Friday March 25, 2023 – ב׳ נִיסָן תשפ”ג
אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא יֶחֱטָא וְעָשָׂה אַחַת מִכׇּל־מִצְוֺת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָיו אֲשֶׁר לֹא־תֵעָשֶׂינָה בִּשְׁגָגָה וְאָשֵׁם׃ (ויקרא ד:כב)
“In case it is a chieftain who incurs guilt by doing unwittingly any of the things which by the commandment of his God יהוה ought not to be done, and he realizes guilt:” (Leviticus 4:22)
Just like in the movie, where many parallel universes exist because every life choice creates a new alternative universe, so too in the Israeli political arena every political and diplomatic choice creates a previously unthinkable new alternative universe. One could say that the attempted judicial coup by the current coalition government is like an “everything bagel” topped with everything and appears as a singularity – a condition in which gravity is predicted to be so intense that spacetime itself would break down catastrophically – that could destroy the multiverse.
As if his protest-filled reception in Washington DC wasn’t enough, Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich made an appearance in France to honor the memory of rabidly right-wing French Zionist leader Jacques Kupfer z”l (who once threatened ARZENU Chair Rabbi Lea Muehlstein with his cane) where he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan. He employed a tired and anachronistic slogan explaining that there is “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people.” Yawn. We’ve heard it all before. However, when it is said in the context of this moment after his previous unfiltered remarks about wiping out Huwara and his additional position in the Defense Ministry, his words are dangerous and a clear sign of his paving the way for de facto annexation of the West Bank (if not de jure).
It’s been a tough week for Israel’s Foreign Ministry and diplomatic corps. In what seemed like a first step in a national attempt to ruin the relationships Israel has so painstakingly built with the Arab world, the Jordanians summoned the Israeli envoy for a stern talking to.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Miri Regev decided to publicly bemoan the fact that she “really didn’t like Dubai, and won’t be returning (though they have some nice roads there),” and Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog was summoned to the State Department for a dressing down over this week’s legislation to reverse the 2005 Disengagement Law that allows Israelis to return to four settlement areas in the northern West Bank that were evacuated 2005 and to rebuild the settlement of Homesh – which contradicts the agreement Israel has had with the United States.
In an effort to recreate the חיפזון (”haste” – see Exodus 12:11) in which the Israelites left Egypt, the ruling extremist coalition has been trying to cram through as much legislation as possible before the Knesset recess which begins with the encroaching spring holiday. Because of the time crunch, the Knesset approved an extra two days of plenaries and voting. So far the Knesset has passed several bills through their first of three readings including:
- preventing the attorney general from declaring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unfit for office (חוק הנבצרות) – an amendment to a Basic Law;
- a bill requiring a special majority of Supreme Court judges to intervene in the Knesset’s legislation;
- the override clause which would allow Knesset members to enact laws previously overruled by the court. This proposed amendment to the Basic Law on the Judiciary would also make any law passed by a slim majority (61 out of 120 lawmakers) immune to judicial review by the court;
- repeal of the 2005 Disengagement Law (as mentioned above).
In addition this week, we saw a steady yet dramatic increase in the numbers of Israelis taking to the streets in the nationwide protest movement including yesterday’s “National Day of Paralysis.” The protests combined with the international pressure coming from everywhere may chip away at the coalition’s unyielding attempt to push through its legislative agenda. A small number of Likud MKs have begun to whisper their discomfort with some of the proposals, and we are now seeing that it is unlikely that they will be able to push everything through before Pesach.
Minister Smotrich delivered a smug gaslighting speech placing the blame for this crisis squarely on the opposition, claiming that they have not been willing to negotiate and discuss the proposals. To use Yuval Noah’s Harari’s analogy, this is like asking a tiger who is attacking you to negotiate while being eaten saying, “Ok, maybe you can only eat half of my body?” Smotrich blatantly contradicted the analysis of his top Finance Ministry advisors when he absurdly claimed that these reforms would bring in more business to Israel, not less.
As we are witnessing this week, the “business as usual” in Israel is anything but. With characters like the racist head of police Itamar Ben Gvir in his influential position, the Knesset turned riotous over his refusal to extend a law that requires violent men to wear electronic trackers to prevent them from further domestic abuse – especially after two women were murdered by their husbands this week.
With all that transpired this week, our universes are colliding.
North American Jews and our Reform Movement are deeply affected and invested in the outcome of this crisis. The more PM Netanyahu prolongs a resolution and allows the situation to spin out of control, the more the special US-Israel relationship is threatened, and the more we risk losing an entire generation of people who, sadly, rather than coming out to protest, feel resigned to walking away and wanting nothing to do with Israel.
The message from this week’s parasha could not be clearer. When a leader sins – אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא יֶחֱטָא, it carries greater weight than when one of the people sins. Netanyahu’s sins – those for which he is on trial and those which have led to his fanning the flames of extremist and dangerous leaders to rise to significant power – are sending the country into the abyss. While the protests are getting stronger and beginning to wreak havoc on Israeli society, Netanyahu seems to regard this all as a distraction to the real issues of the world economy, the Iranian nuclear threat, and getting the Saudis to join the Gulf States in the Abraham Accords despite, or even because of the recent geo-political developments between China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
This moment is about saving both democracy and Zionism in the State of Israel and for the Jewish people.
That is a task for more than just Israelis.
That is for all of us and it is time for us to step up in a major way.
We need every North American Jew to
- Come out to raise your voice at a protest near you,
- Support the critical efforts of our Movement in Israel with significant funds,
- And make sure that your elected congressional representatives and local Israeli diplomats hear your concerns as people who love and care deeply about Israel and that we are deeply concerned about its future.
You are important, and each of you matters. So please do not wring your hands, we need you to roll up your sleeves.