About The Author
Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.
Born far after McCarthyism and the Red Scare, I was certain blacklists were relegated to my history textbooks. For decades, countries around the world marked people, and Jews especially, that they deemed to be threats to national security. Labor activists, socialists, liberal agitators, and even apolitical Jews under anti-Semitic regimes were singled out. But that is all in the past, right?
As Israel’s Chief Rabbinate proved this week, the impulse to blacklist Jews is nauseatingly present today. With our own state, we no longer need non-Jewish governments to employ this practice –we will do it to ourselves.
A list was published of 160 rabbis who are not trusted to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants to Israel. This decision impacts questions of entry and citizenship most immediately, as well as those of personal status, conversion and marriage down the line. On a larger scale, it touches on the fundamental question of who is a Jew, and who holds authority with regard to this question.
Not content to simply uphold the blacklist, Interior Minister Arye Dery also mimicked archaic rhetoric about his coreligionists posing a threat to national security. The Interior Minister attacked those he considers untrustworthy, aiming specific malice at leaders of the Reform Movement. Dery claimed URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs would have representatives in Israel “convert anything they come across,” thereby allowing “infiltrators” into the country.
This list and its defenders slander rabbis and movements across the Jewish spectrum, and tell their followers that they are unwanted and even dangerous.
Having learned with one leader on the list, Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence, Rhode Island, I know these attacks to be not just offensive, but also totally unfounded. Rarely have I met a more insightful scholar, rigorous thinker, or committed observer of Jewish law. Rabbi Dolinger is a staple of the Providence Jewish community who reaches across denominations to form relationships that strengthen the city as a whole.
But perhaps that is exactly the problem Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has with Rabbi Dolinger and others like him. Many of those named in this list balance adherence to halacha with love and respect for the Jewish people in its entirety. As seen in the ongoing battles about conversion laws and egalitarian access to the Western Wall, the Haredi political parties refuse to acknowledge or engage in this balancing act.
The (often racist) panic over demographics and the (often callous) debate over borders and territories center for many around one question: will Israel remain a Jewish state? I would argue that the collapse of Israel’s status as such will come about very quickly if only ultra-Orthodox Jews who toe the party line are considered legitimate and deserving of recognition.
That is why we need to Take Back the Z—redefine Zionism and connection to Israel as the purview of progressive Jews and not just the ultra-Orthodox. At moments like this when it is easy to throw in the towel and move on to another cause, we need to dig in deeper. Egalitarian Jews, progressive Jews, and social-justice-oriented Jews have shied away from this terminology and let Zionism become a dirty word in many of our circles. If this ideology was inspiring enough to establish a state, why cede its power to those who would rob us of recognition within that state?
Early Zionist thinkers dreamed of building a nation like all other nations, but copying the practice of blacklisting and condemning Jews is certainly not what they had in mind. The definition of internalized anti-Semitism is when Jews come to use against themselves the methods of anti-Semites. Modern-day Haredi political forces blacklisting their fellow Jews? I never thought I would see the day.