“Wie es sich christelt, so judelt es sich.” This phrase can perhaps best be paraphrased as, “the Christian effect on Jewish life,” which is also the title of an important work by Rabbi Dr. Michael Hilton of London. But the idea is much larger than the subject of the book. It seeks to remind us that what happens in the non-Jewish world sooner or later also comes to shape the way Jews perceive and practise Judaism.
Though the expression is normally used in the context of religion suggesting that developments in Judaism often mirrored trends in the surrounding Christian culture, e.g. Protestantism influencing Reform Judaism, pietism Hasidism, etc., I’d like to apply the idea to contemporary Israeli politics.
My inspiration comes from an interview with Alona Vinograd in the British-Jewish on line journal Fathom. She is the director of the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions at the Israel Democracy Institute. The subject of her interview is recent debates and developments in the Israeli Knesset that are said to be threatening the democratic nature of the Jewish state.
Vinograd began by stating categorically that “Israel is a thriving democracy” and that its democratic institutions have remained functional. But then she qualified her assertion by adding that “there is a sense in Israel that the liberal arena in which all these institutions operate is shrinking and is under concrete and constant threat.” She stressed that “the majority’s responsibility towards minorities in the country is of the greatest concern” and offered several examples.
As a member of a religious minority in Israel – Reform Judaism – I find this observation of particular concern and relevance. For, according to Vinograd, things have changed drastically – I’d call it deteriorated badly – in the last ten years. In her words: “It’s not so much about ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ but about populism vs. statesmanship.”
She sees it as “a global trend (e.g. Poland and Hungary)” and, therefore, could have also added the United States under President Trump. She says about her own country: “Current trends do not focus on protecting the rights of all Israeli citizens. Rather they focus on strengthening and enhancing the power of elected officials and those who put them in power. Left-wing and Arab Israelis (and I, not Ms. Vinograd, permit myself to add: non-Orthodox Jews) are not in power; the new laws target them and that is why they feel…. that the Israeli democracy is in trouble.”
The current political leaders of Israel aren’t as much rigid right-wingers as they’re rabid populists. When Prime Minister Netanyahu is attacking “the extreme left” his supporters tend to understand it as an attack on urban intellectuals and aesthetes in contrast to the ordinary women and men, often of Oriental background, who live in what sometimes is called in Israel “the periphery.”
Should Netanyahu ever need a mentor, Donald Trump is his man. Those who compete with Netanyahu in Israel often emulate him. However, most of the time he performs much more skillfully and with much greater success than his coalition rivals. Those outside the government don’t seem to have mastered the craft at all and, therefore, according to the polls, will do badly in the next general election.
Dare we hope the this populist trends won’t last long enough to destroy institutions like the judiciary thus causing permanent, perhaps irreparable, damage to the country?
Jerusalem 30.10.18 Dow Marmur