Skip to main content

Election results in Israel: The triumph of fear over vision in the Jewish State

On election day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on Facebook that "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out." With this fear-mongering, he succeeded in bringing out the far-right votes to secure his victory.  When I learned of these tactics, and of Likud’s victory, I was not angry.  I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief.  My sadness wasn’t only on account of dashed hopes for peace, or of an alienated American Jewry.  My deepest grief was on the triumph of fear over vision in the State of Israel. 
In many ways, the story of the Jewish people over centuries has been about the struggle between fear and vision--between the trauma of persecution and the mission to be a holy people, a light of justice and peace for the world.  On Passover we tell the story of how our people we were liberated from a fear-mongering Pharaonic state.  Our national narrative bears a message of justice and hope.  At our seders, we also acknowledge that “...in every generation [enemies of the Jewish people] rise up to destroy us…”At the very core of our identity as a people, vision and fear exist together in a tense and competing partnership.
In the Zohar, a central medieval Jewish mystical text, this tension between a loving vision and a fearful darkness exists as an earthly reflection of a similar tension within the Godhead itself.  Even God struggles between the Divine “Attribute of Compassion”--an infinite desire to love and to embrace--along with the “Attribute of Judgment,” the inevitable need for limits and disappointments, for death itself.  Our rabbis teach us that God seeks to exist always with the Attribute of Compassion in ascendancy over the Attribute of Judgment. So, too, on earth, we must live so that our choices and actions place compassion over judgment.  If we incline more toward fear and judgment than compassion, we unleash greater potential for evil in the world.
The dream of the modern State of Israel came into being on the heels of the Shoah, when the world turned on us and sought to annihilate us.  Once again--now in real statecraft--the holiest dreams and hopes of the Jewish people were inexorably linked with trauma and horror.  Whether we realized it or not, the grand experiment of the Jewish state was a test of the Jewish people:  can we, despite six million reasons to incline toward the Attribute of Judgment, build a state that inclines toward the Attribute of Compassion?  Netanyahu would say that dreams and visions are nice, but the reality of Iran and an increasingly radicalized middle east calls for extreme defensive response.  He is not wrong about the realities of the Middle East and the very real existential threats to Israel. 
But in this election, and recently in the US Congress, Netanyahu has taken tactics deliberately aimed at striking fear into the hearts of the Jewish people, and of the world.  By playing partisan politics in the States, by eliciting a standing ovation for Eli Wiesel--thereby invoking the trauma of the Holocaust--by blanketly painting the political Left as in cahoots with the enemies of Israel and of Democracy, Netanyahu has tipped the scales toward the Attribute of Judgment.  The stage is now set for fear itself to be the defining characteristic of the Jewish state.  Under Netanyahu’s leadership, trauma and mistrust itself become the central bases of the future Jewish State, in all the ways Israel will respond to its neighbors, and to the world.
I grieve the results of this election because it represents the abandonment of the dreams of Israel’s founders, who sought a Jewish state that cherished all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. I grieve this election because it replaces the core Israeli value of “Hatikvah,” of Hope, with cynicism.  The grand experiment of Israel was whether a vision of hope, justice, and peace could overcome centuries of exile and trauma in the hearts of the Israeli people.  I grieve because Netanyahu’s leadership presents an answer to this experiment, and that answer is no.  May those of us refuse to give up on a vision of hope and justice remain undaunted, despite our grief.  And may we live to see the day when the Attribute of Compassion beats at the deepest heart of the Jewish State.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation, the oldest and largest conservative synagogue in Washington, DC. He is the first openly gay senior rabbi in the institution's 150-year history, and speaks publicly on matters of Israel, LGBT Justice, and Jewish Spirituality throughout the Nation's Capital and the world.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The New Idolatry

I want to tell  you a story about a long-time friend of my parents.  I will refer to him as Joe.  They have known each other for many decades.  Practically grew up together.  He’s in his eighties now.  He has survived lots of health crises, including many years of respiratory problems, Type 2 Diabetes, and triple bypass surgery.  Several years ago, my family was visiting with his family.  We had a wonderful time all together.  We ate  out at different restaurants a few times. And Joe loved a good meal.  Time and again, he ordered truly, decadent meals:  grilled cheese done to perfection for lunch. Deep fried chicken for dinner.  Lasagna another night.  For breakfast he ordered gooey cinnamon buns heaping with cream-cheese icing.  And when he got the most amazing donuts for us all, and then ate half the box, followed later by cheese fries, I finally felt the need to say something to good old Joe.

“Hey, Joe,” I said.  “I really hope I’m not out of line here, but you know all these wonder…

The Importance of Keruv

I would like to teach us all a very important value in Jewish life known as Keruv.Keruv literally means ‘to bring close,’ ‘to draw near.’Throughout our history, the word “keruv” has meant the endeavor to bring close all those among are people who are, for whatever reason, feeling far away from the community.Keruv is a beautiful Jewish value that is all about welcoming.It’s the heart and soul of what has sustained us as a community for generations.The Jewish value of Keruv goes a long way back in Judaism. It seems that many of the great biblical figures were also especially concerned with Keruv. And their lives and stories teach us much about how to draw other people Karov, close to Judaism.
There was Aharon, the High Priest, the brother of Moses, for example. Our tradition tells us that he just had a magnificent talent for Keruv. When the Mishnah talks about Aharon, it says that he was Ohev Shalom v’Rodef Shalom, Oheiv et haBriot, umekarvan latorah: that he loved peace and pursued peac…

The Deadliest Poison: When Anti-Semitism Infects Liberalism

This past summer, the national Black Lives Matter movement released an official platform outlining several of its policy proposals in its efforts to end the war on black people in this country.  Among its proposals, it used the platform as an opportunity to attack Israel, calling it an “apartheid state.” The platform also stated “The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”  Last January, at the annual National Gay and Lesbian Creating Change Conference in Chicago, a pro-Israel reception was initially shut down by the conference organizers, bowing to pressure from anti-Israel groups.  When the reception eventually got the green light, their event was stormed by an angry mob trying to shut down the Jewish and Israeli event following their Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services.  Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the rabbi of the LGBT congregation Beit Simchat Torah in NY, and an …