Israel is, and must remain “the state of the Jews,” all Jews including anti-Zionist and even those advocating the destruction of the Jewish homeland, such as the Netoriei Karta. Because this is the meaning of Zionism, refuge and home for our people at risk in the Diaspora. Pinsker and Herzl appreciated decades before the Holocaust that the risk to the Jewish Diaspora sometimes increases, sometimes decreases, but is eternal. The prescience of the early Zionist thinkers was realized in the murder of our six million. But with the passage of time and relative tranquility we choose not to see the future in the past. But that history is compelling, and more so today as the danger is increasingly obvious: an elderly Jewish couple beaten and robbed in France because Jews are “rich”: that Jewish institutions and activities across the U.S. have visible police protection.

In order for Israel to serve its intended purpose as defined by its overwhelmingly secular architects and pioneers, the state must first solve its problem with its Haredi problem. Orthodoxy in all its expressions should be allowed to practice religion as they please. All should be allowed to practice, or not, religion as they please. As regards “Halacha,” despite Rabbinate insistence that it, alone, represents the Way, Halacha is flexible and is relevant precisely because it is re-interpreted according to time and place, to Jewish need and understanding. The Shabbat elevator question is an excellent example of just how flexible Halacha is. In 2001 the Knesset passed its Shabbat elevator law. But that does not mean it is necessarily in accord with Halacha. Chief Rabbi Ovadia Joseph ruled that riding Shabbat elevators accord with Halacha; in 2005 Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, published a religious injunction forbidding the use of Shabbat elevators. So what to make of the recent revelation that the Chief Rabbinate has a long and growing list of olim on its Prevented from Marrying list? “There were 6,787 people on these lists as of May 2017.”

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The parallel of Jewish identity by bloodline is already doubtful by historical precedent: such did not exist before the first century and the beginning of the Diaspora. It is outrageous as a parallel to Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws defining Jews according to bloodline! Such discriminating actions by an Israeli-funded agency (a travesty in and of itself) the Chief Rabbinate’s deciding Who is a Jew (according to Halacha) for purposes of marriageability in Israel, a process even endorsed by the present government: Does Israel today even describe a state with a Zionist identity?

I do not blame Orthodoxy or even Haredism for the present state of Israeli identity confusion. The poison pill actually goes back to 1947.

Facing an uncertain vote in the UN for partition David Ben-Gurion “pragmatically” sought to provide a united front for statehood by the Yishuv. Orthodoxy in Israel and more particularly in the United States, had never been enthusiastic about a state not the result of messianic involvement (Haredi anti-Zionism in Israel today, for example). And whether or not Orthodoxy in Israel would have openly opposed statehood there was enough opposition to such a Jewish state in the US to bolster State Department antisemites opposed to Jewish statehood and increase their influence on a wavering US president. In order to provide wall-to-wall unity in the Yishuv Ben-Gurion invited two Yishuv Orthodox parties to participate in the anticipated Knesset. In exchange for their agreement he agreed to several of their demands, one of which was retaining the Ottoman-era office of the Chief Rabbinate.

Partition passed in November of 1947, and Truman recognized the State of Israel in May of 1948.

Has the time for self-reform passed? Has an Israeli political process incorporating, and today hostage to an increasingly aggressive Haredi-Orthodoxy gone too far to self-repair? Or is the idea of Israel, refuge to the Jewish People now passé, a mere romantic dream inspired by the emergence of Western nationalism of the 19th century? That such a question is even possible today against the background of American white supremacists marching openly and shouting “blood and soil" and "Blut und Boden"; “Jews will not replace us”? That Israel appears to be turning inward in the midst of rising antisemitism leaves me breathless!

Israeli politicians respond that Israel has, is and always will be available as refuge to the Diaspora. But who in the Diaspora would view Haredi-Israel as their refuge and homeland?

I am a Zionist. I have been, am and always will be a strong supporter of Israel. In my writings over the years I have always believed that when push comes to shove Israel would come through for our people. And then Israel’s prime minister, supported by his coalition partners, endorsed Who is a Jew, the third rail of Israel-Diaspora relations, for the Chief Rabbinate, something denied by both Likud and Avodah for decades because it would create an unbridgeable divide between Israel and the Diaspora: That the prime minister apparently sought to hide his support for Who is a Jew legislation behind a smokescreen of the comparatively far less significant Kotel controversy?

Assuming Zionism in its fundamentals continues to hold meaning as principle and politics for Israel, that the commitment to a “state of the Jews” may yet be salvable, a remedy is available. Obviously Israeli politics, not a Orthodox-secular divide, is the problem. The obvious corrective is major electoral reform in which leadership election provides the majority party or candidate leadership for an established period of time. The successful party would occupy the place of what today is the “coalition” and, s today, would pass legislation through the Knesset. As today a National Unity Government option would still be available in time of need.

There the question of a possible Kulturkampf. However much “authority” extremist Judaism enjoys today, Israel Orthodoxy it is still a small, if growing minority. Minus the accustomed avenue of persuasion and extortion within a “coalition” governing process the Rabbinate would lose its role as an “official” state institution.” Minus coalition access Haredi political party influence would diminish and represent no more than whatever portion of Israeli society represented by its Orthodoxy electorate. Minus traditional influence over secular politics Orthodox communities would no longer be favored in disbursement of tax revenues: yeshivot would increasingly grow dependent on alternative funding sources. And under the law Haredim, as all Israelis, would be expected to accept all responsibilities of citizenship, including for the defense of the country.

Should Israel fear Kulturkampf? To some degree it has been present in Israeli for decades as Haredi hooliganism as in the stoning passing cars on Shabbat; burning garbage as act of protest. If by Kulturkampf is meant an actual war then it would come down to a question of means. And it is not likely the Haredim would approach the level of act or threat represented by non-Jewish terrorism.

Whatever the issues or perceived injustice of their relative causes, Orthodox protest in Israel may benefit comparison with Black protest in the United States. At the height of Black rage in the 1964 Harlem riots in the end it was relatively easily contained and all it achieved was the destruction of local property. And that’s the point, that such uprisings as illustrated across the United States are always local, frustratingly unproductive, and far more harmful to those protesting than to surrounding society.

 
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