There are two bills in the Knesset that, to my mind, may begin to expose the cracks in the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The first is the bill about conversation, about which there’s been ample coverage of late.
The official statement put out by the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements reads:
The bill threatens to alter the Law of Return and consolidate conversion power into the hands of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Both of these results could have devastating effects on the relationship between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry and thus on the broader unity of the Jewish people. Such concentration of power in favor of Ultra-Orthodox Jewry effectively negates the roles of the non-Orthodox movements both within Israel and abroad, sending the message that only the Orthodox have a place within our Homeland.
As I wrote yesterday, liberal Jews already have less religious freedom than the Orthodox in Israel (why the Reform movement doesn’t make the work of Anat Hoffman a central pillar of its Israel education baffles me and is a subject for another post). Here we have a bill that, if passed, would make it clear to the world what Rabbanut-and-therefore-government of Israel thinks of liberal Jewry, in Israel or abroad. I think in many cases, liberal Jews, out of either ignorance or ideology, support policies in Israel which go against their beliefs about human rights and democracy (not to mention against the way that they practice their Judaism), and I almost cynically hope that this bill will increase the cognitive dissonance amongst the general public.
Much less has been written about the equally worrying bill to outlaw human rights groups which criticize the Israeli government. Noam at Promised Land comments:
From all the anti-democratic measures I’ve been writing about here, this is by far the most extreme. Even if a mild version of this law passes, defending human rights in Israel – a difficult task as is – will become practically impossible. Merely proposing this bill will harm grassroots efforts and freedom of speech, as both the media and the public are becoming more and more hostile to people and groups who are portrayed as unpatriotic or anti-Israeli.
Much of “the case for Israel” is based on the notion that this is a democracy – the only one in a hostile environment. But Israel is changing. This is not something that you notice on a one week vacation in Jerusalem or from on the Tel Aviv beach, but if you pay close attention to the news, you can easily notice it.
People are harassed and delegitimized for the things they say and because of their views. Foreign activists are arrested and deported. The Shin Beit, Israel’s security agency, stated recently before the court that it sees its job as to supervise and follow the actions of Israeli left-wing organizations even when they are not suspected in breaking the law. This statement was approved by the former Government’s attorney, Meni Mazoz, who also heads the prosecution in Israel.
Read his whole post here.
Noam also cites a recent poll published in Haaretz that most of the Israeli population does not think that Israeli human rights organizations should be allowed to operate freely. Gideon Levy shared his thoughts on the subject a few days ago in Haaretz.
I don’t know what it will take for the American Jewish masses to see the truth of what is going on here. Maybe these laws will be a step in that direction.