Now you’ve really gone and done it, Prime Minister Netanyahu.
You’ve gone and totally jumped the shark.
I am referring to his decision to merge the national-religious Jewish Home party with Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” a small party led by disciples of Kahane. The merger all but guarantees the Kahanist party a seat in the Knesset.
The late Rabbi Meir Kahane advocated racist policies towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Kahanism, as expressed through his former political party Kach, is a hateful and hate-filled political and religious philosophy.
To quote the Forward: Kach was banned from Israeli elections for racism in 1988, and then banned entirely under anti-terrorism laws in 1994. Kach and another Kahanist group, Kahane Chai, are currently designated foreign terror organizations by the U.S. State Department.
Some of you might remember the late Rabbi Kahane from his earlier incarnation — as the head of the Jewish Defense League JDL. (Fun fact: Kahane was the rabbi who performed the bar mitzvah ceremony for Arlo Guthrie). I remember Kahane from fifty years ago, speaking at our suburban synagogue on Long Island. His message was clear: “Never again!” — which we all understood and accepted.
The JDL started with somewhat noble intentions — to protect the elderly and impoverished Jews who were stuck in the pre-gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens while their more prosperous relatives fled to the suburbs.
But, soon the JDL turned to higher forms of mischief and mayhem in support of Jewish causes.
In the words of Yossi Klein Halevi, they had a certain “ecstasy of rage.”
In the name of Soviet Jewry, they would violently disrupt events featuring Russian performers. In 1972, they placed a bomb in Sol Hurok’s office that would kill a Jewish secretary.
Judge Jack B. Weinstein’s decision in U.S. v. Kahane, 1971, in which the JDLers were sentenced on bomb-making charges, was apt: “In this country, at this time, it is not permissible to substitute the bomb for the book as a symbol of Jewish manhood.”
When the JDL moved, along with its leader, to Israel, like many new immigrants, it changed its name.
There the JDL became Kach International.
Kach: a cold monosyllable — from the Hebrew word meaning, “thus it is.”
There, Kahane developed his ideology that blended ultra-nationalism with fundamentalism.
There, Kahane’s followers would harass and even physically attack elderly Arabs.
Thus Kahane’s moral journey — from protecting elderly Jews in Brooklyn to victimizing elderly Arabs in Hebron.
Let me be absolutely clear: this is the most malignant strain of Zionism.
It is a stretch to even call it Zionism; Gil Troy omitted Kahanism entirely from his new book, The Zionist Ideas.
It is not a Zionist idea.
It is based not on a love of Zion, but on a hatred of Arabs.
It is alt-Zionism.
So (snark alert coming): thank you very much, PM Netanyahu.
Thank you, truly: for making life harder for Diaspora Jews.
Thank you, truly, for having so little respect for our struggles, our passionate defense of Zionism and Israel, our loud and long and recent attempts to give the most positive definitions of Zionism, the most beautiful evocations of Israel — to stand up against the haters in Congress and on campus, and beyond in Europe.
We have been doing our part, to the point of exhaustion.
And now, Bibi, for the entire world to see, you said the following: Political expediency requires that I bring the most hateful version of Judaism into this coalition.
The anti-Zionist anti-Israel left thanks you, Bibi, for the belated Christmas/Hanukkah gift. You got to prove them right.
The bigoted, xenophobic (and yes, antisemitic) right thanks you as well — for giving them anti-Jewish ammunition, and/or for allowing them to think that you think just like them.
Way to go, habibi!
Don’t get me wrong, people.
This is so not “what will the ‘goyim’ think?” No — this does not come out of any insecurity about Jewish identity.
Quite the opposite: this is about “what will the Jews think? What will our kids think? How will they possibly defend this on campus? How can we stand up for an Israeli government that could do such a thing?”
Even more: what does God think about this?
I cannot plumb the mind of the Divine, but this is what we Jews must now say — loudly and clearly.
First: Now, more than ever before, we must make a loud, feverish, pointed distinction between the Netanyahu government and Israel itself.
We must make a loud, feverish, pointed distinction between this government, and its partners, and Zionism itself.
Just as it is necessary for those who oppose the Trump administration — in the name of American ideals — we, too, must oppose the Netanyahu administration — in the name of Zionist ideals.
Second: we must double down on our support of Israel — davka, in spite of.
Again, to use the American example: some separate themselves from, and disavow, the current administration. But, they do not separate themselves from, and disavow, the United States of America itself.
Third: Kahanism is bad Zionism. There is only one antidote for bad Zionism, and that is good, redemptive, visionary Zionism.
Read about that Zionism here:
Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, by Yossi Klein Halevi
The Zionist Ideas, by Gil Troy
Catch 67, by Micah Goodman.
Fourth: I call on every single American Jewish organization to publicly condemn this abomination that has crept into Israeli realpolitik. The URJ and the ADL, among others, have already done so.
This is precisely not the time to say: “That is an internal Israeli political matter.”
No, it really isn’t.
If you want to say that Israeli security needs are an internal Israeli political matter, because we Diaspora Jews don’t live there and our lives are not endangered by the choices that we make, fine.
But, this move on the part of the Israeli government goes on our moral bill. It is on us. We will pay the price for it. We will have to live with the implications of this crime against Judaism and the Jewish spirit.
If we believe for a nanosecond that we are one people with one heart, then it is incumbent upon American Jewish organizations to scream.
I mean the following:
- The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations should take out a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times and say: No, Prime Minister Netanyahu: we will not accept this. This is not our Zionism, and what you are toying with will create something that is not our Israel.
- Every Jewish and Israel-oriented organization should promise that they will not invite any member of Otzma Yehudit to address them.
American Jews are not about to give up on Israel — and they should not.
But, I daresay that if our organizations do not rise together in a single chorus, those that do not speak out will be — what’s that word that so many people use nowadays?