Rabbi Lawrence A. Englander

Chair, ARZENU, International Reform Zionist Organization

I was driving with my Israeli friend through a Jerusalem neighborhood. As we passed by houses and gardens, mothers pushing strollers and kids cruising on skateboards, he said to me: “This is such a beautiful country, with such beautiful people, beautiful landscapes — and such a horrible government!” The recent actions of the Netanyahu government to support a Conversion Bill that would disqualify any Jew by Choice converted in Israel by anything other than an “authorized” Bet Din, coupled with their “freezing” the agreement to build an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, simply reinforce my friend’s sad remark.

On the one hand, we shouldn’t be surprised. We know by now that Bibi’s main ambition is to remain in power. Rather than pursuing any ethical ideal or communal vision, he has repeatedly sought to appease the right-wing parties in order to shore up his self-serving coalition.

On the other hand, it seems that, this time, Netanyahu has gone too far. Even the centrist newspaper Yediot Acharonot labels these decisions a “tactical error” that will cause a greater rift within the Jewish People. The Jewish Agency Board of Governors, whose meetings I’m attending this week, was scheduled to have a dinner at the Knesset with Prime Minister Netanyahu as guest speaker. When the news broke about his two recent decisions, we cancelled the dinner. We met the next day with Members of Knesset, both from Likud and opposition parties. I got the impression that several were sincere in their opposition to these measures, while others tailored their remarks to what they thought we wanted to hear.

When such about-faces have occurred before, we have often felt helpless. However, many of us believe that, this time, we have reached a turning-point. In the days and weeks ahead, we shall have important work to do. Our Israel Reform team is organizing a campaign to galvanize the Israeli public. The slogan will be something like “The Netanyahu government is dividing the Jewish People.”

We can and should convey the same message in our Diaspora communities. These issues go far beyond our Movement and our striving for religious pluralism. We now must raise our voices to help preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We have allies in this struggle throughout the world: from federations, other liberal Zionist organizations and many Rabbis and Jewish leaders across the religious spectrum.

In the days ahead, you will receive the call to assemble at Israeli consulates, to flood the email boxes of Israeli MK’s with letters of protest and other civil actions that are still under discussion. The Israeli flag will be, for us, the banner to preserve the unity of the Jewish People and will show our love for the miracle that is Israel.