The impact of last week’s Jewish News front page was felt across the diaspora – and Israel. And sparked unprecedented debate.
It posed a timely question about the looming Israeli election: Do Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, likely ministers in the next Knesset coalition who condemn reform Judaism, Arabs and non-heterosexuals, pose a moral danger to Israel and diaspora Jews?
Ben-Gvir, who boasted about “getting at” Yitzhak Rabin weeks before the late prime minister’s murder, openly praises Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli terrorist behind the 1994 Hebron massacre in which 29 people were killed. “Proud homophobe” Smotrich, meanwhile, was told to “get back on your plane and go home” by the Board of Deputies during a visit to London earlier this year.
British politics currently has little to commend it, but if such plughole politicians were poised for ministerial positions in Westminster there would be howls of indignation and despair. Yet, with the Israel election days away, the silence was deafening. Until our front page.
The response generally split into two camps – those who feel unease, even shame, at the prospect of unapologetic racists being prime movers in the Knesset, and those who insist the diaspora has no voice because it has no vote.
Diaspora Jews don’t live in the Middle East, where millions of angry Islamists are violently opposed to their existence. Here in the UK we border Ireland and France, not terror-riddled Syria and Iran proxy Lebanon. We don’t send our teenagers to the army to defend our homes. We don’t – we simply cannot – fully grasp the existential nature of Israel’s existence.
While this is true, it does not abrogate the diaspora’s right to speak out when it sees the nation state of the Jewish people compromise its founding principles in a misguided attempt to defend them. Israel’s decisions impact on the diaspora. Is our bond not reciprocal?
Whichever side of the debate you fall – and Jewish News stands in firm opposition to the poisonous, pea-brained politics of Messrs Ben-Gvir and Smotrich – we all want an Israel we can be proud of. A socially liberal, religiously pluralistic, Jewishly diverse Israel that strives for freedom and tolerance in a region infamous for the opposite.
Our conscience – our love for the Jewish state – demands we speak out. There can be no room for silence.
Celebrated Jewish author Howard Jacobson famously said: “In Israel, Jews see a version of themselves.” The version currently honing into view is causing immense unease among Jewish communities in Britain and across the world.