Friday, September 28, 2012

Bibi is not my leader. Israel is not my country.

Last week on Meet the Press, host David Gregory called Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu  “the leader of the Jewish people.” At that very moment I was flying back from New Delhi where I told my audience at a world peace conference that we Jews didn’t have a leader. Who is right: Mr. Gregory or me?

I think I am. We Jews don’t have a pope or an ayatollah. We can’t even settle on one Chief Rabbi in Israel. Even when we did have one leader, Moses, we revolted! Had I lived then, I would have sided (and died) with Korah and the elders of the people who demanded a more open system of governance over Moses’ one man (him) one vote (his) leadership style.

But what would it mean if Bibi were the leader of the Jewish people? After all he got that job by being elected Israel’s Prime Minister, and most Jews, not being Israelis, are not allowed to vote in Israeli elections. Would we American Jews be forced to adhere to his policies? And what would happen if Israelis voted in a liberal PM? Would we suddenly have to change our values and follow the new PM’s dictates?

Israel is a sovereign state seeking to govern through a mixture of Jewish, democratic, and socialist values. Doing so is a real challenge as these values are often in conflict with one another. It is all the more difficult when we try to define these values and discover (at least on the Jewish side) that we can’t even agree as to what they might be. I admire them for what they are trying to do, but I am not one of them.

I’m not an Israeli; I’m an American. I’m not an Israeli by choice, and I choose to stay in the United States because I believe the United States is the freer and more liberal country, and my loyalty to freedom and liberalism trumps my loyalty to Israel. I support Israel insofar as she lives up to my values (which of course I claim are the authentic Jewish values), and disagree with her when she follows some other value system (which of course claims to be the authentic Jewish values, but which of course cannot be authentic as they disagree with my values which are, as I just stated, the authentic Jewish values). If the United States becomes a Christian Nation as many if not most of my neighbors hope, I will change my mind and move. Maybe to Israel, but, given the state of Israeli politics and policies, more likely to Canada.

Whenever I say something like this I am attacked by American Jews who make the same choice I do but hate to admit it. If Bibi is your leader, if you are going to let him tell you how to vote in the American presidential election, move to Israel and vote for his political heir instead. If you think Israel is superior to the United States, become an Israeli and make it the best it can be. But if you chose to remain an American, do so proudly and vote for your choice of presidents, not Bibi’s. 


Unknown said...

Do you believe in America that it is appropriate for religious leaders to use their bully pulpits to influence how their followers should vote? My rabbi has concluded it is not. We have separation of church and state for a reason.

Unknown said...

Do you believe in America that it is appropriate for religious leaders to use their bully pulpits to influence how their followers should vote? My rabbi has concluded it is not. We have separation of church and state for a reason.

Rabbi Rami said...

I agree. While it is fine for clergy to speak of the values their religion upholds, it is not OK to then go on to say which candidate does or does not uphold those values.

The reason it is not OK for clergy to tell their flocks how to vote is because religious institutions are 501c3 corporations and pay no taxes. In exchange they are to stay out of politics. The solution, however, is not to police what clergy say, but to remove tax breaks for religious institutions.

Unknown said...

I agree. However, you have walked a very narrow line. American foreign policy is a legitimate American concern. How one chooses to weigh it against American domestic policy issues is best left to the conscious of the American voter.

No One Special said...

I believe all are entitled to speak out about whatever they choose. Even those perceived to be privy to a 'bully pulpit'.

We all must choose who to listen to as well.

It is why I choose to listen to all, but follow my own heart and conscious.

Erick Reynolds said...

Rami, your position is well stated.
There has always been a tension in the pseudo barrier between religion and politics (church & state), because they are both seats of power. In a democracy, the individual must choose their primary allegiance when the church and the state are at odds, based on personal ideals, ethics, and moral views. As you point out, many would like to simplify their choice by having church and state be one. The irony of this concept is found in the historical origins of the idea for the separation of church and state, and in present day Middle East countries’ Arab Spring.

The origin of separating the power of the church from the power of the state came from the desire by break away European Christian groups who fled to America, to not be oppressed by the Catholic Christian church or the Christian Church of England. Further, 18th century American intellectuals studying classical philosophy and middle class businessmen wanted shun these “puritan” fanatical sects and get on with building a new country. It was Christian on Christian oppression that was being avoided.

Present day conflicts in the Middle East are an unleashing of bitter tensions between Muslim sects that had been restrained by often brutal non-secular dictators. There even two different Mormon sects in this country. So, when people say they want a “Christian” state, which one? Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Unitarian, Lutheran, Mormon, et cetera…..?
General religious references to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and so on, imply a unity where no such unity exists because there are always internal politics and power struggles.

Raksha said...

This is just to let you know I agree with you, Rabbi Rami. Bibi is not my leader and Israel is not my country either. For better or worse, I am an American Jew, and a liberal American Jew at that. I absolutely refuse to apply a different moral yardstick to Israel than I apply to any other country--the U.S. very much included, of course.

The amount of grief I take for that seems to have no limit. I don't just catch hell from the usual suspects (i.e. right-wing Zionists), but also from those who should know better, but who have apparently spent too much time listening to nonstop hasbara from their Jewish and Israeli friends. I have to admit the last such incident blindsided me, but it would be best not to go into the gory details here.

And one other thing: I would have sided with Korach too. It's good to know I'm not alone in that respect.