According to THE FORWARD, “We have survived into modern times because we haven’t relied on one leader—a king or prelate or pope—and instead embraced the fact that we are diverse in more ways than we can count…We’ve learned to find vitality and sustenance in a dynamic pluralism that resists centralization…Not all our lives are consumed with terror and hate. Not all our lives revolve around Israel. Editors at THE FORWARD have been penning editorials for more than a century, but we wouldn’t presume to speak for all Jews. Neither should anyone else.”
In Israel, there is a similar effort to claim to represent those beyond its borders. In November, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People” passed by a vote of 14-6. For the bill to become law it must be approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
This legislation would make Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, 20 per cent of the population, less than equal. Beyond this, the claim that Israel is the “nation-state” of “the Jewish people” is on its face fanciful and bears little relationship to reality.
Sadly, the Israeli government seems not to recognize that Jewish Americans are not “Israelis in exile.” Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” (immigration) to Israel.
While Israel claims to speak for all Jews, the fact is that it is a theocracy, with Orthodox Judaism, in effect, as the state religion. The majority of American Jews are not Orthodox. Reform and Conservative rabbis have no right in Israel to perform weddings, funerals or conversions.
Israel, when it comes to genuine religious freedom, is more similar to Saudi Arabia and Iran than to Denmark or France. In what sense, then, can it claim to represent all Jews, when most Jews would be denied genuine religious freedom within its borders?
Zionism and Judaism are radically different. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was “a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism…No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit…it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as the Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than the earth.'”
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister, agreed that Israel can speak only on behalf of its own citizens “and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of other countries.” That was 1950. Now, in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu somehow thinks he is in a position to speak in the name of all Jews, whatever their nationality, citizenship or point of view. He needs to abandon his grandiose and delusionary view of his role. Whether or not he even speaks for the majority of his own citizens is less than clear. In the last Israeli election, his party received less than 30 per cent of the vote.
One thing which we can be confident in saying is that Netanyahu certainly does not speak for all American Jews.