Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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Wall to wall

With a clean conscience, I was always able to believe, and say, that the rare act of violence by an Israeli Jew was condemned wall to wall across Israeli society; that those who committed a vigilante act, and the marginalized few who supported them, were just that: the marginalized few.

That distinction, that crucial distinction, characterized so much of what was right about Israel, and highlighted a stark contrast between Israel, a society that does not condone violence, and its neighboring societies that incentivize terrorism.

While thankfully that is still true, a potential puncture has been dealt to this truth. If it’s not addressed properly, it could one day lead to the unraveling of Israeli society as we know it.

In preparation for Israeli elections, the Israeli political party Otzma Yehudit, which views its ideological leader to be the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has just merged with a mainstream religious Zionist party, Bayit Hayehudi, the most recent incarnation of the National Religious Party of my childhood.

One of the leaders of Otzma Yehudit has a framed photo of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his apartment, with a biblical verse hailing Baruch Goldstein as a zealot for G-d. To mainstream a party that mainstreams the likes of Baruch Goldstein is simply terrifying and horrifying.

In 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Arabs in Hebron in cold blood.

I know the context of the Baruch Goldstein story is complex. I know what a devoted physician Goldstein was to all in Hebron, Jew and Arab alike. But that is obviously irrelevant to the fact that he murdered innocent Arabs who were at prayer (if it’s possible to make an act of murder worse than it already is).

We’ll never know exactly what made Goldstein snap, what made a beloved doctor commit an act so heinous, so depraved of any human decency and morality, rather than report to the authorities any suspicions he might have had of a potential oncoming terrorist attack on his beloved community.

Ultimately, it’s pretty simple. He spilled innocent blood.

To bring a party that aligns with Kahanist ideology into the Knesset and that idealizes a murderer is a watershed event. To regard Kahanists as outside normative Zionism, even very right wing Zionism, was always a consensus issue. To be clear, Kahanist ideology does not promote violence against Palestinian Arabs, but believes in transferring them from Israel, thereby making Israel an Arab-free state. Kahanist ideology also holds other racist views, such as outlawing marriage between Jews and Arabs.

I understand the merger of Otzma Yehudit and Bayit Yehudi was simply a realpolitik decision, just another step in political chess match whose goal is to secure the upcoming election for a Likud-led coalition government.

I understand that this is not an alignment of ideologies.

I understand how hypocritical the left’s outcry about this is, considering how leftist parties embrace extremist Arab Knesset members who out and out support Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

And yet, there are certain lines that should never be crossed — the moral and ethical lines we must have that define who we are as a people and what Israel is as a Jewish state.

Without those lines, without those markers that we believe in so deeply that no political stakes could make us violate them — without that, Israel stops being Israel. Israel is not just our place of history and destiny, and not just a safe corner in the world for Jews to be. Israel is a place that carries with it the message of trying to “Be a Light,” a deeper, kinder, humanitarian society, a place that lives and breathes the great tradition of Judaism.

One can always cherry-pick verses from the Bible to create manifestos like those of Otzma Yehudit. But while the power of the pshat, the literal text of the Bible, is fascinating, the great achievement of the Jewish oral tradition is the often softer, humane interpretations of biblical verses. The most famous case is the understanding of “eye for an eye” as monetary compensation, not a violent gouging out of an eye,

Zealotry. Revenge. Violence. This is not the layered tradition of Judaism. The great rabbinic tradition intervened between the biblical era and our own.

Yes, miraculously, we are a people who have reconnected with our biblical source, on our biblical land of Israel. Yes it is an honor, a privilege-and a responsibility to live in our biblical homeland.

But when I hear how Kahanists or one of the leaders of Otzma Yehudit quote random biblical verses, difficult biblical verses, as though they constitute the backbone of a Jewish vision for the land of Israel, my hair stands on its head. In the spirit of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the most fundamental level thank G-d for Israel as a home, a sanctuary, a safe space for the Jewish people.

That is number one.

But Israel is more than shelter.

It is a place for the Jewish people to actualize a society reflective of the Jewish values and traditions we can be proud of — the ethical and moral values that make us who we are.

But the least of our values ought to be a wall to wall consensus against Jewish vigilante acts of violence.

And the most of which can mean Israel shining as a light unto the nations. The sky is the limit — and as we saw last week with the launch of Beresheet, even beyond the sky.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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