April 12, 2016

Why Religious Zionists don't want Diaspora's advice

The latest poll of Israeli attitudes on religious issues is full of insights and paradoxes, all very useful. Some of this is news, and some of it highlights more obvious trends. 

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, religious Zionists are the least likely Israelis to welcome involvement by Diaspora Jews in Israel's religiosity debates (13 percent). Sure, it's understandable from a tactical perspective: They know their overseas brethren are mostly progressive or non-religious, and that they support an eventual peace deal that gives up most of the West Bank (aka "Judaea & Samaria") so Israelis no longer have to oversee the two million-plus Palestinians (including in Gaza) who don't appreciate Jewish control. Despite the recent internal violence and regional mayhem, most Israelis also remain supportive of such a deal. The last thing the latter-day religious Zionist camp needs is more 'peaceniks' from overseas.

On a strategic level, and by definition, it's the religious Zionists who should be soliciting and nurturing Diaspora involvement. The official Rabbinate remains firmly in the hands of the non-Zionist Haredi establishment, which negates much of the modern-Orthodox theology and practice of religious Zionists. 

Religious Zionism was rooted in a Jewish nationalism premised on a strong connection to all Jews around the world, with Israel as the vibrant religious and spiritual core. In the early days of the state, religious Zionist leaders were reluctant to join the secular Labor Party's negation of the Diaspora, though they did join coalition governments.

Religious Zionists may also be embarrassed by progressive American Jews, who undermine their own claims vis-a-vis Haredim that a little modernity won't erode halachic precepts. 

Have real political dynamics, a highly evolved attachment to the land and an unquenched prophetic pioneering spirit combined to override the interest in having a true dialogue with dissenting Diaspora Jews? In many ways, the State of Israel is no longer seen as a reflection of world Jewry, but rather the other way around. 

Here in the United States, many Jews have already internalized this reversal. Whether through Birthright or AIPAC or the war on BDS, or even the Iran deal, Jewish identity in the Diaspora is increasingly understood and cultivated through a right-wing Israeli lens. More and more, our community looks to Israel and its leaders for guidance. 

This general deference to Israel works just fine for the Haredi establishment which prizes religious dominance above all else, and for the settler-driven religious Zionist movement for which any territorial compromise is viewed in cataclysmic terms. Of course, our dollars and unquestioning support are always welcome and expected, but -- for this segment of Israelis -- candid input and independent initiative are reserved for Israelis.

April 8, 2016

Bernie-Come-Lately does no favors for Mideast peace

Bernie Sanders' recent missteps on Israel and Gaza are disturbing for a few reasons.

First, he was asked about the topic because he's repeatedly mentioned his concerns about Israeli policies and use of force. A serious politician would have known the difference between 10,000 killed and 10,000 injured Palestinians, and a principled politician would have accepted being corrected (after literally asking for it) -- yet Senator Sanders then countered it was even more than 10,000, and implied they were all innocent

On other occasions, I've expressed my own concerns about Israeli actions, including in Gaza. Sen. Sanders is the most visible critic of such policies, and by implication he's the test case for a progressive solution to the Palestinian issue. The fact that he pushes so hard on Israel's buttons without even a sense of the scale of the conflict undermines the credibility for the rest of us, who really put ourselves on the line with friends and the powers that be.

On a more personal note, I've been seeing the relentless defensive tactics of Sen. Sanders and his apologists, most directly (and also directed at me) on social media. This includes questioning my sophistication, challenging my motivations, misrepresenting my arguments, and dismissing the relevance or significance of The Bern's inaccurate, self-righteous and counter-productive complaint against Israel. I've been accused of being an AIPAC stooge and not caring about Palestinian lives, all because I refuse to be satisfied with the Sanders retort that the number wasn’t what’s important…

Accountability, it seems, is only to be demanded of those remaining outside the Sanders camp. The left-wing peace movement is rallying behind him, especially on this point, which unfortunately suggests that -- like Sen. Sanders -- these groups are more interested in scoring points with their home base rather than with convincing anyone else, or with effecting substantive change over the long haul. 

Not that I'm shocked by any of this, but it would have been nice to see some statesmanship.