Ben-Gvir is threatening Jewish unity worldwide - opinion

Ben-Gvir is the real threat to Jewish unity. He must not be allowed to wield his politics of exclusion and intolerance in Israel’s next government.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir prior to his entry into politics can be seen speaking Israeli attorney Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir prior to his entry into politics can be seen speaking Israeli attorney Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

When the biblical Ruth proclaimed to Naomi “wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.” (Ruth 1:16) we witnessed the very first convert to Judaism. It didn’t take an Orthodox rabbi to welcome Ruth into the fold and into the land of Israel.

Now several millennia later, the right-wing populist fanatic, Itamar Ben-Gvir, intends to take the wrecking ball to contemporary Jewish pluralism and prohibit the recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of making aliyah (Jerusalem Post, November 13). It is bad enough that the Chief Rabbinate will not recognize such conversions, now Ben-Gvir wants to extend the ban to the secular realm by urging the reversal of a Basic Law that has been in place for more than half a century.

Questions for Ben-Gvir

Speaking from the perspective of an American Jew, I simply ask, “how dare he?” In a time of rising antisemitism in the US and abroad, Ben-Gvir would shamefully close the door to literally thousands of Jews who might one day soon find themselves in need of flight to the safe haven that Israel represents for every Jew who seeks refuge in times of existential crisis.

I would pose this question to Ben-Gvir, “exactly what Jewish values are represented in your proposed ban on non-Orthodox Jewish converts?” Further, I would ask him, “how do you define the Jewish people beyond your narrow, constricted field of vision?” And I would also ask him, “how do you defend the Jewish people without serving all Jewish people?”

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)MK Itamar Ben-Gvir during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The answers Ben-Gvir would likely give represent his nativist ideology. He ignores the sweep of contemporary Jewish history and thinks only of political gain and the grasp and allure of power. What will be the ultimate cost? Does the disenfranchisement of literally millions of Jews mean anything to Ben-Gvir? Sadly, I think not.

After nearly a 40-year career as a Jewish communal professional in the United States, I now have the honor and privilege to serve as the North American chair of the Board of Directors of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies based in Jerusalem. It was through my study of classical Jewish text at Pardes that I learned the poignant story of Ruth and Naomi. Their encounter was a vital turning point in the history of the Jewish people, which continues to define who we are today.

Ben-Gvir is the real threat to Jewish unity. He must not be allowed to wield his politics of exclusion and intolerance in Israel’s next government. I know Ben-Gvir will not listen to my concerns but I hope and pray that Benjamin Netanyahu will.

The writer is the North American board chair of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies based in Jerusalem. He lives in Parkland, Florida.