Netanyahu Did It: The Brutal Truth on Israel and the Diaspora
By Jon Tobin
July 2, 2017
Jews are angry about the Israeli governmentís decision to go back on its word,
and reject the idea of a new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders says that the move by Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet will damage Jewish unity and undermine
support for Israel in the US.
while those affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements have every
right to be upset, what most of them donít understand is why Netanyahu did it.
Itís not because he doesnít care about the diaspora. Rather, the
decision was the result of a cynical political struggle in which one side
has power and the other does not.
critics of Netanyahuís decision attempt to make their voices heard in Israel,
they need to understand the context of this controversy and other religious
pluralism issues that are further widening the divide between American Jews and
Israelis who wish to rationalize the governmentís decision may think that
Israel should actively ignore and disdain the views of the overwhelming majority
of religiously affiliated American Jews, who identify as non-Orthodox. Many
Israelis, especially those on the right ó who see liberal Americans as
sympathetic to the Israeli left ó wrongly link pluralism to the
debate about the conflict with the Palestinians. Others think that the
non-Orthodox are rapidly assimilating into American society, and should be
of these excuses donít stand up to scrutiny. Netanyahu and the Israeli right
are unpopular among American Jews. But even those Jews who oppose Netanyahu and
the Israeli right still represent the backbone of pro-Israel groups like
AIPAC. Though support for Israel from conservative Christians is very important,
ignoring all American Jews except the Orthodox minority undermines support
for Israel in the US.
about the demographic implosion of American Jewry are entirely justified. But
those who think that the Orthodox community will soon dominate American Judaism
donít understand that it will still take many years for that reversal to come
about; and even if this happens, it will still create problems for American
support for Israel. Rather than ignoring Reform and Conservative Judaism,
Israelis should be thinking about how to reinforce efforts to keep those
Israelis also need to connect their own justified concerns about the impact that
the haredi monopoly on religious issues is having on the Jewish state with
their pluralistic concerns. The Kotel is a place that belongs to all of the
Jewish people. Accommodations for the non-Orthodox are neither a provocation,
nor an insult to the Orthodox.
American Jews need to understand something else. Israel is a country where there
is no separation between religion and state. In such a place, debates on
religion are political, not religious. Israelís political system allows
parties like those of the haredi community to obtain a disproportionate amount
of power. One canít be surprised when they exercise that power, both to
undermine a historic compromise at the Kotel that was first proposed by Jewish
Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, and to exclude other rabbis, including the
modern Orthodox, from control of conversions and other policies.
explained his decision to go back on his word by saying that any of
his rivals would have done the same. Itís no excuse, but itís true; it has
happened before with Israeli governments on the left, as well as the right.
Netanyahuís left-wing opponents would also sell the non-Orthodox out if
they had the chance. No prime minister would let his government fall in order to
satisfy the Reform and Conservative movements in America.
Israeli government truly willing to live up to its mandate to safeguard the
interests of the entire Jewish people wouldnít let this happen. But until a
day in which the political stars are aligned to make this a reality, donít be
surprised when similar situations repeat themselves ó both on
the Kotel and with respect to other pluralism issues.
challenge for non-Orthodox Jews is obvious. Until their message is heard and
understood by more Israelis ó and translated into political power
ó nothing is likely to change. The message that Netanyahu sent them last week
hurts, but whatever their views about the Israeli government might be, Reform
and Conservative Jews must not let their frustration cause them to give up
engaging with the Jewish state ó regardless of politics.