A View from the Bleachers: Achieving Jewish and democratic values

By Rabbi Steven Garten

The most recent election in Israel, the third in less than 12 months, offered a clear window into Israeli voting patterns. The voters’ preferences are ossified. The results of each election have changed very little. A small shift in votes provides an additional seat or the withdrawal of a seat. What is clear to all is that the status quo between the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government is acceptable to most Israelis. These elections have not been a contest between the parties of peace and the parties of aggression. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud might be more aggressive about actualizing U.S. President Donald Trump’s permission to annex 30 per cent of the West Bank, but Benny Gantz’s Blue and White is not a party of the left. It publicly avoids speaking of a two-state solution and suggests the annexation of the West Bank is to be determined by negotiations sponsored by international organizations.

The results of this election will bring joy to many Diaspora supporters of Israel. Those who support the status quo as a reasonable and prudent response to Hamas and Hezbollah will be ecstatic with the right-wing “victory.” Those who support a theocracy will be overjoyed that the political promise of a weakened Orthodox religious establishment did not materialize. Those who support the biblical view of a greater Israel will be gratified.

Of course there are those who might be disheartened by the results. Especially those supporters of Israel hoping for a return to a more redemptive notion of an Israel dedicated to values of the Hebrew prophets and democratic ideals of inclusivity and equality. All too often, individuals in this camp find themselves adrift. They cannot support the policies of the Israeli government and consequently they do not have a focus for their desired support of the State of Israel. At times such as these, it is useful to remember that the results of elections do not stop Israelis from actualizing their desire for a peaceful coexistence between competing peoples and competing national narratives. Israelis have a pantheon of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to which they can direct their commitment, energies and funds.

Some of these NGOs look for support from Diaspora Jews. So rather than kvetching about Israeli politics or the results of the election, those living outside Israel might be better served if they became better acquainted with the myriad of initiatives dedicated to making Israel a land of Jewish and democratic values.

This list is not exhaustive but provides insight into the hard work done to promote peace and understanding. If one of the NGOs on the list catches your interest, perhaps a more exhaustive internet search will show a path to participation and/or support.

According to the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace & Security, the Arik Foundation, established by Yitzhak Frankenthal in 1994 in memory of his son, Arik, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists, “seeks to resolve the reactions of repression and denial among both Israeli and Palestinian populations, aiming to foster reconciliation, tolerance and peace.”

HaMoked, Gisha, and Yesh Din are three human rights organizations in Israel dedicated to promoting, assuring and achieving structural improvement to the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Though each has a particular area of focus, together with B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights, they actively work to prevent human rights violations in Israel and the territories.

According to the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace & Security, Seeds of Peace “is an organization dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence.” Its programming is well known to our community as for years a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian teenagers was held here in Ottawa. A variant of this type of programming is Kids4Peace, or Open House.

Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace are just two of many grassroots initiatives dedicated to bringing the families of violence together to find hope and reconciliation out of their grief.

There is one organization that calls out to all hoping and yearning for an Israel dedicated to a Jewish State without compromising on its commitment to humanistic and democratic values. The Israel Religious Action Centre fights against religious extremism and gender separation, it fights against racism and advances a shared society between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and it promotes an adherence to law by all the arms of the civil society. IRAC is the legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.

All of these organizations give hope to those dispirited by the election results that the Israel of Zionist dreams is not written in the past tense.