In spite of my muted sympathy for Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox religious movements in Israel who seek to bring egalitarian prayer to the Kotel, their current campaign to generate sympathy among Israelis is wildly inappropriate. They’ve begun a promotional blitz to raise awareness of the issue via a billboard along a major Israeli highway. It features a slogan that echoes a far-right political campaign advocating impunity for settlers accused of acts of terror or incitement. The thought of borrowing from such a rancid political movement to advocate a liberal cause is revolting.
The Reform Jewish billboard says: “Jews don’t expel Jews from the Western Wall.” The fine print adds: “Israel is the home of all Jews.” There are several plays on words here worth explaining, which add further alarm to one’s reading of the advertisement. The word “expulsion” is the same used both by Palestinians to describe Nakba and by settlers to portray their eviction from Gaza and West Bank settlements. But here, it’s specifically echoing the settler rhetoric, as if to say to Israelis: ‘you sympathize with settlers removed from their “homes,” we Reform Jews are no different. We deserve to be at the Kotel as much as settlers deserve to remain in their settlements.’ The thought of evoking such a comparison is odious.
Further, the word “home” in the second phrase of the ad is the same word used for the Holy Temple (habayit). In other words, a second reading could be “Israel is the Temple for all Jews.” An equally disturbing concept, especially if you believe Israel is a democratic society, rather than a theocracy.
Now, let’s move to the settler campaign which “inspired” the Reform movement’s. The settlers were protesting against Shin Bet arrests of Hilltop Youth, who were engaging in acts of violence, vandalism, arson, and murder against Palestinians in the West Bank. For the settlers, merely arresting these suspects was considered akin to abuse or torture, so their banner said: “Jewish don’t torture other Jews.” In other words, no self-respecting Jew would abuse a fellow Jew “just” for harming a Palestinian. Jewish tribal loyalty should trump any consideration of Palestinian humanity.
What possessed the Reform movement or the ad agency it hired to create this campaign to think it was a good idea to imitate the political rhetoric of the settler movement? What this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the settler movement is the moving force behind all Israeli politics. The rhetoric it uses, including the shameful attempts to evoke guilt through crocodile tears, have been mainstreamed thanks to the ultra-nationalist political class, which happily does their will.
This is yet another example of the dangers of being a liberal Zionist in today’s political climate. The principles and vision of this movement are so gelatinous, that they can resort to adopting the language of Jewish fascists to advance their own agenda. However, the net effect of sounding like a settler is that the average Israeli will be totally confused about who Reform Jews are and what they want. If you are claiming to be different from the settlers why would you try to sound like them? Why are you not confident enough in your own philosophy to promote it with words that are true to it and reflect it?
Finally, there is a great danger in Reform Jews asserting the political primacy of their struggle for egalitarian prayer when a far more profound problem afflicts Israel. Why quarrel over who gets to pray at the Kotel when Israel hasn’t done the least to confront the injustice of the Occupation? The Reform movement has divorced their campaign from any attempt to gain religious freedom for Muslim worshippers restricted (or often barred entirely) from the Haram al Sharif. It’s as if they’re praying in a vacuum that excludes any other religion or conflict. This is yet another sign of liberal Zionism, which often buries its head in the sand instead of confronting issues directly.