The Israeli Right’s Assault on the Jewish Future

Unconsciously and unintentionally, the right has become a serious threat to the future of Diaspora Jewry.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Israeli settlers stand on the roof of a synagogue in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem on November 4, 2015.
Israeli settlers stand on the roof of a synagogue in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem on November 4, 2015.Credit: AFP
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

DURHAM, North Carolina — The common assumption is that the Israeli left represents the democratic foundation of our lives, while the Israeli right represents the Jewish foundation. That’s inaccurate. Often the left is not a democratic left; it has a hard time respecting the sovereign decision of the majority and tries to aggressively impose its will on the majority. At the same time, the right isn’t always a Jewish right. Its absolute devotion to the Land of Israel leads it to alienate large parts of the people of Israel and to endanger the State of Israel.

But in recent years the relationship between the Israeli right and the Jewish people has reached a state of crisis. Unconsciously and unintentionally, the right has become a serious threat to the future of Diaspora Jewry.

Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Habayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali Bennett announce a coalition deal on Wednesday. Credit: AFP

The first attack by the right on the Jewish people is through the settlers. Of every 10 Jews in North America, at least seven are liberal Democrats. Of every 10 young Jews, at least eight support U.S. President Barack Obama. For them, the West Bank settlements are tantamount to idolatry. Therefore, when right-wing Israeli governments mortgage the Zionist enterprise to the settlement enterprise, they are betraying the core values of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people. When they identify Israel with the settlements, they put most young Diaspora Jews in an impossible position. Settlement in the West Bank is not only anti-democratic but also anti-Jewish, and it jeopardizes the Jewish future.

The second attack on the Jewish people by the right is through ultra-Orthodox Jews. Most Diaspora Jews are either secular or affiliated with the Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist movement. They have a deep, almost existential need for Israel. But the Israel they need is the Israel of Herzl — modern, liberal and free. When right-wing governments capitulate to the Haredi parties and give Israel a benighted religious character, they don’t allow Israel to fulfill its primary Zionist mission — to be a light unto the nations and light unto the Diaspora. When they force Israel to reject the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Judaism, they are spitting in the faces of millions of Jews who are bravely struggling for their identity, their culture and their people. “Haredization” is not only anti-democratic but also anti-Jewish, and it jeopardizes the Jewish future.

In recent weeks I have once again been on the real front lines of the Jewish people — American college campuses. Everywhere I see what only the blind cannot see. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is not the only problem, and the new anti-Semitism is not the only threat. The real challenge facing the Jewish state and the Jewish people is the fact that many young Jews are turning their backs on an Israel they perceive as radically nationalist and religiously extreme.

How can you persuade a 19-year-old woman from Berkeley who seeks to change the world that Israel is her second home, when Israel sends a message of the exclusion of women? How can you convince a 20-year-old from Duke University that Israel isn’t Goliath when he sees Jewish zealots on TV every day? I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can. Sometimes I even succeed. But every day, wherever I go, I see the abyss whose edge we are standing on.

This combined assault by the Israeli right on the Jewish people has clear ramifications. While the ostensibly nationalist actions of the ultra-nationalists endanger the nation, the ostensibly Jewish actions of the ultra-Jews endanger Judaism.

When the right entrusts the state to two extremist minorities, whose worldview contradict the worldview of the majority of Jews in Israel and abroad, it undermines Zionism. The Israeli right rejects the alternative of a liberal, peace-seeking Jewish nationalism. It is now the right that is laying siege to the Jewish future.

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