My very first demonstration–against police detaining rabbis

No to police detaining rabbis, yes to Jewish pluralism in Israel!

This was my first-ever demonstration as a participant (I was a journalist and didn’t ever demonstrate…now I’m retired, so the restrictions are off.)

Several hundred people came to Haifa from all over the country to protest the brief police detention of HaifademodubiRabbi Dov Hiyun to be questioned for the “crime” of marrying a couple the Chief Rabbinate would not marry. Never mind that the Rabbinate eventually lifted its objections–in my country, I never want to see a rabbi arrested again, whether he or she is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.

HaifademoThere is room for all of us here, and if people have problems with some forms of Judaism and the validity of their ceremonies, let them deal with their problems within their own communities and leave the rest of us to pray as we are drawn to prayer. If it makes any difference, I’m an Orthodox Jew, so I’m part of the “ruling class” when it comes to Judaism in Israel–but I’m concerned with justice, peace, and lessons of the past.

Is this the issue to choose for my first demonstration? Absolutely. This goes to the heart of how Israel sees itself, how it welcomes or rejects many Jews. We’ve been here before. In Haifa we were praying on Tisha B’Av, mourning the day the biblical Temples were destroyed, partly for “Sinat Hinam,” baseless hatred. Do we really need to go though that again?

Who needs a Jewish State law?

That was the heading of an article I wrote about the Jewish State law in 2014. Here it is–nothing has changed. And now that the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has passed the law–still nothing has changed. In this interview with BBC Scotland, I explain how the law just describes a situation that already exists. So why was it passed in the first place?

Politics.

Just look how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gushed in response. “We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens. This is our state — the Jewish state. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”

Nonsense. There is no credible threat to Israel as the Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people. Sure, a few noisy extremists would like to see it otherwise, but that doesn’t make it an actual threat.

This is simply the way Netanyahu stays in power–scaring the people with an overblown threat and then solving the crisis to the cheers of his adoring voter base. He dd it most notably with the Iran nuclear accord, and he’s still playing that card.

And what about the opposition? Arab members of the Israeli parliament called the law “racist,” a “crime against humanity,” and “the end of Israeli democracy,”

Nonsense. It changes exactly nothing. Relatively sensible heads took out clauses that could have been stretched to mean something along those lines, but the watered-down, two-page law just takes a picture of the current situation. No more. No less. Arabs and other minorities still have the vote, their language, their rights, their benefits, and most of the obligations (not all) that Jewish citizens have. Is there discrimination? Are Israeli Arabs less well off than Israeli Jews? Yes, of course. The new law does nothing to make that worse, or to make that better.

Does anyone seriously dispute that Israel is a Jewish nation with protected minorities? That Jerusalem is the capital? Of course the law says that means all of Jerusalem, including the part the Palestinians claim, but that’s been Israeli law since 1967.  Again, nothing has changed. Negotiations would change that.

Jerusalem has been  Israel’s capital since the state was created in 1948, and it needs no one’s recognition–despite the implied threats of doom and gloom wafting from the prime minister’s overdone celebrations every time some small nation hints it might follow the US and move its embassy to Jerusalem.  The implication is that we must have this foreign recognition, or else, well, something bad will happen. We don’t. Maybe we did 50 years ago, but we don’t now. I’m working on getting my book on that subject published.

So do we need this law? No. Is it harmful? Not really, except for the fact that it will give your favorite Israel bashers another reason to climb onto the antisocial media train and level all kinds of outlandish, false charges about what the law might do.

But even if they do that–they do not make up a credible threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation. That has been determined and solidified by seven decades of positive action, not by two sheets of meaningless paper.