‘I will be emissary of World Jewry in Knesset’ says first Reform rabbi MK

The MK-elect said he would concentrate on religion and state matters, and would hold egalitarian prayer services in the Knesset when possible.

Gilad Kariv (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Gilad Kariv
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Labor Party MK-elect Rabbi Gilad Kariv said his election to the Knesset is a strong message that non-Orthodox Judaism is becoming part of the Israeli mainstream and also a message to Diaspora Jews that “Netanyahu does not equal Israel, or the successors of Kahana.”
Kariv has served as the director of the Reform Movement in Israel for many years, and in a historic first for Israel will be the first Reform rabbi to serve in the Knesset.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Kariv said the top priority of the Labor Party was to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power, and expressed hope that this would be possible with either the cooperation of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties or the Arab parties.
Asked about the significance of a Reform rabbi serving in the Knesset, Kariv pointed to the ferocious response and caustic comments made by the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties regarding progressive Jews in the wake of the recent High Court decision on non-Orthodox conversions.
“What we saw after the court ruling on conversion, the incitement and manipulative political use of the ruling by the ultra-Orthodox parties, you understand the significance of having a non-Orthodox rabbi in Knesset,” said Kariv.
The rabbi said that “the incitement and manipulative political use of the conversion ruling by the ultra-Orthodox parties” and the presence of “Kahana’s successors, and ultra-nationalist and chauvinist forces of the Religious Zionist Party” made representation of a progressive rabbi even more important.
Beyond the declarative statement of his election, Kariv said that the very presence of a Reform rabbi in the Knesset and the ability of the non-Orthodox movements to “present the ideology of liberal Judaism and present our perspective on current affairs” was “a clear sign that non-Orthodox Judaism is becoming part of the Israeli mainstream.”
Kariv said that his election was also a positive sign for world Jewry that could be a starting point for improving relations between the Jewish state and the Diaspora, which he said have been badly strained in recent years under the Netanyahu government.
He had received hundreds if not thousands of messages from Jews and Jewish organizations around the world, he said, including AIPAC, J Street, Hadassah and WIZO branches, Jewish federations in North America, and beyond.
“It’s not about me, it’s that they feel after several years of destruction – and the souring of relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews – that this is a positive sign that there is a large public in Israel which does share with them the idea of religious pluralism and Jewish diversity, and commitment to the democratic values of Zionism and State of Israel,” Kariv said.
“After what they have heard and seen in the last four or five years from Prime Minister Netanyahu and the current government, this is a very positive step forward – and I will maintain my commitment to Israel-World Jewry relations and the need to strengthen them.”
Kariv said that he saw himself as an emissary for Diaspora Jews, and that he could “represent in Israel the voice of millions of Reform, Conservative, unaffiliated, liberal and progressive Jews,” although adding that he was not the only MK who can perform such a task.
“I also see myself also as emissary of the Israeli Zionist progressive community to world Jewry – and I see it as my duty to present the voice of progressive, liberal Israelis to Jews around the world,” he said.
“It is important that Jews around the world understand that Netanyahu doesn’t mean Israel and Israel does not equal Netanyahu,” the rabbi said, “and Israel definitely does not equal the successors of Kahana, and the ultra-Orthodox politicians who are promoting incitement and religious hate.”
Turning to politics, Kariv insisted that Netanyahu has lost the election, adding that the prime minister initiated the latest election, violated his coalition agreement with Blue and White, declined to pass a state budget and “dragged Israel back to the polls.”
The rabbi said that “the top priority of the political system” was to remove Netanyahu from power, and expressed hope that Yamina and New Hope would cooperate on this goal, which he said their voters supported.
Kariv also said he believes the Arab parties, as representatives of 20% of Israel’s population, were legitimate political partners and that allying with them to topple Netanyahu would be acceptable.
“When it is comfortable for Netanyahu to incite against Arabs – 20% of his citizens – he does so. And when it serves his personal interests and legal survival, he is suddenly initiating a dialogue with them,” said Kariv in reference to Netanyahu’s recent overtures to the Ra’am Party of MK Mansour Abbas.
Asked whether or not the Labor Party could live with any demands that might be made by the Arab parties regarding IDF operations in the West Bank or Gaza, he was evasive, and said that all options were on the table to remove Netanyahu.
Kariv said he was extremely excited to become an MK, something which has been a childhood dream for him.
“To be a legislator for the Jewish and democratic state is for me holy work, no less holy than being in the ‘Beit Haknesset,’” he said, using the Hebrew word for synagogue.
The rabbi said he would concentrate on matters of religion and state, Jewish Arab relations and ties between Israel and world Jewry, as well as social justice issues.
Asked if he would establish an egalitarian prayer service in the Knesset, Kariv said he would not insist on holding such a service on a daily basis, but would hold such services in the Knesset when delegations of progressive Jewish groups visit.