On is­sue of holy sites, Is­rael must look in mir­ror

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY YE­HUDA BAUER

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL IS­SUES, from the Korean cri­sis and the White House mix-ups to the Tem­ple Mount dis­tur­bances un­der­stand­ably oc­cupy Jewish minds more than in­ter­nal Jewish prob­lems.

How­ever, th­ese in­ter­nal is­sues have their ex­ter­nal im­pact on the in­ter­na­tional scene re­gard­ing both Is­rael and the Jewish world at large.

One such ma­jor is­sue is the de­ci­sion by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment not to im­ple­ment its prom­ise to re­li­gious non-Or­tho­dox Jews to al­low free wor­ship on the rel­a­tively re­cently ex­ca­vated ex­ten­sion of the Western Wall, be­yond the area con­trolled by the Or­tho­dox and the Charedim.

The Western Wall is con­sid­ered by most re­li­gious Jews of all streams a holy site. It is, as is well known, the rem­nant of the outer en­clo­sure of the court­yard of the Tem­ple, es­tab­lished by King Herod, a bru­tal mur­derer, phi­lan­derer, and lackey of the Ro­mans – what­ever else he did.

Some im­por­tant Or­tho­dox the­olo­gians con­sider wor­ship at the Wall a pa­gan cus­tom, an ado­ra­tion of stones, equiv­a­lent to wor­ship of stat­ues. Chief among th­ese was Pro­fes­sor Ye­shayahu Lei­bow­icz, a great Or­tho­dox thinker and the­olo­gian (and a pro­fes­sor of chem­istry) - and he was no alone. But Re­form, Con­ser­va­tive, Lib­eral, and other Jewish re­li­gious move­ments agree with the Or­tho­dox on the Wall is­sue, and de­mand free­dom of wor­ship there.

Or­tho­dox and Charedim are some 21 per cent of Is­raeli Jews, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial statis­tics (some 40 per cent de­fine them­selves as “tra­di­tional” but not re­li­gious, and around 40 per cent as “sec­u­lar”). How­ever, be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal make-up of the elec­torate — and although their com­bined rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Knes­set makes up just over 10 per cent of the 120 Knes­set mem­bers — their in­flu­ence is de­ci­sive for the ex­is­tence of the cur­rent coali­tion gov­ern­ment. De­nial of free­dom of wor­ship of Jews, when wor­ship does not harm or af­fect oth­ers’ free­dom, would nor­mally be con­sid­ered to be a clear case of an­ti­semitism.

In ad­di­tion, non-Or­tho­dox Jews, lib­er­als and sec­u­lar, can­not marry or di­vorce at will, with­out Or­tho­dox rab­bini­cal sanc­tion – which non-Or­tho­dox Jews re­ject. In the US, some 10 per cent of the Jews are Or­tho­dox or Charedi, and sim­i­lar pro­por­tions ex­ist else­where in the di­as­pora.

Is­rael seems to be the only Western democ­racy where 90 per cent of the world’s Jews are de­nied their ba­sic rights. The charge of an­ti­semitism — by Jews — has to be taken se­ri­ously, what­ever the an­swers given. Zion­ism is an­other ma­jor is­sue. Zion­ism, as seen by its founders and thinkers, from Herzl, via Nor­dau, Weiz­mann, Jabotin­sky, Ben Gu­rion and many oth­ers, is the Jewish na­tional move­ment, whose aim is the es­tab­lish­ment, de­vel­op­ment, and growth of a Jewish po­lit­i­cal en­tity – a state – in which Jews are a solid ma­jor­ity and the non-Jewish mi­nor­ity has ab­so­lutely equal rights.

The present Is­raeli pol­icy seems to be to con­trol the whole area be­tween the Mediterranean and the Jor­dan, directly or in­di­rectly. In this sit­u­a­tion, the de­mo­graphic prob­lem be­comes ir­rel­e­vant. Whether Jews will be 40 per cent or 50 per cent or 60 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of the whole ter­ri­tory, there will, in any case, be a bi-na­tional re­al­ity, what­ever the po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment. This would then be the end of Zion­ism, as there would be no state with a solid Jewish ma­jor­ity and a non-Jewish mi­nor­ity with equal rights.

An­a­lysts who ar­gue along th­ese lines will say that the present gov­ern­ment, which sees it­self as a rad­i­cally Zion­ist one (although the Charedi, strictly-Or­tho­dox, par­ties in the gov­ern­ment are by their own def­i­ni­tion non- or anti-Zion­ist), is in fact a rad­i­cally ant-Zion­ist one.

Again, what­ever the an­swers may be, th­ese ques­tions must be asked.

Ye­huda Bauer is Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Holo­caust Stud­ies at the He­brew Uni­ver­sity, Jerusalem

Be­lieved in equal rights for mi­nori­ties: Ben Gu­rion

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