OPINION: A turning point in Israel’s relationship with the diaspora

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OPINION: A turning point in Israel’s relationship with the diaspora

There are times when one has to speak out about Israel. The rise of the far right is one of those times, writes Rabbi Charley Baginsky, chief executive of Liberal Judaism.

Israeli right-wing Knesset member Itamar ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich in the Knesset.
Israeli right-wing Knesset member Itamar ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich in the Knesset.

There are many reasons why many Jews in the UK choose not to talk about Israel, they will not be revelatory to most of you reading this.

For me, as the chief executive of a religious movement, I struggle to make statements about Israel for another reason. Liberal Judaism, despite what others may project onto us, contains a diverse spectrum of views and saying anything about Israel that is not going to alienate someone is a near impossible task.

However, there are times when one has to speak out regardless – and the rise of the far right in Israel is certainly one of these moments.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, CEO, Liberal Judaism

The racist, misogynist and homophobic views expressed by the Religious Zionism Party have no place in an Israel founded on the prophetic ideals of liberty and justice.

I am pleased everyone from the Board of Deputies to the World Union for Progressive Judaism to the editor and columnists of this newspaper have spoken out against them.

We know from history that the far right don’t just stop at one target.

And so it is that – as we defend the rights and liberty of Palestinians, Arabs, LGBTQI+ people and other minorities in Israel – we find Progressive Judaism itself under attack.

This next Benjamin Netanyahu Government represents a clear and present danger to Liberal, Reform and Progressive Judaism

The appointment of Avi Maoz as the so-called ‘Minister of Jewish Identity’, is a turning point in Diaspora-Israel relations.

His threats to the Law of Return, and the ending of the ‘grandchild clause’, as well as the delegitimising of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism for the purpose of Israeli citizenship, should be enough for us to think that, if enacted, there would be an unparalleled chasm between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world.

This next Benjamin Netanyahu Government represents a clear and present danger to Liberal, Reform and Progressive Judaism – as well as to the values, such as equality and tolerance, that all liberally minded-people hold dear.

Our global Progressive communities are full of committed Jews who have both Judaism and Israel close to their hearts. I think of those who have converted, those with Jewish fathers but not mothers, those fleeing persecution in Russia and war in Ukraine and many others.

Now Israel appears to be telling them that they are not welcome and, worse, are not Jewish enough.

If Maoz gets his way then the dream of Israel as the home for ALL Jews will be over.

I spend a lot time thinking about how to ensure the next generation feels connected to Israel in a deep and influential way.

My own connection led me to make aliyah and when returning to the UK influenced a deep and profound part of my rabbinate.

Of course, each cohort has to reframe and make relevant their own relationship with Israel and the paradigm of Israel-Diaspora relationships. However, the recent Israeli elections and even more so the current governmental appointments are ensuring a severing of the relationship that I fear will be irreparable.

A line has been crossed.

It is, however, too easy to believe that this is only a Progressive Jewish issue but readers it is not! Israel has made a clear statement that the Diaspora does not count, that it does not matter.

History tells us that once Progressive conversions cease to be recognised, when every minority is pushed aside and demarcated as not quite Jewish enough, it will be you and your children and your communities next.

In August at the 125th Anniversary of the World Zionist congress the current Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai called for a rethinking of Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Jewish world, calling for a closer and more mutual relationship.

Within months of his words, this closer and more mutual relationship being replaced with a wall is gut wrenchingly painful.

But we cannot remain paralysed in the pain; there are moments in our UK Jewish history when we have come together across our denominational divides.

I saw it during Covid, when we sat around the same table and advocated for each other and with each other and now we are being called again, to say we must strengthen the Diaspora.

If Israel insists we do not matter then let us show that we do. If not now, when?

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