During the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord negotiations, a hot-headed congregant slapped the rabbi of a modern Orthodox suburban New Jersey synagogue. The congregant’s action was then justified by a fanatical local newspaper opposed to the rabbi’s views: “The rabbi deserved it,” the newspaper wrote, referring to the rabbi’s support of the Israeli government.
All the rabbi had said was: “The Israeli government knows better than us what is best for Israel.”
I’m reminded of this incident by the current stream of virulent statements against the newly elected Israeli government, claiming that it is undemocratic and must be brought down. One rabbi on the Upper West Side went as far as stating that he would no longer recite the weekly prayer for the well-being of the state of Israel.
I see this as an example of “liberal militancy,” a phrase I coined years ago when friends on the left side of the political spectrum refused to talk to me after I dared question their blind support of President Obama, whom I had voted for as well.
Growing up in Israel during the 1960s and ’70s, I witnessed much political upheaval and arguments between the right and left. I recall when Menachem Begin was elected prime minister in 1977, and Labor supporters (mostly centrist left) thought it was the end of Israel as they knew it. Yet their language was restrained, relative to the vicious and toxic tone that would creep into the political discourse in later years. Ironically, it was Begin who brought about the peace accord with Egypt, after which the country aligned itself behind his leadership. Tragically, our subsequent internal fighting led to incitement and division in the country, causing Rabin’s unimaginable assassination.
Division in Israeli society once again has reached a dangerous level, and I wonder how the same left-leaning lovers of Israel can justify their inflammatory speech today without worrying about a recurrence of past events. Jewish history is loaded with examples of hate among rivaling groups that led to disastrous outcomes. Still, we have not learned our lesson.
In times like these, a closer look at Menachem Begin’s leadership style can help us learn how to maintain unity, even in harsh times. In the 1940s, as head of the Irgun military organization, Begin refused to retaliate against the Haganah for the betrayal of its fighters. In 1948, he demonstrated enormous self-control again, after the sinking of the Irgun ship, the Altalena, by Rabin’s authorization. The restraint he showed was inspired by his unwavering commitment to a unified future Israel; a future that, sadly, is being betrayed by today’s politicians and their supporters.
I do not support some of the politicians in this government, but I find it hubristic to believe that our views are the only correct ones, or to feel justified in vilifying a democratically elected government. Ironically, it was fair play for the left to support the recent coalition that relied on Arab parties, some of which were opposed to the State of Israel, yet they went on to rally against the current government’s reliance on a right-wing Jewish party for its coalition. This seems to be the utmost hypocrisy. Add to this, anti-Israel extremists are riding on the coattails of the current unrest. At least two signs at the protest in Israel last week included Nazi references. One portrayed Justice Minister Levin with a symbol of the Nazi SS, and another compared the government to the Third Reich. With Gantz threatening civil war and urging mass protests to “make the country tremble,” we’re joining a new climate of global insurrection.
When Trump lost the recent election, many people rightfully were enraged by election deniers. Similarly, claims that this government is not a democratic one — although it won a decisive majority — are disingenuous to say the least. Voters knew the candidates’ records and still they voted them in.
Finally, let’s reflect on the backdrop to these election results. Not only are we in a state of war, but we’re also in the midst of an escalation of terror acts following years of appeasement and false hope that the Palestinians would finally find their way to coexistence. The “moderate” Palestinian Authority is fueling what its hopes would be a new intifada, and the left still seeks more concessions. The arguments against the grim reality of life within walls and roadblocks ignores the fact that this is the result of years of terror inflicted on innocent Israelis.
I believe that Netanyahu should have opened the door to a new generation of leadership in the Likud, and I disagree with the politics of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, but I believe in the integrity of Israel’s political system, and I don’t see myself as superior to Israeli voters.
If we look closely at history, we’d see that governmental policies and elections often swing back and forth, reaction and counter-reaction, acting in response to previous ruling governments. A left-leaning regime leads to the election of a right-wing one, with policies switching direction to extreme left and right as neither obtains the desired results. Nixon’s term led to Carter, Reagan and Bush brought us to Clinton, Bush led to Obama, Obama to Trump, and back to Biden. It’s a never-ending pendulum of unmet expectations. The media amplify the loudest complaints from the street, and leaders play up to the loud minority that highjacks the political process. It’s naïve, at best, to assume that either trend would generate the results we want, and still we give in to radical voices.
Let’s stop this madness and allow the duly elected government to follow its mandate. We should use our voices to argue our cases within our given channels of communications in the right forums, whether it is against changes to new court protocols or to policies we object to, but let’s stop the incitement.
Finally, I think that diaspora Jews in general, and our rabbis and leaders in particular, would do well to lead their flocks toward patience, tolerance, and constructive advocacy. Virulent expressions don’t solve problems — they just create bigger ones.
Soli Foger, who is an architect, grew up in Israel. He and his wife, the educator Dr. Tani Foger, lived in Englewood for 30 years.