More than France with Humous

Shelly and Yair,

I’m in a bind, so I’m writing to ask for your help.  As our kids were growing up, I explained my two principles about voting in Israel.  First, you simply must vote.  You can take as much Dramamine as you need, but you have to vote.  And second, no voting for small parties.  Small parties are the plague of the Israeli political system, so you pick one reasonably sized party, down the pills, and cast your ballot.

They’re gown up now, those kids, but still, they’re asking me who I’m going to vote for.  Which is where you come in – maybe you can give me a good reason to vote for you, so I’ll have something to say to those kids that won’t sound ridiculous?

Obviously, Bibi isn’t an option (which is why I’m not sending this letter to him).  Even if I wanted to ignore his apparent addiction to making it harder for many American Jews to stomach Israel, even if I wanted to ignore his sticking his thumb in Obama’s eye with E-1 right after Obama gave Israel plenty of support during Pillar of Defense (though I grant you that Bibi probably never had any intention of actually building there for now), even if I wanted to ignore the fact that while there’s obviously no deal to be made with the Palestinians, we ought to at least take the high road and keep pressing them to come to the table so a few scattered souls around the world would see that we’re not the obstructionists … and I could go on … even if I wanted to ignore all of that, the problem is Moshe Feiglin.  

You see, the Likkud is becoming a caricature of itself.  Kind of what the Republicans did to themselves this past season in the US, only here, Likkud’s going to win handily.  But the Likkud got rid of Benny Begin, a soft-spoken, decent, honest public servant.  They tossed Dan Meridor, another level-headed, honest guy.

Whom does the Likkud offer us instead?  Danny Danon, for example.  (See Commentary Magazine’s December review of his book to get a sense of what a gift Danon is.)  And Moshe Feiglin.  Moshe Feiglin who’s recently said that “we will build the temple and fulfill our purpose in this land,” who’s said that “Arabs don’t live in the desert, they create it,” who’s been banned from entering the UK, and who on the subject of homosexuality has said, “Tel Aviv has become a city that has erased masculinity and where being a man is considered a sickness.”  Seriously?

So what about Tzippi, you’re asking, and that new party of hers, “The Movement”?  Beyond the instructive fact that she picked a party name that communicates absolutely no content, she’s a non-starter because we all know she’d blow it again.  Last time around, when she both won and lost, she could have taken the high road, allowed Bibi to become PM (because there was no way she was going to build a coalition), all while insisting upon electoral reform as the condition for her joining the coalition.  Bibi, Ehud and Avigdor were all in favor.  She could have forced the issue and made Israeli history.

But even more than she believed in electoral reform, Tzippi believed in Tzippi.  And as head of the opposition, well, she gave new meaning to meaning to “ineffective.”  And now, she’s surrounding herself mostly with people who have lost major elections.  Mitzna (good guy, but lost big), Peretz (not such a good guy, and also lost big).  Nope, Tzippi’s not an option this time, either.

Which is where you come in.  You know you’re not going to win.  Some 81% of Israelis believe that Bibi’s going to waltz back into office, and they’re probably right.  The question is whether you deserve a significant place in the opposition.  And that depends, at least for me, on whether you have anything important to say.

Thankfully, neither of you is promising us peace (or the tooth fairy, for that matter).  You’re too smart for that.  You’re promising some talks with the Palestinians, which would be good for our image, and you’re promising us some social justice.  So far, so good.

But here’s the rub.  Are you saying anything about your vision for this country that you couldn’t say if you were running for office in France, or Sweden or Denmark?  Anything at all about the Jewish nature of this country?  If you did, I might just vote for you.  So I’m going to help you out a bit.  Here are some things you could talk about.

Take social justice.  Are you just more mature versions of Daphni Leef, who back in the heyday of her summer protests had not a grain of anything Jewish to say about what this country should look like?  What Jewish vision animates your social goals for Israel?  If you’ve got nothing to say about that, why should any of us vote for you?  Israel’s got to be more than France with humous.  How’s it supposed to be different from Scandinavia?  We’re listening.

Or how about education?  I don’t just mean our sliding place in multiple international rankings, which is bad enough.  But what about educating a young generation of Israelis that knows that they will not live to see peace, that both they and their children will have to go to war to defend this country, and yet who are not consumed by hate?  Can Israel educate towards that goal?  If we can’t, we’re sunk, aren’t we?  And if you think we can do that, how?  Why have neither of you said anything interesting about that?

Do you have a plan for the Haredi timebomb that both accords them to right to live their lives they way that they wish, without my having to fund their lifestyle?  They’re not going to the army, that’s pretty clear.  And it may be good.  Do we really want to give M-16’s to thousands of young men whose allegiance is to their rabbi and not to the country?  But what, instead, do you have in mind for them?  Some kind of national service?  Do you have a plan for getting it passed?

Or if that’s too touchy, how about the irony that Moslems and Christians in this country have far more religious freedom than non-Orthodox Jews?  Do you have a vision for this country with a robust Jewish conversation at its core, in which the marketplace of religious and moral ideas (and not government granted power) determines who wins the loyalties of Israelis?

So far, of course, we’ve heard virtually nothing from you on any of this.  But it’s Hanukkah, that season when we pause to reflect on the question of why the Egyptians, Persians and Greeks of old are all gone, and we’re still here.  How did that happen?  It happened because we stood for something, because we had something to stay, both to ourselves and to the world.

What about you?  Do you have anything to say that a Norwegian couldn’t say for us?

If you do, tell us, quickly.  Because soon our kids are going to ask again, “Who’re you voting for?”  And we need to have something to say other than offering them another box of our Dramamine.


About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

14 Comments on "More than France with Humous"

  • Hayyim Edinburg says

    You chose to ridicule the cleverest, honest
    candidates, whose outlook sees the future very clearly, and realises that there can never be peace as long as Arabs retain their
    Islamic illusions. If we even give a centimeter of land to them we will not survive. When will this immature Israeli
    electorate realise who we are up against??
    As far as Europe is concerned, they are more worried about their oil supplies than
    justice and peace. We just have to ignore their protests, and look after our own interests.

  • Ben Pashkoff says

    As is usual, your premise and questions are right on. My question to you is how do you perceive Naftali Bennett in this spectrum, or are you disregarding anything Right of Liked (with the exception of Feiglin) off the cuff? I too, am uncertain as to where to put a vote, but have seen several usually more liberal people looking seriously at Bennett.

  • Moishe (Thomas) Goldstein Toronto Canada says

    Thank you very much, Daniel, for returning to your particularist, identifiably Jewish, liberal essence.

    Home for the Holidays.

    Chag Chanukkah Sameach, Chodesh Tov, Shabbat Shalom.


  • Finally Danny writes what I have been saying for 3 years now. 21st century Jewish life demands a robust conversation about the Jewish character of the Jewish State. Rather than categorize the vast majority of Jews as “non”, can leadership start to speak about the religious rights of ALL JEWS, regardless of GENDER OR ADJECTIVE? I also suggest we start demanding that the PUBLIC JEWISH LAW of the Jewish state be the subject matter of substantive public conversation. I believe that Rabbi Gordis can help the Jewish people have that conversation. Perhaps in the 21st century, we Jews who are well versed in democracy can make building a healthy Jewish democracy in Israel a priority.

  • Bob Choderker says

    To thwart the Haredi time bomb, Israel’s educational and governmental institutions must foster Masorti and Reform Judaism. These movements, if invigorated, would become a counterweight to the Haredi by creating their own liberal, political constituencies.

  • Philip says

    Daniel, What’s with the vicious, and because I know you are a bright fellow, disingenuous attack on Feiglin? He has answers for all the excellent questions you ask. He is the only politician who talks about his vision for the country, and it is distinctly Jewish. Jewish pride and identity is why he talks about the Temple. He is not going to finish with the Temple as you imply. He is going to start with the Temple. His vision of social justice is of a Biblical capitalism. The details are fuzzy and sometimes silly, but he is answering the question you ask. Given time he’ll have a better answer, but he at least knows the question.
    Education is his forte. He is going to teach our children the philosophy of the Hebrew bible. I know you’re clever, but you can’t beat that.
    His comment about Arabs and the desert they create is just to say that Islam is destructive. Do you disagree?
    “…banned from entering the UK”, so are half our leaders, including Tsipi Livni. Where is the dishonor in that? He agrees with you about the Hareidim. He doesn’t want to force them into the army, but he wants them to earn a living. As for his comment about the feminization of men in Tel Aviv, the topic is being debated all over the western world. Where do you think the term metrosexual came from? You want a robust debate, you say. Then engage with Feiglin instead of jeering and taking cheap shots. Invite him into your “marketplace of religious and moral ideas to determine who wins the loyalties of Israelis”, rather than trying to marginalize him by quoting him out of context. Invite him to debate you. He would be delighted to accept, I have no doubt.

  • Chaim Abramowitz says

    I too believe that we need a mature conversation about all the questions that you raise; but, notwithstanding the loss of Begin and Meridor, and the annoying presence of Feiglin, it escapes me why you don’t realize that Bibi is simply the best choice.

    Is our electoral/political system the “pits?” Without question. But, which government has been willing to fire itself. Each PM has clung to office because he or she felt that they were the best choice for the country.

    The bottom line is that each one of us has to choose what he or she believes is the best choice, even if it is not optimal. And that choice is Bibi.

  • Evelyn says

    Dear Rabbi, Doctor Daniel Gordis,
    I believe one of your titles is “Rabbi”. Why then are you looking to Lapid and Yechimowitz for salvation. Why are you mocking the Hareidim? Why, if the political scene so disgusts you here, are you living in this country. I’m sure Obama would love to have you back.
    I have been disappointed by you before but this time you exceed yourself.
    Mr. Netanyahu and his appointed Director of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fisher have saved us from the financial situation suffered world wide. Feiglin is one of the few people who can really contribute to our position in this country. AND YOU HAVE THE CHUTSPAH TO DISMISS HIM!!! Maybe you should stop and read what he has to say?
    I have heard better things from you and hope to hear them again.

  • Let’s analyse particular-ism. France and its Hummous is good, England is good, the Scandinavian Countries are good, Greece is good, Germany is good, Obama is good, Poland is good, Arabs are good, Socialists and Left Wing Progressives are good and all those who undermine anything relating to Judaism is good. Who are bad? Bibi, Religious Jews, Feiglin, Jewish Culture and History are all on the bad bad side. So let us take a gun and shoot ourselves on the foot and vote from our silly feel good hearts. Then the future authors of history books will write about the dumb Jews who lost their nation because they placated the good.

  • Howard Stevens says

    Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises that the state:

    “…will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as invisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

    I think Rabbi Gordis is pessimistic that the politicians he names actually know this text. Certainly they have done nothing in their careers to show that they respect it.

  • TomSolomon says

    So perhaps Bibi in far from the ideal candidate, but is nearly appealing compared to the mentioned alternatives. Similarly, Orthodoxy is nearly reprehensible, but not as much as the Reform and Conservative movements, whose ties to Judaism, at this point, are pretty tenuous.

  • Howard Stevens says

    I suggest that Bibi is the one with “tenuous” ties to Judaism – his personal observances seem entirely limited to public state functions.

    And the Reform and Conservative movements consist of the majority of practicing Jews – to so blithely write them off is intolerant if not strategically suicidal.

  • Howard Stevens says

    Some more reality from Israel:

    Bradley Burston, a columnist for Haaretz:

    “This year, for Hanukkah, I want one person running this country, this Israel, to show me one scrap of light. One move — any move — for freedom, for all the peoples who live here. One step — no matter how slight — in the direction of a better future. What makes this Hanukkah different from all others? It’s the dark. It’s the sense that this country — beset by enemies, beset by itself — has locked down every single door against the future, and sealed shut every last window against hope. … This country has begun to feel like a lamp whose body is cracked and whose light seems all but spent. On these long nights, we can make out little but an occupation growing ever more permanent, and a democracy growing ever more temporary.”


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