Tuesday, February 26, 2019
For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still, Till her victory emerge resplendent, And her triumph like a flaming torch. (Isaiah 62:1)
The Reform Movement strongly condemns the recent initiative of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring loyalists of racist Rabbi Meir Kahane into the Knesset. Those who espouse an ideology of hate, intolerance, and incite violence have no place in the Jewish State let alone in her government.
The encouragement and courting of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party by the Prime Minister raises the most profound concerns, and stands in stark contrast to the promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence that states:
“The state of Israel will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex…”
Rabbi Hara Person, incoming Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, noted that “As committed North American Jews and Zionists we must make clear that the Prime Minister’s initiative and the enabling and empowerment of such extremists will doubtless widen the growing rift between many North American Jews and Israel. We will not be silent while this hateful and racist ideology is invited into the Israeli government.”
How repugnant is Otzma Yehudit? Look at just one of their leaders—Ben Tzion Gopstein. Gopstein, the head of the extremist group Lehava, was previously indicted by the Attorney General. Lehava was founded in 2009 as “an organization to fight assimilation in the Holy Land.” Despite its best efforts to be seen as a legitimate organization with the chief goal of preventing assimilation, Lehava’s message, based on the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, is that Arabs are the enemies of Israel and contact with them will cause a disaster. Lehava, and specifically its leader Ben Tzion Gopstein, preach hatred of Arabs and Christians through intimidation, racist incitement, and violent activity.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, Vice President for Israel and Reform Zionism at the Union for Reform Judaism, also voiced concerns over the consequences of the Prime Minister’s decision. “It is simply reprehensible that PM Netanyahu would court Kahanist members of the far-right party Otzma Yehudit,” he said. “Their ideology of racism, sexism and extreme xenophobia should have no place in a Jewish and democratic state. Let us not forget that the Kach party was deemed illegal to run for the Knesset in the 1990s, and one need not look farther than their legislative agenda to understand why. Such extremism threatens the fabric of Israel’s democracy and the feeling of safety of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. It does great disservice to those of us who are dedicated to defending Israel’s image abroad.”
Our Movement has been working for the past 7 years against Lehava and has submitted 45 inquiries to the Attorney General and the State’s Attorney regarding Gopstein’s record of incitement. The Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem submitted a petition to the Attorney General pressing charges against the organization for incitement to racism and violence, and calling on the government to treat Lehava as a criminal organization.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, added: “We stand up for Israel every day, everywhere. And we will always do so. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s outreach to these unrepentant racists and hate-mongers makes that work more and more difficult.”