As a Reform Jew who has deep feelings for Israel, I find myself in a quandary. Just this week all non-Orthodox Jews who feel an attachment to Israel were dealt a disappointing blow. The Israeli cabinet capitulated to extremist pressure and froze its agreed-upon plan to develop an egalitarian worship space at the Western Wall (known in Hebrew as the Kotel). At the same time, it advanced a bill that would grant the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate exclusive control over conversions in Israel. I regret these decisions as they undermine values that are dear to us: Jewish unity and pluralism, as well as religious freedom in the State of Israel. The measures mean that only Orthodox rabbis have “legitimacy” in Israel, while the great majority of Israelis identify as “secular” and have only scorn for the “power politics” of both the ultra-Orthodox and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is himself anything but an Orthodox Jew.
A statement issued by the Association of Reform Zionists of America states the following: “Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ruling coalition government’s succumbing to ultra Orthodox pressure by halting the implementation of the Western Wall compromise (a designated section of the Wall where men and women might pray together) is a tragic selling out and betrayal of non-Orthodox Jews for the sake of political expedience….reneging on the Kotel compromise is an abandonment of the principle of Klal Yisrael (Jewish unity) and a denial of the legitimacy of the majority of American Jews’ religious expression.
It is also a rejection of Zionism itself, which is premised on the idea of collective Jewish peoplehood as expressed by the Jewish state. These two decisions give preference to one extremist interpretation of Judaism over that of the majority, exacerbating a disturbing anti democratic movement in Israel where religious freedom is endangered….We will continue to express our Zionist love for Israel by working for an Israel that reflects the vibrant tapestry of Jewish expression, free from religious coercion.”
The statement continues: “Israel must remain true to its founding Zionist vision expressed in its Declaration of Independence: ‘Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.'”
Much as I have great admiration and love for Israel and is people, the sad irony is that Israel remains one of the few remaining places where Jews cannot express their religious preferences. With all that, still we remain committed to building an Israel based upon our people’s ideals of freedom, inclusion, and democracy.