Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Sunday, April 23, 2023
In This Moment: Israel's Memorial Day approaches, Midnight in the Garden on Eden
In This Moment
As Memorial Day and Yom Ha'atzmaut approach, we watch and wait...
And as Earth Week concludes, a reminder about our Jewish passion for our planet
Activists gear up for chance to bring 3,000 visiting US Jews into anti-overhaul fray (TOI) - While protest organizers are careful to avoid saying their goal is to get conference attendees to pressure the American government into intervening against the shakeup, they say they embrace the face-to-face opportunity to explain to American Jews why they should take an active role in opposing the domestic policy reforms of a foreign country. “They should understand that they are, by definition, part of the Jewish state and they have a role to play in shaping the future of this country,” said Yiftach Golov, one of the leaders of the Brothers and Sisters in Arms protest group, which represents military veterans as part of the constellation of associated organizations against the judicial overhaul.
Above: Today's Yediot Achronot front page, highlighting another mass protest last night (the 16th Saturday in a row) and above the fold, a plea from bereaved families for government officials not to attend Memorial Day ceremonies - "If you come to the ceremonies, we won't show up."
Below, see an open letter to diaspora Jewry from Ha'aretz columnist Alon Pincus, on the eve of the General Assembly. I reprint it in full - it's important for you to see why the greatest mass protest movement of Israelis in its 75 year history is happening now and why the time for bothsiderism has passed. As he states, it's time to get our heads out of the sand.
Dear sisters and brothers from the United States and Canada, welcome to Israel as you arrive for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. This isn’t Egypt, so don’t look for denial. It’s not a river and there’s a good chance you’re already in it. It’s time you took a stand for the values we share, and you hold dear.
I feel for you. Your pain is real. You’re in an excruciating predicament; it’s the moment when you need to question things you considered axioms. It’s the moment when the need to change your state of mind and shift the paradigm clashes with everything you knew and believed about Israel.
I’m not here to lecture anyone, let alone you. I’m not suggesting answers and formulas. I’m just asking you uncomfortable questions that you need to answer.
You’re about to be inundated with specious assessments from politicians and others supposedly in the know. They’re not. They’re callously misleading you, whether with the best of intentions or maliciously.
You’re about to be subject to a grand gaslighting operation under the false guise of “hearing all sides.” There are no sides. There is no bothsideism. Israel is in a state of disunion not because of a political impasse or policy clash, but because of a fundamental schism over democracy. The very core of Israeli democracy is being assaulted by antidemocratic authoritarians and theocrats. The constitutional crisis we’re on the verge of is real. Calling the issue “judicial reform” is like calling a bank robbery “financial reorganization.”
You have stood by, supported and loved Israel for many decades. You have lobbied for it and donated to it. Uniquely, when your grandparents or great-grandparents came to New York’s Lower East Side or Montreal, they had no homeland they were misty-eyed about. They were immigrants who fled a hostile Europe that had persecuted them for centuries.
Israel, your other homeland, was established in 1948, many years after your ancestors settled in Chicago or Toronto. Today, on the eve of Israel’s 75th birthday, you have many reasons to celebrate and be proud, but it’s incumbent on you to realize what Israel is undergoing, and it ain’t pretty. This is an Independence Day like none before. This Israel isn’t the Israel from the brochure your grandmother in Boca Raton has.
Let’s revisit the slogans, battle cries and clichés that you, and we have spouted for 50 years for so: “We are one,” “Our shared values,” “Israel, right or wrong,” “We support Israel’s democratically elected government,” “There’s no daylight between the United States and Israel,” “The unshakable alliance between the United States and Israel,” “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Most of these were true for many years, and it was natural for you and force-multiplying for us that you believed them. But drop the convenient platitudes and ask yourself with all honesty and intellectual integrity: Are these slogans still valid? Do I still believe them? Is Israel today a uniting or a divisive issue for me?
Since a far-right, ultra-Orthodox governing coalition was established on December 29, Israel has been on a dangerous trajectory away from the liberal democracy you thought it was and were proud of. Here’s a recap of the Netanyahu government’s major achievements in its first 100 days:
* The most extreme right-wing/religious coalition in Israeli history has been formed, embracing Jewish supremacy and rejecting any political process with the Palestinians.
* An extremist convicted three times for terrorism – and who never served in the military – has been appointed “national security minister.
* A constitutional coup d’etat has been set in motion via broad legislation transforming Israeli from a liberal democracy into an illiberal authoritarian system not unlike Turkey or Hungary. The country’s Basic Laws are about to be radically amended and over 150 patently undemocratic bills threaten to make Israel a semi-theocratic autocracy.
* Israeli society is torn, anxious, contentious and toxically divided along unfamiliar fault lines: pro and antidemocratic, not right and left.
* Hezbollah and Hamas have created a dangerous nexus, mentored by Iran, that weakens the Palestinian Authority to the point of ominous implosion or dissolution.
* The Israeli army is riled by radical regime-changing legislation and further exemptions in the works letting the ultra-Orthodox skirt military service. What Israelis call the “people’s army” has all but ceased to exist in the way you knew it for decades.
* Moody’s has lowered Israel’s credit rating outlook to “stable” from “positive” due to political instability and the government’s efforts to weaken the judiciary. Other credit rating agencies and financial institutions around the world will inevitably follow suit.
Ignoring all this and pretending everything will be fine is the definition of dangerous denial. My only advice to you is to open your eyes to reality. Talk to Israelis. Talk to the scientists, constitutional scholars, high-tech entrepreneurs and engineers, reserve military intelligence officers and air force pilots.
Talk to representatives of Israel’s civil society, talk to average, middle-class Israelis who have been protesting rain or shine with vigor and love for their country for 16 weeks running. If you only talk to grandstanding, cliché-spewing politicians you’ll be grossly misinformed, possibly disinformed, about contemporary Israel.
Talk to the Israelis who look up to you and you have been looking up to. They’re your real partners. Don’t dare think or say “This will never happen in Israel.” It’s already happening and most of you have been numb and quiet. Remember January 6, 2021? This is on a bigger scale, possibly forever changing the Israel you think you know and love.
Remember that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who during a great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.