Why should the events in Israel matter to us in Greater Long Beach?
World Jewry is at a critical juncture. We have discussed the divide between Israel and the Diaspora for years just to find that the real divide isn’t the Mediterranean. It is between the fundamental right to make one’s own decisions versus the desire for the power to decide how others should think, live, and identify. Famed Israeli historian Yuval Harari has recently framed this as the potential destruction of the Third Temple. While perhaps overstated, the point that Judaism risks spiritual destruction is noted, just as the reality that Israel as a beacon for the Jewish world might end.
American Jewry holds a complex relationship with Israel. The State is part of our identity mosaic, filling our collective imagination and inspiring us to a oneness of values and peoplehood. At the same time, it has long been criticized by the majority for its global and human rights positions. According to the 2021-22 Long Beach Area Jewish Community Study, 80 percent of us believe that caring about Israel is important or even essential to what it means to be Jewish and the majority (60%) of us feel an attachment to the State of Israel. This is consistent with national findings, but what might be somewhat surprising is that young adults are significantly more attached than their parents. How do we explain this? They define their attachment differently. It is still a voluntary and profound emotional attachment to the mosaic, and one that comes with an expectation that Israel will align with certain values. A different illiberal Israel, is likely to be relegated to a position outside of our hearts and our minds.
Israel might be wrestling with its identity, but we are not. In Long Beach, our community enjoys an almost unimaginable harmony between Chabad and Reform, and the pluralism to embrace all. If you and your family celebrate a quinceañera and a bat mitzvah, there is a place for you to find your syncretism in Long Beach. The one thing we will never accept is that someone will take away our right to define what Judaism means for ourselves. Religious Zionism does just that. This is not an entry to into Israeli politics. American Jewry generally, and Jewish Long Beach (in its diverse iterations) specifically, has embraced Israel and its parties across the political spectrum. It is about a particular moment in which, as recently suggested by Israeli Philosopher Margalit Avishai, “the new element is the strong fusion of religion and nationalism” which were once kept separate in Israel. Religious Zionism today differs from other forms of Zionism, and even Religious Zionism of recent history that aligns with global trends towards right-wing nationalism, defines Judaism in a way that relegates ultra-orthodox Haredim to one narrow, irrelevant, insipid path while insisting that the rest of Jews in Long Beach are not Jews at all.
At the same time, Religious Zionism seeks to use the legal process to moderate and define that which is acceptable in our intersectional identities. As the articulated next legislative steps of the coalition make clear, for Religious Zionism to succeed it is critical to define sexuality, gender roles, socio-economic position, and ethnicity while removing the right to contest the implications. Much of the public discourse focuses on the impact this has on secular American Jewry, but it would be naïve to think this won’t also come to limit the freedom of Haredim to why they pray, where they live, how they should engage the economy, and who they should see themselves to be as a racial or ethnic identity.
Like many Jews around the world, Jewish Long Beach is deeply troubled and recognizes the need to increase our efforts on a local level in support of a strong and democratic Israel that embraces inclusion, equality, and individual liberty. We find these fundamental to Jewish values including tzedakah (justice) and tikkun olam (caring for our world).
Over the past year, our newly formed Advocacy Committee has been working diligently to educate the Greater Long Beach area on the need to support a strong, democratic Israel, and to counter antisemitism. It is part of the Jewish Long Beach 2024-2027 Strategic Plan to elevate the role and commitment to advocacy including the building of diverse Israel partnerships.
As part of these efforts, our Board of Directors adopted the following statement on our relationship with Israel.
Jewish Long Beach and Alpert Jewish Community Center of Long Beach and West Orange County, California supports the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. We believe that the Jewish state must be inclusive, plural, and democratic to serve the whole of the Jewish people and their expressions of their individual identities in their diverse forms. As part of a broader global community of active, engaged, passionate Jewish people, we are dedicated to the promise of Israel’s founding document:
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will … foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture….”
There has been agreement for years across the Israeli political spectrum that reforms to judiciary are needed, but the difference between Israel and most countries is that there is limited separation between the Prime Minister and the Knesset, there is no Senate, and there is no constitution. The only balance of power is between the Knesset and the judiciary, so limiting it without the creation of a constitution means creating the unfettered ability of politicians to act on their most base concerns without protecting founding principles and values. At Jewish Long Beach we shares the view of the Jewish Federations of North America, World Zionist Organization, and nearly every other major organization in World Jewry that the unilateral act of the Israeli government has ignored the huge outcry from the Israeli population, and we support consensus building to ensure that all citizen’s voices are heard and that democracy, security, and the rights of all people in Israeli society are protected.
The passing of this bill that erodes Israel’s system of checks and balances, and future bills that leading coalition members are threatening, could have serious repercussions on the relationship and shared peoplehood of American and Israeli Jews. The process will likely inflict damage to Israel’s economy, security, and standing in the world. Moody’s, Citibank, Morgan Stanley, and other major financial organizations have already issued warnings to international investors that there is “significant risk” and “it is much more tricky and dangerous.” Major global index and political risk organizations will likely downgrade Israel to an “electoral autocracy” or “partially free” status. The International Monetary Fund has already indicated that it will downgrade Israel given that courts can’t protect foreign investment from political intervention. This will affect the attitude of the majority of American Jewry who support a democratic Israel, and who may support conditioning foreign aid based on these moves by the Israeli government.
With these deep concerns in mind, Jewish Long Beach & the Alpert JCC, models after our sister organizations, the JCRC Bay Area and the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund, support the following values:
1. We believe in a strong liberal democracy that respects both the will of the majority as well as the rights and protection of minorities. The separation and division of powers between the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches must remain intact providing critical checks and balances, including consideration of minority rights and constraint on the concentration of power. Any reforms to the judiciary should reflect a broad consensus of Israeli citizens rather than a narrow majority and should preserve the rights and protections of minorities and equal application of the law.
2. We also believe a strong liberal democracy requires civil discourse and respectful disagreement. The rights of free speech and lawful dissent are basic and indispensable in a democratic society. Israel must maintain an atmosphere in which differing viewpoints are respected, while rejecting extremist rhetoric that incites hateful, illegal, and violent acts.
3. We hold that the diversity of the Jewish community is core to our strength, and underscores why Israel serves as a beacon for the entire Jewish world. Israel should be a homeland for all Jews, embracing Jewish pluralism, regardless of religious practice, nation of origin, or lineage. All Jewish families deserve equal recognition, legitimacy, and rights on issues such as marriage, divorce, adoption, conversion, access to holy sites, law of return, and more.
4. We believe in civil, economic, and social equality of all citizens of Israel, including its Arab citizens. While Israel’s Declaration of Independence is clear about the equal treatment and inclusion of all, Israel has yet to fully live up to this promise. Israel must choose to strengthen protections, rights, and freedoms for historically disadvantaged communities. The participation of Israel’s Arab minority in Israeli society contributes to its diverse fabric, and ensures the country’s continued political, social, and economic stability and prosperity.
We believe that Israel must also continue to support LGBTQ+ rights and uphold women’s rights as fundamental. Israel was among the first countries to allow openly gay and later openly transgender military service, as well as the provision of spousal benefits to same- sex couples. With decreased female representation in the Knesset, increased violence against women, and continued wage inequality, elected leadership must also lift up the role of women in strengthening Israeli society by ensuring their equal participation and civil rights.
5. We believe the Palestinian people deserve to live in peace, security, and dignity and have the right to national self-determination. This vision includes an independent and viable Palestinian state within defined, secure, and internationally recognized borders, living side by side with the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. We must pursue policies that strengthen, rather than impede, such possibilities for the Palestinian people, including the protection of human rights. Rhetoric of incitement will only serve to provoke wider conflict. Palestinian territory and autonomy must also be respected, and the viability of a Palestinian state is essential for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.
As we move forward in our advocacy, we will continue to keep our community connected and informed as events unfold in our beloved State of Israel, and we invite your ongoing thoughts as well.
Dr. Richard Marcus, President
Deborah K. Goldfarb, Interim CEO