The most significant statement made by opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) in a long time was "You will not take Judaism away from us." Directed at Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush in the Knesset plenum on January 20, the comment was made in response to Porush's claim that "Anyone who belongs to Kadima cannot be a believing person."
Livni also took the opportunity to remind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his infamous sentence whispered to the late Rabbi Kaduri: "The people on the left have forgotten what it is to be Jewish."
To Porush, it is not only the Judaism of the left that isn't kosher, but even that of the conservative, right-leaning center or, if you will, the conservative center-leaning right (like Livni). The importance of Livni's statement was highlighted by the arrogant remarks made by Aryeh Deri at the Herzliya Conference in early February - to the effect that secular Judaism has not produced an alternative culture beyond the reality TV show "Big Brother."
The groundless belief of the ultra-Orthodox that Judaism is theirs and no one else's is so powerful that they expect statements like those made by Porush and Deri to be accepted as a matter of course, without any response. This contributes to the ongoing delegitimization of the secular center and left in the eyes of a large portion of the Israeli population. It also contributes heavily to making a large section of the public sick of Judaism.
This is why Livni's forceful response was appropriate, as it made two things clear to the ultra-Orthodox: First, Judaism belongs just as much to the secular, from all points along the political spectrum, as it does to the Haredim; second, the secular have had enough of the Haredim arrogating the role of determing what Judaism is.
The ultra-Orthodox are not only no closer than the secular to original Judaism, they are in fact gradually growing away from Judaism's principles. It is a sect whose supreme values are to evade serving the Jewish state, to evade gainful employment and to prohibit cooperation with the legal authorities. It is a sect that pays lip service to the principle of "ahavat yisrael," loving your fellow Jew, but in which hatred and contempt for the community dominate its media. It is a sect that neglects the commandments regarding the relationship between people and the society they live in, and which elevates the rituals regarding the relationship between people and God to levels approaching idol worship.
And it is not only Judaism that the left and the center are being asked to give up, but also Zionism. In recent decades, the right has monopolized the use of the word "Zionism," while the center and the left have simply ceased referring to it. This is one of the primary reasons it's so easy for Israeli Arabs to disseminate the specious Nakba narrative. Everyone who cherishes Zionism, particularly the Zionist right, should aspire to ensure that Zionism cease being a right-wing term.
The words Judaism and Zionism must be returned to secular discourse at all points of the political spectrum. The secular parties must reiterate how their solutions serve to ensure the continued progress of the Zionist enterprise and the Jewish character of the state. Thus, for example, there can be no doubt that the less religious legislation there is in Israel, the stronger the status of Judaism will grow. Thus, for example, if less funds are budgeted for Haredi education, the prospects for Zionism and the Jewish state to survive are greater. Thus, for example, it will be clear there are no greater enemies of Judaism than the ultra-Orthodox parties. These are things that must be said out loud.
The writer is deputy director of research and information at Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality.
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