The issue of Who is a Jew, this time again regarding who should or not have access to pray at the Wall, has become a dominant issue in the Israeli press even as the war in Syria appears to be intensifying and ever-more dangerous for Israel and Jordan; a week in which Iran made a dangerous show of force by hitting Syria with missiles fired from Iran; a week that will see the arrival of two presidential envoys to advance negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. Who has time for such nonsense as Who is a Jew? Yet there it is once again. The Orthodox parties using the distraction of peripheral, for them events to again advance its discriminatory and divisive effort to enlarge the rift it helped create between Israel and our Diaspora.

Under the headline, Rabbinate, MKs ramp up bid to topple Western Wall mixed-gender plan, (I could as well have used JPost or YNET for a similar headline) the heart of the Haredi war on the Diaspora shines through: “In letter to Netanyahu, Jewish Home minister, MK brand Reform, Conservative Jews extremist (sic) elements across the sea.” A reminder of Begin who, as the Right’s first prime minister, was led to believe that only Israeli Orthodoxy follows Halacha in conversion. Therefore, they reasoned, only reconversion under the auspices of the Rabbinate should be recognized as providing identity as “Jew” in their Identity Cards (Teudat Zehut).

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Begin ultimately sided with Diaspora Conservatism who, it was demonstrated, do follow and conform to Halacha in conversion. Unlike his descendents today, Begin had the courage to side with the Diaspora regarding Israel as welcoming to ALL Jews under the Law of Return.

Is it not time for democracy in Israel to remove orthodox influence and interference in government decision-making regarding affairs of the state: of Israel as Zionist? Religion has an important part to play in the character of Israel as Homeland for All Jews, regardless of, or not, religious affiliation. It was for this purpose (Israel as homeland and refuge) that the Diaspora created a state for Jews in an ever-threatening Diaspora. It is this that is the meaning and purpose of Zionism.

Religion has a place in life, in home and in personal practice: It has no legitimate place in the Knesset, as participant in a democratic government. And Israel provides the prime example since the Orthodox parties, representing barely 10% of Israel’s population, hold veto power over the lives and interests of the remaining 90%. How, by any stretch of the imagination, can this be called "democracy."

Among Israel’s politicians, at least among the secular and since the rise of the Right, there has been a continuing rivalry between their representative parties at a significant cost to rational governance. And while there has been no room for relaxation regarding threats from without since its birth, The rivalry between Right and Left in the state has come with a significant cost to relations between state and Diaspora. Cost also to Israeli society as the long-anticipated possibility of a “kulturkampf,” a war between the Orthodox and secular communities. This was even discussed in 1960, when I arrived in Israel as an oleh. The possibility of of open conflict is becoming commonplace, particularly since the state began demanding insular haredi communities also contribute to the state by doing military service. Woe to the unwitting soldier finding himself alone in neighborhoods such as Bnei Brak or Mea Shearim. Among many such was the son of Dov Lipman, previously of the liberal Yesh Atid political party:

“When Shlomo Lipman, an IDF soldier who comes from an ultra-Orthodox family, (his father is Dov Lipan, a former MK with Yesh Atid) went to buy books in Mea Shearim, he did not imagine that his life would be in danger, and that his rescuer would be none other than a Haredi who is a member of an anti-Zionist faction.”

In the past anger at the Jewish state that provides them welfare payments to live their insular lives, anti-Zionist Haredim generally limited their protest to burning garbage, hurling epithets at secular visitors and the police. Today it is physical attacks on representatives of the state, in or out of uniform, even members of their own community.

Secular politicians and their parties have far more in common regarding the dangers to the state, to state policy in general, than with the non- or anti-Zionist Haredim whom they invite to join them in the Knesset. As if ideological purity overrides the needs of the state: better to cede authority over Kashrut and freedom to marry to the Ottoman-era holdover Rabbinate than to invite the second-place secular party, likely with such needed resources as prior government and military experience.

Is it not time for Israel to put the state, and its obligations to the Diaspora, first? The world certainly has not, since the fathers of Zionism concluded the need for Jewish independence and sanctuary for our threats facing our people more than a century ago.

Has the Holocaust really lost relevance in the world; are we Jews more secure today than before the now existing precedent of a final solution to the two-thousand year and continuing Jewish Problem?
 
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