Coalition Politics Are Threatening the Jewish State
The Israeli government’s decision to cave to ultra-Orthodox pressure and suspend its 2016 policy allowing egalitarian Jewish prayers at a separate section of the Western Wall is a dangerous sign.
With this decision, Israel risks further losing the drifting support of American Reform and Conservative Jews.
According to the Israeli government, Diaspora Jewry contribute 6.5% of Israel’s total GDP — and these Jews might now rightly ask why they should continue to fund a Jewish state that rejects them and their religious beliefs. Why should they donate money that goes right to ultra-Orthodox political parties, who then use their influence to make decisions that negatively impact the right of non-Orthodox Jews to worship as they see fit?
The issue of Jewish prayer at the Kotel has been poisoned by the rancor instigated by the government’s decision to block egalitarian prayers at Judaism’s most holy site. Perhaps we should all remember that before the creation of the Jewish state, men and women prayed at the Western Wall collectively — as a Jewish nation. In the spirit of pure prayer, there wasn’t even a mechitza (a partition that divides men and women at Jewish prayer services).
One of the reasons that I initiated the creation of the Knesset Caucus for Anusim and Marranos was to force Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to accept the legitimacy of hidden Jews — those Jews who, as a result of the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions and inquisitions, were forced to keep their Jewish faith a secret in order to avoid further persecution.
Many of these people now want to return fully to Judaism in Israel. Yet the Chief Rabbinate still makes it very difficult for them to be recognized as Jews. And because the ultra-Orthodox political parties hold great power in the Knesset, this policy has become enshrined as unofficial law.
Reform and Conservative Jews — and all those seeking a way to express their Judaism in Israel — are being prevented from doing so by the reactionary Israeli Chief Rabbinate and their supportive politicians who hold way over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
These are the shortsighted and damaging consequences of coalition politics in Israel.
Barry Shaw is the senior associate for public diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of 2017 best-selling book “1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel.”