with leftist governments; the vast majority of Israelis are on the center-right, and traditional or religious, inconveniences perplexes them.

Invariably, these leaders and a handful of their followers will wail, briefly, and then continue to weigh in on Israel’s policies that run counter to their agenda. I have been reading and hearing of the breakdown of relations between Israel and the exile since the 1970’s whenever a right-wing government takes power or introduces some Torah-themed legislation. This elegy has had a long and distinguished run and is still going strong. But strengthening Israel’s Jewish character can only benefit Diaspora Jews; even those now distant from Torah may deduce that they have gone too far and that, at a certain point, their Jewish identity does wither and die. Some won’t care but I think most will care and want to reconnect to their heritage and birthright in a meaningful Torah way, and not just in an ethnic way. In that regard, only a proudly Jewish and nationalist Israel can be a beacon for Diaspora Jews, not an Israel that only humors its ethnic Jewish culture but does little to encourage Torah observance.

There is one matter that should be rectified. American Jewish leaders usually only meet with Israeli politicians or with groups whose agendas parallel their own. They have little knowledge of the lives of Israelis, most of whom love and/or respect the traditions of their ancestors – and even those who are not completely observant. Ensconced in their luxury hotels during their brief visits, they have little knowledge of the pride Jews here take in their Judaism and what plucky little Israel has accomplished in its seventy-five years of existence. They should meet real Israelis, notwithstanding that Israelis will be shocked to learn that most marriages involving American Jews today are intermarriages (surely including some of these leaders or their children). They should meet real Israelis, and they will learn that a truly Jewish state is not only possible and within our grasp, it is almost here, and needs just the tweaking and nurturing that this electorate expects and for which it voted.

We should listen to the Diaspora voices respectfully but theirs is not the last word on Israeli statecraft, governance, or policies, not least because they did not want the right-wing and religious parties to win. Actually, that last word is ours, the voters, who excitedly await the first coalition in Israel’s history that is comprised of a majority of religious Jews.

Originally published in The Jewish Press

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