American Jewish Leaders Should Stop Bemoaning the “Death of Israeli Democracy”

January 5, 2023 | Daniel Gordis
About the author: Daniel Gordis is the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem and the author of the ongoing online column, Israel from the Inside.

While Daniel Gordis was not pleased by the results of the Jewish state’s most recent election, he has little sympathy with “the seemingly incessant torrent of woe-is-us columns” penned by “American rabbis and communal leaders of all sorts, . . . declaring Israel-as-they-knew-it dead, bemoaning the fact that they can no longer support the Jewish state.” To the authors of these columns, he replies:

What does it say about your worldview when the country that you did decide to wash your hands of is the only country on the planet whose express purpose is saving the Jewish people? An election goes a way you don’t like and you announce that you’re done? If that is what Jewish communities are willing to call leadership, then let’s be honest: we don’t even deserve to survive.

Gordis, an American rabbi who left his pulpit to live in Israel as an author, teacher, and university administrator, also questions how well his former colleagues really understand what is going on inside the Jewish state.

If they don’t read the Hebrew press, those who say that Israel’s enlightened days are behind us have no way of knowing that in . . . Makor Rishon, a religious paper with a definite right-of-center bent, . . . on the front page, there was an opinion piece by the unquestionably Orthodox Rabbi Ḥayim Navon pointing out that the election was democratic and that [the new coalition was] elected properly, and yet, at the same time, urging [its most controversial members]—Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Avi Maoz—to remember that the campaigning has now ended and it’s time to start governing, not only on behalf of those who voted for the government, but also on behalf of those who voted against it.

Moreover, Gordis notes, there is a significant gap between pre-election rhetoric and post-election policy. Take, for instance, the case of Avi Maoz, who has joined the government as the Knesset’s sole representative of the Noam party, whose main concern is the normalization of homosexuality in public life:

The Knesset member Amir Ohana, openly gay and religiously traditional, was just confirmed as Israel’s first openly gay speaker of the Knesset. With his partner sitting in the gallery of the Knesset, Ohana put on a kippah due to the sanctity of the moment. Guess who voted for him? Yup, Avi Maoz. Why? Because it turns out that politics are not simple, there are lots of considerations in every step. If Maoz couldn’t even muster a negative vote in a case where his voting “no” wouldn’t have made a bit of difference, he evidently understands something about the terrain.

Gordis goes on to argue, that centrists like himself must consider that, when it comes to judicial reform or better policing in the Negev, the right has some important and wholly legitimate concerns.

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