Voice of the Jewish News: A closed tent?

Voice of the Jewish News: A closed tent?

This week's editorial reflects on a turbulent week for Israel's relations with diaspora Jews, following the passing of the 'Nation State Law'

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in the Knesset in 2016
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in the Knesset in 2016

Relations between Israel and the diaspora have been tested like never before in recent days, first with an Israeli law that most observers say demotes non-Jews to second-class citizens, then the arrest of a progressive rabbi for officiating the marriage of a Jew born out of wedlock.

More worryingly, the Jewish nation-state bill could have been worse. It took the intervention of non-governmental organisations and the Israeli president to bin a clause legalising segregated communities and another requiring judges to consider the Torah in secular criminal cases.

What is happening? To proud British Jews, Israel is both “a Jewish state” and “a democracy”, and the erosion of either is existential. Jews who have showered Israel with money and support in the knowledge that she stands up for minorities now seriously ask whether they can still say that.

As if the nation-state bill weren’t enough, Israeli police arrested a progressive rabbi for officiating in non-Orthodox ceremonies, in an aggressive pre-dawn raid on his home.

While technically illegal, the state has never before stepped in to act as an ‘Orthodox security service’ for those officiating non-Orthodox unions. That it has now crossed a well-observed line is a huge deal to millions of progressive Jews worldwide.

In Israel, too, anti-discrimination values are also being questioned, with an estimated 100,000 Israelis having attended a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday night to protest against a new law that does not allow gay couples to use surrogates.

What happened to ‘open tent’ Israel, which welcomed Jews of all stripes and sought to protect non-Jews in a Jewish state?

The ultimate symbol of openness in Jewish tradition is the chuppah – open on all four sides. How apt that this should have been the focal point of Monday’s Israeli Embassy protest.

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