I consider it entrapment.
I had vowed to myself that I wasn’t going to write about either Bibi or Trump this week. I got this voicemail message from someone named Shoshana, who launched into a tirade about how I needed to stop criticizing Bibi. She said she was tired of reading the stuff I had to say about him.
I took in what she had to say, which is what journalists do, but then I kind of discounted her journalism critique as she went on to say how strong Bibi is and what a great job he has done and so I had no right to question him.
I know in the Jewish world these days, the fashion is to shut up those who don’t agree with you. Whereas Judaism used to pride itself on the debates within it, how we used to uphold the disagreements between the Torah sages Shammai and Hillel as emblematic of the value Jews place on hearing both sides, on respecting both sides, on recognizing that while we can differ sharply on very important matters, all sides, even the one with which you do not agree, are made up of good Jews making an argument they truly believe is in the best interest of Judaism.
We didn’t use to question each other’s motives, we actually used to enjoy having both sides go at, used to understand that listening to each other and respecting each other was our great strength.
No more. Now we are a community of publications that only aim at a sliver of Jews and dismiss the rest, now we are a community that doesn’t allow ‘unacceptable’ positions to be aired in our synagogue and organizational meetings, now we are a community where some consider it intolerable for any Jew to criticize Israel, where Jews judge each other and any and all Jews who are not like you, are asked to sit down, shut up, go away.
We saw an extreme but all too typical example of this just last week when a group known as Women of the Wall gathered at the Western Wall, as they do at the beginning of each new Jewish month. They simply wanted to pray as Jews at Judaism’s holiest site, pray in the way they believe is right for them.
Well, of course, we can’t have that and so ultra-right wing yeshivas and seminaries bused in scores of teenage boys and girls to fill the plaza in front of the Wall to make it impossible for the Women of the Wall to gather. Bad enough, but too many of these supposedly religious young Jewish men and women began to shout at, spit at, kick, harass, physically and verbally attack members of Women of the Wall.
Yes, Jews who believe you must pray only one way, actually spat at, screamed at, pushed away other Jews who just wanted to pray the way they wanted. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s Judaism. And remember, these are young people who will grow up to be even more intolerant Jews, thus furthering the divide between Jews, thus making Judaism an ever darker, less accepting, less loving place.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think G-d gave us back the Western Wall so we could spend every new Jewish month having Jews abuse other Jews at Judaism’s most sacred site.
And you know what is truly crazy about this is that those very same ultra allegedly religious Jews are the very same Jews who put a stop to the plan to build a completely separate area for the Jews who don’t pray like they do, totally apart from the plaza in front of the Wall.
Yes, in one of the few constructive things Bibi has done as prime minister, he put together a panel representing all streams of Judaism and gave them a few years to devise a plan to end the fighting at the Wall. After much thought and deliberation and consideration, the panel actually came up with a brilliant plan, one in which each side, all sides, gave a little and got a lot.
The deal would leave the plaza in front of the Wall as it is, men and women praying separately and in the traditional manner. On the side of the wall, a separate plaza would be built for those who wanted men and women to pray together and who wanted to pray in a more egalitarian style, women wearing kippot and talitot if they so chose.
Perfect. Some Jews doing their thing over here, other Jews doing their thing over there, separate, equal, all Jews, all praying, all at the Wall. Of course, even though Bibi promised to implement the plan, once the likes of the crazy former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel started making a fuss, using the ugliest language and calling Jews the ugliest of names, Bibi, always afraid of losing the political support of his coalition’s religious parties, said the deal was off. And shamefully, the rabbi of the Wall, who had endorsed the plan, cowardly turned against it.
So an agreement to keep Jews apart was killed by the very same people who last week spat at women who tried to pray in front of the Wall, which they wouldn’t need to do if their separate area had been built.
Anyway, I wasn’t planning to talk about any of that. My point is that Shoshana said stop picking on Bibi. And I decided I would. But then I got entrapped. In two ways.
First came when an Israeli model and actor named Rotem Sela wrote on Instagram, “When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal.”
Well, to Bibi, those were fighting words and he immediately shot back. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”
Israel is not a state of all its citizens. How could I possibly let that go? I was entrapped. For 70 years, Israel and the American Jewish community have made very much of a point of how Israeli Arabs are fully citizens of Israel, have full voting rights, are represented in the Knesset, that Israeli Arabs have it better than Arabs anywhere, how Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, is a country, unlike the Arab countries, that respects all its citizens.
But that was pre-Bibi Israel, the Israel of Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir and Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon and Chaim Weizmann. The Israel the world admired, for good reason.
But Bibi, so desirous of being as extreme as possible to win the votes of the fringiest of the right wing in the upcoming election, actually said out loud for the entire world to hear that Israel is not a state of all its citizens. The key word is citizens. Not Palestinians. Its citizens.
Thankfully, Israel currently has a president, Reuven Rivlin, who is a pre-Bibi leader and who immediately said, “There are no, and there will be no, second-class citizens” in Israel. Rivlin added: “Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens.”
Rivlin, please note, is no leftist, he is a lifelong member of the Likud party, was Likud speaker of the Knesset. But he recognizes that Israel’s security is first dependent on its moral standing. And indeed Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat who is Jewish, called Netanyahu’s words “morally repugnant and diplomatically unwise.”
No way I can’t say anything about words I never thought I’d hear an Israeli prime minister utter, words no Israeli prime minister has ever uttered, words that Israel’s president felt duty bound to condemn.
I was then further entrapped and forced out of my self-imposed convent of silence about Bibi when his culture minister, a member of his cabinet, announced that Israel will not have a representative of Diaspora Jewry light a torch this year at the annual Independence Day eve ceremony on Mount Herzl.
Culture Minister Miri Regev didn’t give a reason for ending the honor, but it comes in the wake of a difficult year in relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, because of things like that reneging of a promise to build a separate area at the Wall.
So because things have been tense between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, one of Bibi’s ministers decided it was the right time to cut Diaspora Jews out of the ceremony marking Israel’s Independence Day. Makes sense, right?
Israel, which keeps telling us that we are all one Jewish family, how much it respects and values and needs Diaspora Jewry, how valuable and integral we are to the state, stripped us of, kicked us out of what should be a very happy and unifying Jewish occasion. How insane a decision this is was seen when even the very right wing Naftali Bennett, the Diaspora Affairs minister, called Regev’s decision “an insult to all the Jewish people.”
Again, entrapment. Bibi insults and dismisses millions of his own citizens and then his culture minister insults and dismisses millions of Diaspora Jews.
And Shoshana expects me to say nothing? I tried, I planned to, but come on.
And there were even more traps set that ruined my no criticism diet. Such as Trump’s new way of dividing Jews, pitting us against each other and making Israel into a partisan issue. He did that by saying Democrats “hate the Jewish people.” Just what we need: more reason for Jews to hate each other.
Such as Fox News seeming to feel that I can’t be fully Jewish and fully American. After all, its host Jeanine Pirro said this about Rep. Ilhan Omar. “Think about it: Omar wears a hijab. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shariah law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?” All you Jews who got a kick out of that, agree with that, consider this. You can say the exact same thing about me and other yarmulke wearers. “Think about it: Joe wears a yarmulke. Is his adherence to this Jewish doctrine indicative of his adherence to halachah, Jewish law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Such as a bunch of billionaire Russians planning to give the ‘Jewish Nobel Prize’ in a ceremony later this year in Jerusalem to Robert Kraft, he who dropped his pants and exposed his bris at a massage parlor in a strip mall. A ceremony Bibi is expected to attend.
Oops, there I go criticizing Bibi. Sorry, Shoshana, but you gotta first do something about all those traps.