On issue of holy sites, Israel must look in mirror
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