Priestly blessing at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The government’s decision yesterday to snub, in practice, the non-Orthodox denominations of the Jewish faith, to bar the implementation of the compromise on prayer arrangements in the southern segment of the Western Wall, and to advance legislation on conversions that enshrines the monopoly of the Orthodox (indeed, ultra-Orthodox) establishment has serious and potentially tragic consequences.
It threatens the unity of the Jewish People, which the political leadership of Israel should treat as a sacred trust. It is bound to lead to serious clashes, once again, over egalitarian prayer practices, that would not add to Israel’s reputation. And above all, it poses a long-term threat to one of the foundational pillars of Israeli national security: namely, the willingness and ability of American Jewish organizations to stand by Israel in her hours of need, as they did again and again since 1948.
The special relationship with the United States, which every Israeli leader since Ben-Gurion recognized as being central to our prospects of surviving and prospering in a dangerous and hostile region, cannot and must not be taken for granted. True, it reflects a degree of commonality of interests – which is another way of saying we have the same enemies – but this should not lead us to forget or dismiss the two other pillars on which it rests: the moral affinity of two democracies, and the organized power (well, let us call it reach and influence) of organized American Jewry. Both are now under threat, and when a day comes in which we shall need them – amidst the vicissitudes of the changing American political landscape – we may rue the day in which the government of Israel took decisions that undermine their essence.
To delegitimize the religious practices of a very large proportion of the Jewish People – certainly a majority of North American Jews – is not only an insult, it violates basic precepts of religious freedom dear to many Americans. It will increasingly make it more difficult for Americans at large to look upon Israeli society and politics as kindred spirits.
Moreover, to deliberately and brazenly alienate the non-Orthodox denominations – to force their rank and file to question whether their commitment to Israel and to Israel’s needs has won them any claim to attention amid the rough and tumble of Israeli politics – is to put in jeopardy the prospect of mobilizing their help if and when (and it will happen) we shall call on their help on issues central to our very survival. This is literally an act of sawing off the branch on which we sit.
It should come as no surprise that two ministers with a keen awareness of our national security needs voted, alone among their colleagues, against this sad and potentially tragic mistake. They surely know that our relationship with the North American wing of the Jewish people is not just an issues of values and peoplehood: it speaks to vital national interests that have now been put at risk.
The author is a former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council, a lecturer at the Shalem academic college in Jerusalem and a senior research associate at the BESA Center.