I am trying very hard this morning not to overreact in disappointment after the elections in Israel. I say that for a number of reasons.
First, we must remember that the election results reflected the will of the people of the State of Israel and the will of the people should be respected.
Secondly, there is still the issue of the formation of the government which could, conceivably, end up looking much different than the election results indicate (although from what I have read that seems unlikely).
Thirdly, politicians say and do things to be elected and then often change their minds so it is always possible that what was said over the past few days might not necessarily be true predictors of the future.
But, with all of those disclaimers I still am so sad and, to say the least, concerned for the state of Israel and more immediately for the relationship of American Jews and the US government with Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement a few days ago that there would never be a Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister was a shocking turn of events. While he has always seemed ambivalent at best about the two state solution, he at least presented it as something he could support and would work towards. Now we know that it will no longer be a possibility and a plurality of Israeli voters are willing to actively support his position or at least live with it while they accept his perspective on Iran and other issues.
The two state solution is not an ideal solution in many ways and a Palestinian state on Israel’s border is cause for serious concern. And, yes, it is true that Palestinian leadership has itself rejected proposals Israel made in the past. But, there is no better solution that has been offered for the future and it is absolutely inconceivable to me and it should be unacceptable to all of us that the occupation and the denial of rights to Palestinians in the West Bank should continue. To close off the possibility of such a negotiated settlement puts Israel at odds with the US Government and many Jewish organizations which actively support the two state solution. This is a tragic turn of events for all concerned.
And, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement during the election yesterday warning about the “Arab voters coming out in droves” and urging people to vote for Likud might have been a wise political move but it was clearly an attempt to play on an “us vs. them” racist mentality which flies in the face of Israel’s commitment to equality for all of its citizens. I believe that it was a shameful statement to make.
As I think about the results of the election, one point comes to my mind most clearly and it is a point which I made in a sermon this past Rosh Hashana and have spoken about and written about on many occasions. If Israel is truly to be considered a “Jewish state”, then the “Jewish” aspect has to go beyond merely a statement of identity and a commitment to the survival of the Jewish people. It has to reflect values and principles of which we as a people can be proud, rooted in the values of justice and an unwavering search for peace that are the foundations of our sacred tradition. While I understand that the Israeli voter may have voted for Netanyahu because he or she feels he would make their nation safer for their children, many of us who do not live in Israel and who see our Jewishness in the light of values and ideals which can help us function with the rest of the world rather than standing alone against it are at a loss when considering the election results. The man who claims to be the “spokesman for the Jewish people” has just finished a campaign with an endorsement of the status quo of the occupation and a statement which can easily be read to be a blatant rejection of the equality of non-Jewish citizens of the State. From the perspective of who we are as a people, that should be unsettling to all of us.
I love Israel, in principle and in practice. But, I reject a Jewish self-definition which only sees us as victims or potential victims and therefore justifies any action or statement we make. What will insure our future is legitimate, appropriate concern for our survival with an equal commitment to the values and ethical principles of our faith and tradition. I see this election as widening the gulf between what many American Jews, myself included, believe and the principles which are guiding the state at this time. That is terribly troubling.
I’m not giving up. I have confidence in those in Israel with a clearer and more sacred vision for the future. But, after this election, I am less convinced than ever that they will win.