Moty & Udi meet a rabbinical student

Yesterday I mentioned an article by Rabbi Daniel Gordis that I found positively shocking (although on second thought, not so surprising). Gordis, a Conservative rabbi who made aliyah to Israel from the US in 1998, tells us about some American rabbinical students:

Item: Not long ago, a student at one of America’s recognized rabbinic schools sent a note to the school’s e-mail list saying that it was time to buy a new tallit.  Seeking advice about what to buy and where to get it, the student noted that there was only one stipulation – the tallit could not be made in Israel…

Item: Also not long ago, other rabbinical students were discussing how to add relevance to their observance of Tisha Be’av. They began to compile a list of other moments in history that should be mourned. One suggested that 1948 be added. Because of the Nakba? No, actually. It was time, this student said, to mourn the creation of the State of Israel.

Item: A rabbinical student in Jerusalem for the year chose to celebrate his birthday in Ramallah, accompanied by fellow students. There they sat at the bar, with posters (which they either did or didn’t understand) extolling violence against the Jewish state on the wall behind them, downing their drinks and feeling utterly comfortable. Photographs of the celebration got posted online.

What is common to the soon-to-be-rabbis in these stories is not that they are ‘peaceniks’ who think that the road to peace runs through Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. No, they are simply anti-Israel (or, in the last case, at least indifferent to its survival).

Rabbis are an extreme example, but — as I wrote in my “Beinartism” post yesterday — the relationship with the US is essential to Israel’s survival, and the phenomenon of anti-Zionist American Jews is more dangerous to it than numbers might suggest.

Beinartism — the view that the state of Israel is not worthy of support because it allegedly is (or is becoming) an undemocratic, theocratic and morally corrupt state — is a particularly ugly ploy, because it proposes that Jews should not support Israel because Israel does not exemplify Jewish values. So it has a particular appeal for liberal rabbinical students whose idea of Jewish values is that they are synonymous with secular humanistic ones.


The movement to delegitimize Israel has thus found an argument that specifically targets Jews. But of course the idea that Israel is becoming a Fascist state is useful practically everywhere in the West. A reader expressed concern to me today about a recent poll, which purportedly illustrates how “young Israelis are moving much further to the right politically”:

The study found that 60 percent of Jewish teenagers in Israel, between 15 and 18 years old, prefer “strong” leaders to the rule of law, while 70 percent say that in cases where state security and democratic values conflict, security should come first.

Hmm, can you say “false dichotomy?” Surely the best possible situation would a rule of law with strong leadership. But the pollsters — financed by a German foundation, by the way — suggest that they are incompatible. Maybe it would be clearer if the question were written this way: whom do you trust more to protect you, the IDF or Israel’s left-leaning Supreme Court?

The security question is similar. If  you live in Sderot and rockets are falling in your neighborhood, does it make you ‘right-wing’ if security is your no. 1 issue? Anyway, why does it conflict with democracy? A similar question is asked about the ‘peace process’ vs. “Israel’s national interests.” Are you surprised that “national interests” came out more important?

Here’s more:

Among Jewish youths, support for the definition of Israel as a Jewish state as the most important goal for the country grew from 18.1 percent in 1998 to 33.2 percent last year, the survey reports. At the same time, there has been a consistent drop in those who back the importance of Israel’s identity as a democratic country – from 26.1 percent in 1998 to 14.3 percent in 2010.

I speculate that the increase in support for Israel as a Jewish state has something to do with recent attacks on this idea — from Palestinian leaders who refuse to recognize it as such — and also to recent expressions of Jewish leaders regarding its importance. In any event, this is a positive development! What is the alternative to a Jewish state?

I’m not sure how they obtained the figure for a drop in those who “back the importance of Israel’s identity as a democratic country,” but the poll itself (available here in Hebrew) indicates that 80% of Israeli Jews between the ages of 21-24 found it either ‘very important’ (63%) or ‘pretty important’ (17%). Only 4% selected ‘not important’ (numbers are similar or better for other age groups).

I’m not worried about Israel’s democracy. Who does claim to be worried is the Left in Israel, as represented by Ha’aretz, who see a continuing decline in those likely to vote for their candidates. But this is a result of the hard lessons Israeli voters learned from Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza, etc.

In fact, what is actually happening here is that Israel’s democratic tradition is asserting itself.

Israeli policy — even under ‘right-wing’ governments, is still following the path established by the Labor government in 1993.  Most Israeli governments have been far more willing to make concessions to the Palestinians than the Jewish population would like, and it can be argued that they far exceeded their mandates, even to the point of deceiving the people about their intentions.

The always-failing ‘peace process’ has been kept alive by money and pressure from Europe and pro-Arab elements in the US,  but a popular reaction has developed in Israel among the people who have to pay the price in security.

You can call it a ‘turn to the right’ if you wish. But those who applaud democracy should view it as a turn toward making policy more accountable to the popular will.

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