“Last summer, I went to the U.S. on vacation with Michal and encountered something I termed a real plague,” began Isaac Herzog, the newly elected chairman of the Jewish Agency and outgoing leader of the opposition, the man who was supposed to be the standard-bearer of defiance against Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme-right government. The continuation of his remarks, in an interview with Attila Somfalvi in Ynet’s studio on Sunday, made it clear why he was so lousy at that job.
“I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners. And their parents are beating their breasts and asking questions and agonizing. And look, this is every family in the U.S. We’re talking about millions!”
A plague, no less. The outgoing leader of the opposition couldn’t find any other word to describe this development, in which people from different backgrounds manage to form a loving relationship with each other. He didn’t think there was any more appropriate word to describe two people living together and perhaps starting a family.
It’s a plague. Like typhus, cholera, smallpox. In Herzog’s view, intermarriage, too, could cause the collapse of bodily systems, the development of suppurating blisters, infectious secretions, decomposition and death.
And of course, like all plagues, it must be eradicated. “There must be a campaign,” Herzog continued, switching from a medical vocabulary to a military one. “There must be a solution. We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.”
After failing to understand what his voters wanted from him, it seems Herzog is also guaranteed to fail overseas in his new job. His words embodied the gaping abyss between many overseas Jews and the people who dwell in Zion. The former see themselves first and foremost as human beings, citizens of the world, while the latter insist on putting a suffocating Orthodox Judaism above every other element of their identity.
This approach might have charmed voters for the old Mapai, the forerunner of Herzog’s Labor Party, as well as voters to their right – in short, anyone who was educated on the Zionist ethos and feelings of nonstop persecution. But is it also relevant to people who grew up in the 1980s, the 1990s, or the new millennium? People who grew up in metropolises that celebrate free choice and cultural diversity?
According to data published by Ynet two years ago, 58 percent of American Jews are in mixed marriages or partnerships, as are 63 percent of Canadian Jews and 37 percent of Australian Jews. If Herzog’s plan is to go to them and say tsk tsk, well, good luck to him.
If this is what the person the left proposed as an alternative to the right-wing government in the last election sounds like, it’s no wonder the left is shrinking. How benighted the enlightened camp is if this is how its leader talks. How blind can the public which considers itself secular and liberal be, when it is willing to embark on a “campaign” in the name of a religious, conservative, isolationist, arrogant and racist worldview?
And the lesson still hasn’t been learned. After it finally got rid of Herzog, Labor elected a new leader – Avi “The Left Has Forgotten What It Means To Be Jewish” Gabbay. It’s no wonder that he, too, is crashing in the polls.
This isn’t how you build an opposition. It’s also not how you build a governing coalition.
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