An Israeli Coalition Government Which Betrays Judaism

Posted on Apr 20, 2020

by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley, California.

 

Image: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz

Israeli newspapers are announcing the creation of a new Israeli government: Prime Minister Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan Chair Benny Gantz have agreed on a proposal that would allow Netanyahu to stay as prime minister for a year and a half and allow him to avoid the trial for his criminal acts.

Although Gantz presented himself as the moderate alternative to Netanyahu, in the final analysis his decision to not include Israeli Palestinian political parties into his potential coalition government left him with little grounds to refuse the deal offered by Netanyahu which seems to include an annexation (date yet to be determined) of a significant section of the West Bank (where Palestinians have hoped to build an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel).

Gantz’s betrayal of his own voters is now being justified as a response to the international pandemic, though it has zero relationship to that global tragedy. Like many who present themselves as moderates in politics, Gantz’s only real commitment was to his own political power, even at the expense of facilitating one of the most immoral steps yet in Israel’s overcoming of democracy and becoming an ethnic and religious state with little concern about its own minorities. What a sad development for those who had imagined Israel becoming a Jewish state, namely, a state that embodied Jewish and Torah ideals like “you shall LOVE the Other/the Stranger”. We invite you to join us for our Zoom Torah study on Saturday, May 2nd at 10:30am PDT, when we will be studying this text. At our Zoom Torah study on Saturday, May 16th, at 10:30am we will study the radical economic vision of Torah. If you want to join us for either or both of these Torah studies, please email me, rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com to obtain the Zoom link.

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Many of the rabbis who are part of the Tikkun world are also part of a rabbinic organization called T’ruah, which was once the American branch of the Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. Its leader, Jill Jacobs, has often taken strong stands very much aligned with those of Tikkun, so I thought you might like to read some of what she has said about this latest development, selections of which are printed in the rest of this communication. If you wish to discuss any of what I’ve said above or am endorsing in what Jill Jacobs says below—contact me at rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com.

From T’ruah:

T’ruah reiterates our opposition to annexation, and our commitment to a negotiated agreement, and calls on Netanyahu and Gantz to cease planning for annexation. A global pandemic does not justify a move that will create a permanent occupation, and further codify the denial of basic human rights, including civil and political rights, to the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule. Indeed, the current health crisis has reminded us that the health, safety, and security of Israelis and Palestinians is dependent one on the other…

Through expanding existing settlements and their buffer zones, establishing new settlements, destroying Palestinian villages, green-lighting Israeli roads and archaeological projects on Palestinian land, and subsidizing settlement residents, Netanyahu’s government has already been erasing the Green Line, Israel’s only internationally recognized border, and normalizing more than five decades of military occupation — a situation that international law intends as temporary. Annexation of part of the West Bank would make this situation permanent, and throw many of the five million non-citizen Palestinians living under Israeli control into a permanent second-class legal status.

Most mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations are on record as supporting a two-state solution, which remains the most feasible option for ensuring the self-determination and human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. Polls show that the vast majority of American Jews agree. Holding fast to this position requires condemning annexation in the strongest possible terms. But words will not be enough. Our community must also refuse to support initiatives that uproot Palestinians from their homes, normalize American Jewish experience of settlements as “Israel,” and entrench a permanent occupation. Nor should our organizations reassure themselves that the areas most likely to be annexed are “consensus” settlements because maps drawn during earlier peace negotiations allotted these to Israel; without agreement by both parties, there is no consensus.

Reports suggest that Gantz and Netanyahu’s agreement would require approval by the United States. The so-called “peace plan” released by the Trump administration earlier this year annexes settlements and creates isolated Palestinian islands not consistent with the possibility of creating a state. We call on the U.S. government and all international bodies to reject this plan or any moves toward annexation, which would reverse decades of U.S. policy. Any agreements about land swaps must be truly consensual — that is, they must be negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian representatives as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

In 1967, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, the preeminent American Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, argued for returning territories if doing so will save lives:

One does not have to be a rabbi or a posek to know that the Land of Israel was granted to us in its entirety. . . However, the preservation of a single life pushes aside the entire Torah. . . It is prohibited for rabbis or anyone else to declare in the name of the Torah that it is forbidden to return any part of the land, when stable peace can save the lives of thousands and ten thousands of our brethren who dwell in Zion.

If Netanyahu and Gantz wish to lead Israel toward a better future, they must not take unilateral steps that will make peace harder to achieve, entrench an occupation that violates Palestinian human rights and endangers Israelis, and permanently threaten Israel’s standing in the international community. This is a time when Israelis and Jews around the world must stand up for what is best for both Israelis and Palestinians in the long term and not merely what is politically expedient for a prime minister determined to retain his grip on power.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of 2,000 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.