As reported here, over 300 American rabbis have signed on to this statement calling to boycott members of the incoming government of Israel. One can argue about the statement itself; if it goes far enough in this way or that, if it should have said this or that in this way or not. Cynics will also observe that representatives of Religious Zionism and Jewish Power have no intention to visit liberal synagogues to begin with. But the statement on its own is remarkable as a clarifying document. Worth noting are three things. To date there is no sign-on from orthodox rabbis. The liberal rabbis here committ to speaking out when the representatives of these racist parties appear in other community fora. Jewish values are universalistic, namely democratic and in “the image of God.”
A CALL TO ACTION FOR CLERGY IN PROTEST OF ISRAELI GOVERNMENT EXTREMISTS
In 1984 when Meir Kahane was first elected to the Knesset, an outpouring of condemnation came from almost the full breadth of US Jewish organizations. Israel’s most recent election saw the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit faction together receive a shocking 11 percent of the vote, becoming crucial partners with Likud in the formation of a new Netanyahu-led government.
Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, the leaders of the respective parties, have been arrested for incitement, trespassing and intimidation – with Ben Gvir being a former member of the now-defunct Kach group, which was designated as a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States.
Their policy proposals are anathema to the tenets of democracy, contradicting the spirit and intent of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, their implementation will cause irreparable harm to the Israel-Jewish Diaspora relationship, as they are an affront to the vast majority of American Jews and our values. These proposals include:
● changing the Law of Return–including the refusal to recognize Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist converts and their descendants – a policy that negates the Jewish identity of the majority of Diaspora Jewry;
● eroding LGBTQ rights and the rights of women, causing irreparable harm and disenfranchisement among these communities;
● subjecting Israeli Supreme Court decisions to the whims of the Knesset, a policy clearly intended to erode individual and minority rights;
● annexing the West Bank without giving Palestinians the right to vote, thereby further undermining Israeli democracy;
● and expelling Arab Israeli citizens who are seen as opposing the government, challenging the democratic right to freedom of speech.
We, the undersigned, who care deeply about the security and well-being of the democratic State of Israel, are signing this letter of protest, pledging to not invite any members of the RZP bloc–including but not limited to Otzma Yehudit leaders–to speak at our congregations and organizations. We will speak out against their participation in other fora across our communities. We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.
When those who tout racism and bigotry claim to speak in the name of Israel, but deny our rights, our heritage, and the rights of the most vulnerable among us, we must take action. We must speak out. We must show the world that we are a people whose founding principles require us to see every person as B’tzelem Elohim –in the image of God.