January 13: Jewish, then democratic

The fact is that Hamas has initiated a state of war with Israel, announcing again and again its intention to wipe us out.

Become a new religion
Sir, – In “Conversion bill moratorium extended by another 6 months” (January 11), Jonah Mandel writes that “Israel Beiteinu’s legislation raised the ire of the non-Orthodox movements in North America.... They said the bill would cause irreparable damage to Diaspora relations with the Jewish state, since the law, for the first time ever, defined the Chief Rabbinate as the body ultimately responsible for conversions in Israel.”
The obvious solution would be for the non-Orthodox movements to organize themselves as separate religions by analogy with the various Christian denominations. They could even include the name Jewish, provided it was suitably qualified. They could then perform conversions, weddings, divorces and burials according to their own wishes without needing approval from the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.
If the State of Israel wishes to accept the members of these streams as Jews for its own purposes, that would be entirely its own prerogative. But forcing Orthodoxy to accept the Reform and Masorti movements as Jewish is an abuse of power and the antithesis of liberal democracy.
As you point out in your editorial in the same issue (“Learning Judaism from Giffords”): “With all our desire for a universally accepted definition of ‘Who is a Jew?’ that would unify the Jewish people, we cannot ignore the complicated reality that many ‘non-Jews’ are much more Jewish than their ‘Jewish’ fellows.”
To be realistic, we are too fundamentally divided by deeply held religious principles to do so as a single religious denomination, so it will only be possible fulfill this desire by recognizing this and separating religion from a secularly defined ethnicity.
MARTIN D. STERN Salford, England
Where were the rabbis?
Sir, – Regarding “And farewell to... Notable Jewish deaths of 2010” (Comment & Features, January 11), how could this article appear with sections on “Crime” and “Other,” but not on “Religious Leaders?” If you couldn’t find anyone, let me suggest Rav Amital and Rav Eliyahu – the Post wrote about both at the time of their funerals.
No toadies, please
Sir, – Surely, Dan Kosky can’t be serious (“Where have all the good men gone?,” Comment & Features, January 11). Until such time as Israel has direct elections, in which candidates can offer themselves as representatives of particular local constituencies, no self-respecting young man or woman would think of entering politics. The current system is one that rewards toadies, not talent.
Direct elections would almost instantly render parochial parties obsolete. They would pave the way for a government that can govern instead of playing musical chairs and political footsy with larcenous fringe parties, whose support is needed in order to keep the mediocrities-that-be in their ministerial seats.
Unfortunately, a change in the way we vote would require the support of the majority of MKs. This is not likely to happen, as nearly all of them would be put out to pasture as the result of this single act of political altruism.
One can hardly expect ambitious, intelligent and honest young people to sully themselves by spending years as ward heelers and waterboys for the current party nomenclatura in the hope of one day making the slate. And we all suffer as a result.
J.J. GROSS Jerusalem
Wrong focus
Sir, – David Newman (“Israel’s delegitimization from within,” Borderline Views, January 11) is right to suggest that NGOs can serve an important oversight function in a democracy. As he suggests, democracy needs critical voices, and we must discuss carefully how we criticize the critics.
But when several voices of criticism stand accused of distorting facts and seem caught manufacturing false news stories that promote and support aggressive anti-Israel efforts, we are facing a different discussion.
The threat to our democracy comes not from a public investigation into where these voices get their funding, but from the success these voices have in fomenting hostility on the international stage. Suddenly, the discussion does not focus on freedom of speech, for these accusations mean that some critics might be shouting the political equivalent of “fire” in a crowded theater.
If some critics are indeed lying, our discussion focuses on a different question: Are distortions, half-truths and falsifications being used in a highly charged manner in the public arena to sway public and international opinion?
We must be careful how we define “freedom of speech.” Democracies do not survive when those inside falsify reality to aid and abet their enemies. Shouting “McCarthyism” or accusing the accuser is a good defensive tactic. Indeed, accusing the accuser is usually the only defense you have when you’ve been caught red-handed and have no rational defense.
Nevertheless, there appears to be ample evidence to suggest that a public investigation is the right thing to do. It is not the Right that fosters delegitimization, as Newman suggests – it is the faked criticism. Newman may want us to believe that when MKs on the Right shout “fire” outside the theater, they are the ones who started the fire. But there is another way to look at their action: Perhaps what they mean is, there’s a fire we should attend to.
If you are in that theater, who are you going to listen to?
TUVIA BRODIE Ma’aleh Adumim
Jewish, then democratic
Sir, – In “Can we save our democracy?” (Comment & Features, January 11), Alon Liel states that Israel is reaching the crucial stage when it will have to choose between its Jewish identity and its democratic nature. In case his mind is in a state of flux, let me assure him that the majority of the people of Israel will overwhelmingly prefer that it stick to its Jewish identity first, and then maintain its democracy.
We did not survive and suffer 2,000 years of hell to become the democratic state he envisages, in which we would lose our Jewish identity overnight. Inconceivable!
Further, Liel is overtly concerned that a Knesset motion was passed to investigate several extreme-left-wing NGOs that are being funded by foreign sources that are hostile to Israel. These organizations then use huge sums to initiate boycotts and delegitimize our country.
Finally, another issue troubling him as a secular Jew is what the country would do with him if he chose to object to a non-democratic country. Would he be jailed? This is facetious and just a bit silly for a former ambassador to say.
Meaningless statistics
Sir, – Regarding Sarit Michaeli’s defense of B’Tselem’s statistics (“Distorted and Bogus,” Letters, January 11), I think the entire argument as to numbers of civilian casualties is of no significance.
The fact is that Hamas has initiated a state of war with Israel, announcing again and again its intention to wipe us out. In the history of wars, cities have always been bombed and civilians killed, and no nation has ever had to apologize for civilian casualties in the aggressor’s camp, regardless of the number killed or wounded.
Consequently, B’Tselem’s purportedly meticulously researched figures are a useless exercise in statistical analysis. If the group really wants to help in eliminating civilian casualties, let it expend its vast resources on convincing Hamas that it can keep its people alive and well simply by refraining from assaulting Israel in any form and on any stage.