Engage with Israel’s new government


On Dec. 21, shortly before the expiration of the midnight deadline to do so, Benjamin Netanyahu informed Israeli President Isaac Herzog that he had the support of 64 of the Knesset’s 120 members to form a new government.

Expected to be the most right-wing government in Israel’s 75-year history, the incoming coalition has generated apprehension, consternation and opposition among a significant sector of Diaspora Jewry. Very little of that concern relates to historical two-state solution or regional peace issues. Instead, the focus has been on possible new policies of the government, many of which could have significant impact on Diaspora Jewry.

Half of the new coalition members (32) come from Netanyahu’s Likud party. Eighteen come from the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties. The remaining 14 coalition seats are held by three far-right factions that joined together for the November election and have now separated to their original party status. They are Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich; Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir; and Noam, led by Avi Maoz.

As news emerged that the three leaders had negotiated significant ministerial positions in the new government, concern within Israel and in the Diaspora has intensified.
Concern has focused on four areas: First, threatened change to the Law of Return — to remove the clause that extends the right to make aliyah to any person with at least one Jewish grandparent. Second, the haredi effort to impose more restrictive policies on religious life in Israel, including more limiting standards for conversion and prohibiting pluralistic prayer at the Kotel, along with new rules barring public transportation on Shabbat and the imposition of restrictive kashrut certification standards. Third, the development of policies that will negatively impact the LGBTQ community, infringe on women’s rights and further hamper Palestinian residents in the West Bank. And fourth, a change to Israel’s judicial system to allow a majority of the Knesset to override a decision by the Israel Supreme Court, when the court rules that a Knesset law is unconstitutional.
Each of these concerns is legitimate. We share them. And we encourage forceful engagement with Netanyahu and government leadership to explain the depth of concern in the Diaspora on each of the issues. Israeli leaders need to understand the importance of avoiding a serious rupture in the relationship between the government of Israel and its Jewish brothers and sisters around the world.

We believe in dialogue. We believe in the thoughtful exchange of ideas. We believe in the value of working through differences. And just as we oppose Israel’s adoption of policies that will negatively impact our community, we cannot support a unilateral severance of dialogue with Israeli government officials by our community just because we disagree with their public positions. We support comprehensive, bilateral engagement.

It is for that reason that we question the wisdom of the reported declaration of hundreds of American rabbis who last week promised to block Israeli government officials with whom they disagree from speaking in their communities. Our tradition embraces the concept of comprehensive debate even in the face of deep disagreement. Our tradition embraces engagement, forceful argument and persuasion. We encourage the threatening rabbis to reconsider their approach.

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