The following opinion piece was first published in the April Toledo Jewish News.
If I were running for Prime Minister…
By Rabbi Dr. Barry Leff
Many of you may have seen Yuval Zaliouk’s piece with the same title as this one: “If I were running for Prime Minister.” If you have haven’t, you can read it here. It’s a great format for laying out one’s views and priorities. Since Yuval is already an Israeli citizen, and God willing I’ll be an Israeli citizen in about three months, maybe we could run against each other. After all, in any democracy there is always a plethora of candidates. My platform would be a lot different than his. Here is the vision I bring with me to Israel:
Israel is a Jewish, democratic state. To be both Jewish and democratic is a challenge: how do we retain the Jewish character of the state while protecting the freedoms of all citizens, including those who are not Jewish?
- There should be no compulsion in matters of religion. I would break the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on marriages, conversions, etc. At present there is no such thing as a “civil marriage” in Israel – consequently intermarriage is basically against the law, a Kohen is not allowed to marry a divorcee, etc., etc. I would introduce civil marriage, and allow Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform ceremonies recognized by the state.
- Municipalities should be allowed to determine the religious nature of their communities. It is OK that buses run on Shabbat in secular Tel Aviv and do not run in religious B’nai Brak.
- A democracy means all citizens are treated equally. Israel has done a poor job in providing for the needs—schools, roads, and other infrastructure—for her Druze, Beduoin, and Arab citizens. I would work to fix that.
- The founders of Israel made both Hebrew and Arabic official languages, which is appropriate and which will remain. Despite this gesture acknowledging the 20% Muslim and Arab Christian minority, iniquities still abound.
Israel was founded on Jewish values such as a sense of communal responsibility. I would work to restore those values
- Israel’s high-tech economy is booming. But society is becoming more and more imbalanced, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Israel is creating high-tech billionaires, and at the same the education system is in a shambles and teachers are paid so little it is scandalous. Israel is becoming more like America – and it is not always copying America’s best traits.
- Jewish values call for being harsh in prosecuting official corruption: the Torah tells us “the bribe blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.”
- Judaism calls on us to be stewards of the environment, to take care of God’s creation. It is a shande that many of the waters of the Mediterranean are so polluted they are unsafe to swim in and the Holy Land is strewn with trash from littering.
To obsess over any particular borders for the Jewish state is idol worship
- The 40-year long military occupation of the West Bank (and until recently, Gaza) has been a disaster for Israel, costing lives, draining resources, and creating barriers to peace. The UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from territories (note it does NOT say “ALL territories”) conquered in 1967. Israel and the PLO agreed to support UN Resolution 242 in the 1993 Oslo agreement.
- If Israel wanted to keep all of Gaza and the West Bank, the only ethical way to do that would be to make all of the Palestinians full citizens of Israel. As that would destroy the Jewish character of Israel, and Egypt does not want Gaza back and Jordan does not want the West Bank back, the only rational solution is a two-state solution, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, living side by side, in peace.
Israel negotiated peace with Egypt and Jordan; since the treaty-based withdrawal from Sinai, the peace with Egypt has held. When Israel has acted unilaterally, as in the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, chaos has ensued. Therefore a withdrawal from the West Bank should only be undertaken as a part of a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians, not as a unilateral action.
- This means that the military occupation of the West Bank will continue until such time that an agreement with the Palestinians can be reached. It is Israel’s responsibility to conduct the occupation in as humane a way as possible, being sensitive to the human rights of Palestinians.
- The security barrier is an unfortunate necessity when there are many Palestinian terrorists who wish to come to Israel to kill our citizens. I would continue to complete the construction of the barrier, while being sensitive to Palestinian concerns like access to fields and not dividing villages. I would have the security barrier much more closely follow the “Green Line,” with exceptions made for major settlement blocs such as the Gilo and Maale Adumim neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Even though it costs $1 million per kilometer, I would not treat the route of the fence as the unalterable borders for a future Palestinian state.
My children, and God-willing grandchildren and future descendants, will grow up in Israel. I commit myself to working hard to bequeath to them an Israel that respects the human rights of all, that is truly a shining beacon to the nations of the world, that applies the finest values of Judaism to the running of a country.