Time to end Ne­tanyahu’s po­lit­i­cal cow­ardice: En­act the Ko­tel com­pro­mise

Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By GIL TROY (Reuters)

One hun­dred forty-three days ago, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu be­trayed his own prin­ci­ples – and the Jewish peo­ple – by freez­ing the Ko­tel Com­pro­mise en­sur­ing egal­i­tar­ian prayer at the Western Wall that Jewish Agency chair­man Natan Sha­ran­sky had ne­go­ti­ated – at Ne­tanyahu’s own di­rec­tion.

Vi­o­lat­ing his own beau­ti­fully ar­tic­u­lated goal – One Wall for One Peo­ple – Ne­tanyahu has helped make the Western Wall a sym­bol of Jewish dis­unity and Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal dys­func­tion­al­ity, leav­ing many Di­as­pora Jews feel­ing slighted by the same Jewish state that de­mands their sol­i­dar­ity. He must fix this mess, now.

Last week, I di­ag­nosed this new BDS af­flict­ing lib­eral Jews: Bibi Derange­ment Syn­drome. I noted how many Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive Rab­bis ex­pe­ri­ence KDS, Ko­tel Derange­ment Syn­drome, with too many con­ver­sa­tions about Is­rael bash­ing Ne­tanyahu’s be­trayal on this and other is­sues. But that fury’s in­ten­sity, and oc­ca­sional ir­ra­tional­ity, doesn’t ex­cuse Ne­tanyahu’s PC – Po­lit­i­cal Cow­ardice. Nor does it al­le­vi­ate the an­guish many Amer­i­can Jews feel, as they con­clude that the gov­ern­ment’s Ko­tel cow­ardice val­i­dates ul­tra-Ortho­dox con­tempt for lib­eral Ju­daism, telling them: “you’re not kosher Jews.”

Ul­ti­mately, the Western Wall is just a sym­bol. More dis­turb­ing, Ne­tanyahu has coali­tion al­lies who de­scribe Re­form Jews so bru­tally we would call it an­ti­semitic in other con­texts. His gov­ern­ment funds an anti-Zion­ist, big­oted, anachro­nis­tic re­li­gious in­fra­struc­ture that dis­re­spects lead­ing Ortho­dox rab­bis in North Amer­ica as well as their Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive col­leagues. And more fun­da­men­tally, even many re­li­gious Jews we know are re­fus­ing to get mar­ried through the me­dieval, cor­rupt rab­binate – pre­fer­ring civil cer­e­monies in Cy­press.

What’s the point of hav­ing a pas­sion­ately na­tion­al­ist, ar­dently Zion­ist gov­ern­ment and prime min­is­ter if they vi­o­late the very ba­sis of na­tional unity and the ba­sics of Zion­ism, which in­clude cher­ish­ing all mem­bers of the Jewish peo­ple and wel­com­ing us all to con­nect to the Jewish state?

The Greeks teach that “the fish stinks from the head down.” The rot sure is con­ta­gious th­ese days. Look­ing right – po­lit­i­cally – I’m dis­gusted by this fail­ure to lead, this fear of los­ing power which blocks the in­tel­li­gent use of power. Look­ing right re­li­giously, I’m ap­palled that rab­bis who sup­pos­edly pray “Shalom Rav al Yis­rael Am­cha” daily – for peace on Your peo­ple Is­rael – seem to be skip­ping this prayer. “Peace” in­volves re­spect­ing fel­low Jews, not just rec­on­cil­ing with en­e­mies.

Alas, an Ara­bic ex­pres­sion kicks in – “sakin be­sakin”– knife sharp­ens knife. Look­ing left, I see a jus­ti­fi­able anger cas­cad­ing into a blind­ing fury. Their ver­sion of “plu­ral­ism” doesn’t in­clude re­spect­ing ul­tra-Ortho­dox pre­rog­a­tives and the Jewish tra­di­tion of sep­a­rat­ing men and women dur­ing prayer. Com­par­ing pray­ing sep­a­rately to be­ing “in the back of the bus” is of­fen­sive: it con­fuses a mi­nor the­o­log­i­cal dis­pute among free peo­ples with the sys­tem­atic op­pres­sion African-Amer­i­cans suf­fered in the Jim Crow South. Can you imag­ine the out­rage if US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump used that anal­ogy?

It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause the so­lu­tion is sit­ting there, shelved. I echo my cry from the start of Ne­tanyahu’s re-elec­tion: lead, Ne­tanyahu, lead. Stride into the next Cabi­net ses­sion, tell the min­is­ters serv­ing this marvelous state that it’s time to lead the Jewish peo­ple into the twenty-first cen­tury. Mus­cle through the Ko­tel Com­pro­mise. Chal­lenge Shas and the ul­tra-Ortho­dox fac­tions. Tell them if they walk, the next two pieces of leg­is­la­tion you will push through will be the univer­sal draft law you also aban­doned and a thor­ough re­form of to­day’s anti-Zion­ist, ul­tra-Ortho­dox re­li­gious sys­tem.

Then, give a tele­vised speech ask­ing the Is­raeli peo­ple if they are ready for ma­jor­ity rule: quote the polls show­ing that two-thirds of Is­raelis sup­port the Ko­tel Com­pro­mise es­tab­lish­ing the egal­i­tar­ian prayer space near Robin­son’s Arch – which ex­ists– as well as more re­spect for Jewish plu­ral­ism.

Of course, do your home­work be­fore go­ing pub­lic. Woo the op­po­si­tion lead­ers. See if you can all, fi­nally, give the ul­tra-Ortho­dox par­ties the lim­ited power they de­serve – pro­por­tion­ate to their sliver of the pop­u­la­tion pie, not re­flec­tive of their clever play­ing of power pol­i­tics.

In your speech, go far be­yond pol­i­tics. Tell a Zion­ist tale of unity and peo­ple­hood. Re­mind your fel­low Is­raelis – and Jews world­wide – how the Western Wall united us in de­spair for nearly 2,000 years. Re­mind us how the Western Wall united us in hope 50 years ago, when its lib­er­a­tion stirred this tremen­dous eu­pho­ria through­out the Jewish world, be­cause Jerusalem of Gold was lib­er­ated and th­ese stones some­how had eyes to wit­ness our painful his­tory, hearts to mourn our an­guished ex­ile, and now souls to cel­e­brate our Zion­ist re­demp­tion.

Fi­nally, reach­ing out to the re­li­gious com­mu­nity, quote from pray­ers like “Shalom Rav” and “Sim Shalom” con­se­crat­ing peace and unity. End by re­call­ing that in 1913 Rabbi Abra­ham Isaac Kook vis­ited set­tle­ments pop­u­lated by sup­pos­edly “sec­u­lar” cha­lutzim, pi­o­neers, whom he re­spected for help­ing to ful­fill the “bi­b­li­cal prophecy” of na­tional re­demp­tion. Af­ter an evening of singing and danc­ing, Kook saw a Jewish watch­man wear­ing a Be­duin robe. “Let’s ex­change,” the tall, dis­tin­guished rabbi said. “I’ll take your ‘rab­bini­cal cloak,’ and you’ll take mine.”

“Oh, how our spir­its soared!” one wit­ness re­counted, re­call­ing Rabbi Kook’s won­der­ful, wel­com­ing con­clu­sion: “I wore your clothes, and you wore mine. So it should also be on the in­side – to­gether in our hearts!”

I’m not naive. The day Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu starts ful­fill­ing this Zion­ist and Jewish no­tion of unity and lead­ing us to get “to­gether in our hearts,” his im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal fu­ture may be threat­ened. But if he does it right, it will guar­an­tee his place in his­tory.

The writer is the author of The Age of Clin­ton: Amer­ica in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zion­ist Ideas, which up­dates Arthur Hertzberg’s clas­sic work, will be pub­lished by The Jewish Pub­li­ca­tion So­ci­ety in Spring 2018. He is a Dis­tin­guished Scholar of North Amer­i­can His­tory at McGill Univer­sity. Fol­low on Twit­ter @GilTroy.

TWO WOMEN touch part of the wall sur­round­ing Jerusalem’s Old City.

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