Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shalom From Jerusalem!

Wednesday, July 15 - 5:23 PM

I write this post during a brief "hafsaka" (break) from an intensive 1st day of travel.  I am participating in a mission of American Progressive Rabbis sponsored by AIPAC's educational foundation.  There are 18 colleagues from around the United States traveling with me.  The goal of the trip is to provide us with opportunities to dialogue with political and thought leaders within Israel.
If the past 24 hours are any indication of the pace of our journey, I will be both overwhelmed and exhausted upon my return next week.  Last night, after a long flight from Newark, we arrived in Israel, checked into our hotel and began our conversations with Denver native and Jerusalem Post political corespondent, Herb Keinon speaking on the topic "What's on the Mind of Israelis?"   Of course, everyone is thinking about the Nuclear Accord reached with Iran.  The general view from all sides of the political spectrum is a sense of nervousness in regards to this issue.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made several bold statements during the course of the last 24 hours regarding Israel's concerns and condemnation of the accord but most people view this as political positioning.  It will take some time to see how the Israeli government will react.  The hard truth is that the United States is Israel's strongest and most faithful ally.  Disappointments aside, the ties that bind us are strong and they will remain so in the future.  One of the key points that we need to focus on is that the differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are political - not personal.  Bibi has made it clear that he views his legacy as preventing Iran from getting the Bomb.  He feels that this accord is in direct opposition to his core values.  As such, he will fight it whenever and wherever he can.  I hope that we will not see a repeat of what happened last March when he spoke to the US congress and, in the process of doing so, endangered the vital bi-partisan nature of congressional support for Israel.

This morning, during breakfast, Dr. Sam Lehman Wilzig, a political science professor from Bar Ilan University spoke to us about the current political situation in Israel.  Netanyahu's 61-seat coalition majority is, by all accounts fragile and ready to fall at any minute.  It is for this reason that outrageous comments about Reform Jews such as the one uttered by Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay that "Reform Jews are not Jews..." will not result in any punishment or censure.  Azoulay is a member of the Utra-Orthodox Shas party and Netanyahu cannot afford to lose even one seat.  His coalition is so fragile that even when it was disclosed that another member of the coalition is under inditement for providing prostitutes to clients at a Bulgarian casino, there was little, if any punishment of consequence.

After breakfast we travelled to the Knesset where we met with MK's from the United List (Arab),  Kulanu (Centrist) and Likud (Right) parties.  In the afternoon we travelled to the Israel Democracy Institute where we learned about new initiatives for badly needed electoral reform and current polling trends in Israeli society.  We ended our day's discussions with a fascinating and sobering dialogue with Mohamed Darawshe - an Israeli Arab who has been on the forefront of dialogue and bridge-building between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel for a long time.  Mohamed talked to us about the sense of abandonment that most Israeli Arabs feel - not only from the current, far-right government, but also from previous administrations who have never lived up to the promise of freedom and opportunity for all of Israel's citizens that was written into the 1948 Declaration of Independence.  

Each of these intense discussions reflected the unique perspectives of the individuals and political parties with whom we were engaged.  This is a difficult time in Israel.  And yet, despite the tension, it is a joy to be able to walk the streets of Jerusalem and participate in the vibrant democracy of the Jewish State.
I look forward to sharing more details with you in the days to come.  I also will be discussing my trip after Erev Shabbat Services on July 24th at Temple.

Shalom From Jerusalem!

Rabbi Joe Black

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