A couple months ago, I had the privilege to sit with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a jurist and former member of Knesset. We split our conversation into two parts. Part one we already ran and you can listen to it here, and the second part we’re running today.
In the meantime, a lot has changed on the ground. Among other things, Yossi Klein Halevi, Matti Friedman and I wrote a piece asking American Jews to speak up in the face of Israel’s current crisis. Michal did not entirely agree with us and she published her piece soon after. The point of this column is not to respond to Michal’s post, which speaks for itself, except to note that she writes that Yossi, Matti and I came out against the judicial reform, which careful readers of our piece will note was not the case:
"We agree that a constructive national discussion on legal reform is not only necessary but overdue. But that is impossible when the government refuses to slow its pace and engage in discussion aimed at genuine, rather than cosmetic, compromise."
But as we often mention, the purpose of Israel from the Inside is to share the mosaic of ideas that make up the Jewish state. In that spirit, today, we share the second part of the conversation that I had with Michal about two months ago in which we speak about the critical role North American Jews can play, not so much as it relates to Israeli politics, but in helping Israel raise the kind of Jews the country needs.
This idea may sound counterintuitive, which will make the comments all the more interesting and intriguing. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
The link above will take you to the full recording of our conversation; below is a transcript (just scroll down a bit) for those who prefer to read, available for subscribers to Israel from the Inside.
The last time that I spoke to Michal Cotler about the recent Israeli elections and where the government may be headed, she may have surprised certain people by being a woman, by being a former member of Bogie Ya’alon’s party, by being a former member of Benny Gantz’s party, a centrist who was not pulling out her hair about what we see happening. And she tried to explain to us the context in which one has to understand this election, which is the context in which one has to understand this government. And we ended our conversation as she quoted a beautiful distinction that Rabbi Jonathan Sachs made between optimism and hope. And she left us really talking about the fact that the right, at least has articulated whether one agrees with all of its parts or not, has articulated a vision of Israel as a Jewish state, whereas the center and the left have campaigned in five elections on “no Bibi” and Israelis who feel, she said, more and more put upon internally and feel less secure in a whole array of ways, given a choice between voting yes or no on a Bibi referendum for the fifth time, or actually voting for people who actually have a vision for the Jewishness of the state, not huge numbers, but enough chose that that it moved the needle ever so slightly and it gave Bibi Netanyahu enough votes and a kind of a coalition to do what's happening now. Michael Cotler is a lawyer. She's clerked at the Supreme Court. As I mentioned last time, because of her mother's work, she actually grew up in the sort of figurative home of Menachem and Aliza Begin. She herself is also the daughter of one of the world's great human rights activists, vocal proponent, and a great supporter of Israel, Erwin Cotler from Canada. So, she brings lots of really important baggage, in the best sense of the word, to this conversation. And Michal, first of all, thank you for the second conversation. And here's what I want to talk about. I want to start with a story. Unfortunately, my family and I sat Shiva for my mother not long ago. And, you know, so you sit all day long, all week long, and the house is packed with people, and you have conversations. Towards the end of the week of shiva came a member of our family, Israeli, the son of Israelis, not an immigrant in any way, a former fighter pilot actually, the real deal, so to speak, and clearly not happy with the results of the election, not at all religious, quite the opposite. And we're sitting in schmoozing and we got to politics, of course, and he said, “it's all our fault”. And he thinks that he and I are very difficult. I wear a kippah, he doesn't. So, I said, oh, “it's totally all our fault”. And he was very surprised that I agreed with him. And he said, “it's all our fault because we just haven't focused enough on being a liberal democracy.” By which he meant, you know, Spain, England, France, etc. Just Hebrew speaking. And I said, “well, no, actually it's all our fault because what we haven't done is engendered a conversation among your kids and my kids, my kids raised in a religious home, your kids raised in a secular home. We haven't engendered enough of a conversation in this generation of kids about in what way should Israel not be a Hebrew speaking Spain and not be a Hebrew speaking France and not be a Germany with just a lot more Jews than you would find in other countries”. And he looked aghast because to him, oh my God, the way the guy wants to fix what just happened is to have a conversation about Judaism. And I actually think that a conversation about Judaism is exactly the way to fix what happened here. And what I'd like to talk with you about, but really hear you about in this conversation is we both agree that a new conversation has to emerge. That if we leave the conversation to be a binary choice between some Jewishly completely vacuous or virtually vacuous conversation, which Israel should be a kind of a Hebrew speaking, largely Jewish, European style nation state, we're going to end up being nothing very special. And if the only people in the country that are having a Jewish conversation are the people in yeshivot (yeshivas) and elsewhere, then we're going to end up with more people of the sort that many people listening to this podcast don't want to see in the government. And we'll come back to Menachem Begin because you, as I said before, kind of grew up in the Menachem and Aliza Begin home, your mom was a critical part of Begin’s political life for a very long time. There were Begins out there and there were Ben-Gurions out there, and there were many other people out there who were not Orthodox in any meaningful way, but they were deeply Jewish, they were deeply committed to liberalism. And here, by the way, Ben- Gurion and Begin were exactly the same. They were different on a whole host of issues and for many years they were actually each other's nemesis. But they were both deeply Jewish. They both loved the Bible. They both were deeply committed to the liberal values of the Western world. They were also, they and many others, educated outside of Israel. So, I guess I want to start by asking you, if you and I both, I think, wistfully wish that there was bubbling up in some party a new David Ben-Gurion, a new Menachem Begin, what do we have to do to make sure that you don't have to have been educated in Europe to be that kind of a person?
So, look, the one thing that I'll say is they were both and many, many others were first and foremost Jews. That's what they were. They were Jewish leaders. When Menachem Begin was sworn in and asked the first question, he was asked by reporter is “Mr. Prime Minister, what kind of prime minister do you plan on being?” And he said, “b’signon Yehudi tov” or a good Jewish style. What he meant was there's no daylight between the universal values that he was committed to as a lawyer himself, those liberal values that he embodied and his Jewish identity. There was no daylight between them. And if there was any contradiction between them, he knew how to resolve the conflict harmoniously. Because the understanding that and in that sense, actually the late Rabbis Sachs spoke about this very much as well, he did even write that people respect Jews that respect themselves. But the point isn't that. The point is that the connection to universal values, the values that you alluded that I was raised on in universal understanding of human rights and international law and so on, those universal principles, they're not foreign to our particular Jewish identity. In fact, they're integral to our particular Jewish identity.
I’ll just interrupt you for a second to agree with you. We mentioned in our last conversation, very parenthetically that the word democracy does not appear in Israel's Declaration from Independence. Ben-Gurion was asked about it many times. In earlier drafts it was there and then it was cut out, as Yoram Shachar's extraordinary work on the history of the Declaration has shown very clearly. But Ben-Gurion was asked, well, what happened to the word democracy? And he said along the following lines I don't need to say the word democracy when I have the prophets. In other words, the Bible is my guide. Amos, Hoshea, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the weak. Of course, it was going to be democratic. I mean, the Zionist movement was democratic from 1898 when women were already running for office and where they couldn't run for office in any European country. And the Zionist women, they were already running for office and voting and all of that. So, it was obvious to everybody that it was going to be democratic. But what Ben-Gurion, the leftist who did not wear a kippah at Israel's creation on purpose, he didn't forget it at home. What Ben-Gurion was saying was democracy is a Western word and I want Jewish words. And we have in the Declaration, in the tradition and the values of the prophets. So how do we make more people like the Begins, like the Ben-Gurions, who are Jews first, but also jurists and liberals? That conversation is pretty quiet in this country outside Orthodox circles. It's not silent, but it's pretty quiet. What are we going to do as a country to engender that conversation again?
So, here's the irony. Israel is a country of olim, of immigrants. It's a country of olim because, of course, in 1948, it didn't matter if it was my grandfather who fled Iraq because of the Farhud and so on, or by the way, 850,000 Jews that fled were exiled from Arab lands or Arab countries.
Who now make up the majority of Israel's Jews.
Precisely. And of course, joined with survivors of the Holocaust, with those believe that have come over time doesn't matter at what time, from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia, and so on and so on. The important piece of that understanding is, and actually, for me, the great source of hope is that those sitting around decision making tables today, they don't represent that viewpoint diversity. Those sitting around decision making tables today, including in Israel's Knesset and government, are very often not because they're less capable, but they're very often born and bred Israelis, like the person that visited you. And I'm actually taking the opportunity to extend my condolences. I'm sure there are many that would join me in that. Born and bred Israelis, some of our children are exactly actually those born and bred Israelis served in the army and military generals and so on. Now, what struck me in my Knesset service is as important as it is, and it is important that we have an army that protects us, that we have security industries and agencies that defend Israel's very right to exist. In some ways it limits us. In some ways when there is this automatic transition of leaders from the defense industries into government into parliament. And I remind you, I came from a party of three former chiefs of staff, not one, not two, but three.
Chiefs of staff of the army. Just to clarify.
Precisely right. The understanding that we have as a society and maybe the time to grow up as a society as we near 75 years young, that having military experience or security experience and understanding doesn't necessarily and maybe even necessarily doesn't prepare you for being a leader of political or other decision-making capabilities or abilities. Because not recognizing that and not acknowledging that and even looking for a former chief of staff, and I saw this around the table all the time. We have a current chief of staff. We have a current head of Shabak and Mossad. We don't need everybody around the table to come from one sort of… the opposite of viewpoint diversity, viewpoint unity in the understanding of what Israel's challenges are from the inside, what Israel's responsibility are as a nation state and her relations with global Jewry, and what Israel's challenges are as a member of the family of nations. So, when I look at those leaders that you mentioned that were first and foremost capable of seeing Israel from the outside in. And if you ask me, what is it that we need to do in order to ensure that that translates to current leadership that we empower as a public? That I said in our previous episode that I believe in the Israeli public and the growing up of that Israeli public has to acknowledge that the political enterprise that I was a part of, Blue and White, it had all the right ideas. The execution failed, right? That vision is still necessary. Or the idea of creating unity and representation that comes from that center of what we called majority moderates that actually takes up the rightful space of that 80% of the people who agree about 80% of the issues 80% of the time and actually are married to one another and just can't seem to find political representation that actually sort of enables the conversation on the real issues that we've left by the wayside that's going to be, in my view, the challenge of the next few years that we are in the midst of, that this process is a part of and I said before, engaging in conversation is the key to that.
But how are we going to get that conversation started? And by the way, a lot of people that are the products of Israeli public education don't know enough to have the conversation. One of the stories that I actually haven't thought about in a long time until this very moment is when my son went to a mechina, this program between high school and the army. Religious kids and non-religious kids, or kids from religious homes and kids from non-religious homes. And it's supposed to be the, you know, the great melting pot of Israeli society, which in some ways it is. Somebody came and taught them a mishnah, a rabbinic text from the first tractate of the Mishnah, which is brachot about Blessings, which starts out by saying, when do you read shema in the evening? And then Rabbi one, rabbi X says one thing, rabbi Y says something else, and Rabbi Z says something else. And the teacher said to them, okay, everybody split up into pairs. One person from this kind of a home and one person from that kind of a home. He said it very elegantly. I forget how he put it, but that was what he meant. And come back with a list of all of the questions about this mishnah that you can come up with. And what he meant was, why does Rabbi X say this? Why does Rabbi Y say that. Okay, so my son sits down, they have a little pencil, and he says to his friend, “okay, what questions do you think we should ask?” So, the kid says, “what's the shema?” And so my kid said, “Well, I don't think he means that kind of a question. He means more about the legal reasoning. So, what should we ask?” So, the kid says,” well, what's the shema?” And this went back and forth a couple of times till my son realized he wasn't suggesting a question to ask on the list of questions. The kid was just saying the mishnah says from when you can read the shema in the evening. He didn't know what the shema is. Now, there's very few kids that have gone to an American Hebrew school who don't know what the shema is. Now, this kid is Israeli, speaks Hebrew fluently, was about to go to the army, and I have no idea what became of him, but clearly a devoted, committed Israeli citizen. He didn't know what the shema is. I'll put a thesis out for a second, and you tell me what you think. I think that's a national security issue. It's no less important than having F- 35s because if you don't know what the shema is and we have some secular people in our family who don't…
You actually don’t know why you're flying it…
You actually don’t know why you're flying an F-35. Why does the Jewish people need a state if you can't articulate something about Judaism? And how are you supposed to articulate something about Judaism if you don't know anything about it? So, we are really breeding two populations here. A deeply Jewishly literate largely not exclusively, but certainly largely right of center. Some of it far right of center, in which, to my taste, not enough conversation takes place about the liberal values that are so critical to you and me as we think about Israel as a country. And a larger population, which is very committed to liberal values, even though they don't probably know who John Locke was and don't have the conversations that need to be had but is completely Jewishly vacuous. What are we going to do about that? Because there's not enough mechinas. It's not going to be in them.
No, actually, I'm going to say something. My kids would kill me because they've all gone to these mechinot that you're describing, and they were all mixed. But if the educational system was doing what it needs to be doing, there wouldn't be a need for mechinot.
100% true. Mechinot are remedial in a certain kind of way.
Exactly. And by the way, they create this learned helplessness of the system because you have these graduates that are sort of okay as they become adults and as they enter the army. So, we actually don't know how grave the situation is. It's graver than we think it is because of them. But they're a band aid in many ways. And I referred to it before when I said the role of our generation, it's time to stop putting on band aids…
So, what do we do?
So, the first thing that I think is critical to understand in terms of the role of olim, I spoke a lot about this, the role of immigrants. COVID was a great exacerbator of the need of olim to have representation in Parliament, in Knesset. Why? Because the skies kept opening and closing.
And many couldn’t visit their families.
Right. Parents, children, sick parents, God forbid, and so on. Look, the role of olim can't just be to keep creating the alternate system, the non-for-profit world that creates Leket and Shalva and the Israel Democracy Institute and Shalem College and incredible, incredible initiatives. That when I spoke to one of the incredible founders of one of those initiatives, he said to me, everywhere that I encountered the system, I built a detour, I created a bypass. And what I would say at 75 years young is it's time to fix the system. It's not sustainable.
So, what does a fix of the system look like?
So, if you're asking me now, does that mean that politically we have to organize and create an alternate additional party, God help us.
Or is it an additional education?
Or is it an additional educational system.
For example, separate education. Maybe religious and secular kids should be in the same schools.
So, look, having sat on the on the board of Tzav Pius for many, many years, which was committed to actually a third stream of education, there is actually a bill that passed in 2010 of a third stream that should have been actually, at this point, the largest educational stream.
It would have been like the 6th stream, by the way, because there's an Arab stream and there's a Haredi stream.
You're 100% right. And there is an element of especially if we still believe in the public education model. And actually even that's come to a head. You said you weren't going to mention Avi Maoz, but even that's come to a head. If there is an understanding that there is a public educational system and we endorse that public educational system, then there has to be some sort of an identification of what are the shared principles. I called it the Declaration of Independence as the solid ground that we begin to engage our conversations from across the board in the public educational system. You could say to me, well, you can't force the study of the education of the Declaration of Independence in schools that are receiving government funding. Well actually…
Well, of course you could.
Yes, you can. That's right. And every other country does it right.
But obviously, studying the Declaration of Independence is an important thing, but it's not going to satisfy the need for a robust Jewish conversation in Israel. So, I want to know the big picture. I want to know I mean; you are deeply involved in this. You've been in the Knesset, you're a jurist, you're a legislator. This is a country, I used the 80% term before, so I'm just going to grab that number. It's probably wrong, but it's a country in which 80% of the population does not even have the tools to have a robust Jewish conversation. So, I'll slice off a few percentage points... So, there's somebody here on the faculty of Shelley in college who are going to have a conversation with, in a different time. Asaf Inbari, who is one of Israel's really great novelists, who teaches on our faculty here. And he makes the argument that the most important social phenomenon in Israel now in a positive way are the formerly religious people, because they are the ones who got a robust Jewish education. And then they take off their kippah, they become non-religious, and what do they do? They go to Tel Aviv and they have all these secular friends, and they're the ones who actually bring Jewish conversation into it because they're the kind of so the the cedars of it, because they have all this conversation. They're the ones who still go home and go to shul, let's say, on Rosh Hashanah and people say where are you going? And they say well, I'm going home for Rosh Hashanah. I want to go to synagogue with my parents. And the question becomes but why? You broke away from all of that. And they say, well, Rosh Hashanah is important to me… Well, why? And then conversations emerge that they would not have otherwise had. And Inbari actually argues fascinatingly that this formerly religious group is really important so that we can rely perhaps on them a little bit, even though, by the way, the religious world use them as the failures. But I want to understand, should we revise the national curriculum? Should we combine the secular and religious tracts, not the third tract that you're talking about before, but make it just say we're not doing that anymore, which would, I think, cause a revolution, not a good one. What shall we do?
So maybe I want to take a step back for a moment and go back to what community building looks like in every other country in the world except for Israel, where we take Jewish identity for granted. There is an accumulated experience and I don't think it's random that I don't know the late Rabbi Hartman, who founded the Hartman Institute and so on, I don't think it's random that they came from abroad and that they came from North America where that ball was carried forward in a place that couldn't take for granted Jewish continuity. I think the opportunity that we have at 75 is actually to engage what we call Jewish peoplehood in a completely different way. I think that part of and actually the reason that although I knew that it was going to be politically loaded and probably not successful, agreed to throw my name into the candidacy for the Jewish Agency, is that there are several platforms from which the leveling of the playing field or let's say the shift in the relationship paradigm between Israel as that nation state and between global Jewry because half of us are here and half of us in the rest of the world.
I don't think this conversation is only internal. I think this conversation can benefit and actually change the nature of the relationship between Israel that often tells global Jewry what it is that they need to know about what it is that's happening and listens a little bit more to the experience of community building and utilizes those skills in building a society. That's what we're doing. We spoke about building that next level of the infrastructure and I think that that also has the capability of remedying the challenge of the growing rift between Israel and global Jewry. And when it comes to the sort of reform of the educational system, I have a lot to say about that. A lot. I think we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that being stuck in the 50s which is where we're stuck. We're stuck and in the many ways we're stuck in the 50s because the founders of this country and I actually believe that it was a labor minister of education that said we wanted to raise epicorsim
People who are kind of theological rebels.
That's right. But we've raised ignoramuses instead.
Right. And if you're in ignoramuses, you can't be a theological rebel because you don't know what to rebel against.
That’s right. And just to close that little sort of anecdote on what we say former religious Israelis, I won't say whom, but somebody quite significant in the government once said to me I just realized that you can't raise a child to be a former religious Israeli. You can't raise one.
You have to try to raise a religious kid.
Thank you. So that was the recognition. And that doesn't mean that we all have to raise religious children. But it does mean that I agree with you 1000% that there has to be a shared sort of curriculum or a piece of shared curriculum in which Jewish identity and by the way, you don't have to be a Jew to understand that you're living in that country that is the single one and only Jewish country to which an indigenous people are committed to equality for all. I don't think that that has to and it doesn't preclude any other minorities, clearly.
Well, you took this conversation in a direction that I totally didn't expect, but I love this whole notion of peoplehood and the way in which the relationship between Israel, which is now approximately half of the Jewish world, and the Diaspora, which is the other half of which the United States is the overwhelming majority. It's not about Israelis pontificating to Americans anymore, about we sabras or immigrants. Our children go to the army and they're handsome and pretty and whatever, whatever. It's not working anyway, and people are sick and tired of hearing it. And what you're saying is we should not only stop pontificating, we should start listening because there are actually creative things happening that have a tremendous amount to do with Israel. I mean, in this part of Jerusalem where you and I are sitting now, it's hard to begin to count the number of institutions that are deeply enriching Israel, including school systems like at Hartman, including future political leadership like here at Shalem College and in future democracy like at the Israel Democracy Institute, including the relationship between religious kids and diaspora kids in Israel at Pardes. I mean, you go on forever. And these are all institutions founded by people who made aliyah and came from abroad. And they're, by the way, also funded largely by foreign Jewish money, which is legit.
It's unacceptable to me because for Israel to not take responsibility… is part of the problem.
Fair enough, fair enough. So, I love this idea that part of the fix for Israel's not having a sufficiently robust Jewish conversation lies not inside here and tinkering with the educational, which of course it requires, but also reaching out to that other half of world Jewry, which by 2048 will probably be about a third of world Jewry still, but that's a big chunk and having a different conversation. So just to share with you and share with our listeners at the same time because I hadn't thought this conversation was going in this direction at all. But it reminds me that we take a group of students every year to the Bay Area. It's part of a grant that we've gotten from a very, very generous foundation. And we take, I don't know, 1520 students each year for about ten days. Israelis. They go and they see things and one of the things we say to them, for example, is on Friday night, you got to go to shul, you got to go to synagogue on Friday night, which you can't say it to normal Israelis because that sounds like religious coercion. And we said, this is not religious coercion. This is called Anthropology 101. And the only shul you cannot go to is the one that matches the places you would feel comfortable in Israel. If you're traditional, go to the gay and lesbian synagogue, go to the Reform synagogue. If you've never been to a traditional synagogue, go to a traditional synagogue. What happens with all of this? People come back and of course we debrief ad nauseam, pretty much and people say things like, why do I have to go to San Francisco to really pray? For the first time, a gay kid says, why do I have to leave Israel to find a shul that actually embraced me knowing exactly who I was? A woman who grew up in an Orthodox home, I mean, the standard Orthodox cookie cutter home says the following, she went to, I don't know, to a nontraditional, I guess, Reform synagogue there that night, and she said, look, I'm a product of the Orthodox cookie cutter, whatever, and I'm always going to be that. My father is a principal of an Orthodox school. My husband grew up in another area Yishuv just like mine, and we're going to make little babies that are going to be products like this, too. She goes, I'm not changing. I am who I am. And my brothers and my sisters and my uncles and my this is who I am. But then she said, but for the life of me, I will never understand what in the world I'm doing behind a mehitza (partition)… But I don't care if she changes or not. What I care is that she has a much more robust, questioning religious worldview because somebody took her from to San Francisco where she actually open- mindedly, looked and listened. So, look, we're in a terrible crisis between American Jews and Israel, and these latest elections have just sort of made the crisis worse. The elections didn't. The reaction to the elections made the crisis worse. The government hasn't been formed as of this conversation at least yet, and people are already saying it's the end of Israel's democracy. It's ludicrous, but what you're saying is instead of you guys telling us who we should have as our legislators because you frankly don't vote here, and instead of you guys telling us exactly what we should do security wise, because frankly, if stuff goes south, you don't face the danger we do. Let's just have a different conversation. Let's have a conversation in which you actually have what to teach us about the successes and failures of what you've built religiously. By the way, camps. There are no real summer camps in Israel. I'm a product of Camp Ramah. My wife and I met at camp. My parents met at camp. My son met his wife at camp. People were laughing at our shiva because they were saying, where did you all meet? And I joked, and I said, if there was no Camp Ramah, there'd be no Gordises. We would have died out as a species a long time ago. Summer camps in Israel. They are hugely successful in America, are not really a model trite here. Synagogues that are not just places to go and pray, but that are community centers, synagogues that have basketball courts, synagogues that have auditorium, synagogues that have all sorts of things that Israelis can't begin to imagine. A synagogue that's not a little building that has some siddurim and a bookcase and some seats, and then you lock it up and go home. You're describing a very different kind of world Jewish conversation. And what you said in our previous conversation was that these most recent elections are an opportunity to think about what the center and the left didn't talk about. They gave the voters basically referendum after referendum. Yes Bibi or No Bibi.
The center, the right and the left. Everybody.
Fine, fine. But the right offered some vision. We may not like the people who the style of the people who brought this vision forward, but the right offered a kind of a claim about reclaiming the Jewishness of the Jewish state. And that's not a conversation the center and the left had. What you're saying in this conversation is in order to engender a conversation in Israel… let's not even look to our schools. Let's look to our brothers and sisters who live outside of Israel and say to them, we actually need you. And maybe if they felt that we needed them, their reaction to us would be very different. Is that what you're saying?
So not only am I saying that, you know, I said it in a series of meetings, as I said, around, you know, where I believe the Jewish Agency actually obviously an institution that predates the state of Israel…
By the way, most Israelis have no idea what the Jewish Agency is.
And does it even have a raison d'etre, should it continue to exist? And if it has a historic moment after the founding of the state in 1948, in its 92 years of existence, because it's existed longer than the state of Israel, then this is possibly one of the most or the second most important moment in time where if it had that vision, then it would have a raison d'etre. Then it would have a right to exist. It would renew the relationship paradigm. And I want to add that means there are two sides of the same coin in that relationship paradigm. It also means that global Jewry has to be able to have the conversation around what I had mentioned before about Tebinkin as his counsel, speaking to his grandfather, now no longer alive, and to his grandchild not yet born. And that's something that a conversation with North American Jewry in the context of society building, the Jewish nation state to which indigenous people returned after millennial exile, persecution, committed to equality. Not only has what to benefit in learning what community building looks like, whether it's educational institutions, community institutions and so on, but also those educational institutions and community institutions and synagogues have what to benefit in understanding the real challenges here. I will say, and I did say it at more or less every committee in the Knesset that I was a member of, that we have a greater responsibility because this is the nation state of the Jewish people. So, in the relationship paradigm, if I had to choose who has to take or be at the helm to take responsibility for shifting the relationship, it is that nation state, it is that state of Israel. And that includes what we haven't touched upon, which is the global challenges as they intersect with the everyday lived experience of Jews in North America, on campus, in the workplace, in the streets, in the mutation of antisemitism that's directly linked to what it is that Israel does and doesn't do. It also means speaking out and back to the idea that you can sever your Jewish identity from your Zionist identity because no one will let you. You can try. You can try, except that Zionism has been appropriated and weaponized to sever the ties between us as a people, so that Zionism is synonymous with racism, like that 1975 UN resolution, or Israel is synonymous with apartheid, like the Durban 2001 Conference Against Racism, which was an antisemitic hate fest. If that mutation of antisemitism continues to persist, actually, and this is the sad piece, is it's that mutation of antisemitism that actually drills down on what I've just said. It's not me, it's what we are being shown in the mirror, if we're careful to pay attention, that says you're linked together, you could choose to opt out, you could choose to just, you know, shed that Zionist pound of flesh or that Jewish pound of flesh here in Israel. But you cannot for a moment think that you've successfully severed the connection between the two because you're tied together. It's inextricably linked. That's why when I speak about emancipating Zionism, of course, Zionism predicated on the idea that the longing for Zion, the prayers to Zion, whether it comes from faith, culture, heritage, ancestry, integral to Jewish identity, can’t be severed. And if I had to choose a place from which to begin, it would be to create Zionist educational programs that actually open that two-way bridge. It's not a one-way bridge. Open that two-way bridge. And that's, of course, what you do, and I’d be happy to join you, that’s what you do when you take that cohort. So, it's not just about discovering religion when you send those participants in the group. It's about discovering their identity and the multiple layers of their identity that are inextricably linked that can't be severed. And those things that we take for granted, or those that have always lived in Israel take for granted, because you don't have to opt in to being a Jew. That's something that we need to learn from global Jewry. It cannot be taken for granted in the case of any identity, in the case of any freedom, in the case of democracy, if you take it for granted, then it's gone.
Look, this is so fascinating because this is not at all where I thought our conversation was going to go. But I think it's super important, not only for the content of it. It's super important because we started out a conversation about both last time and this time in the shadow of an election, the results of which have many people outside of Israel and a lot of people inside Israel, too, very worried, very concerned. We drilled a little bit down and said, let's not talk about these individual people in this particular, you know, conversation between you and me, but let's talk about what's going on in terms of Israel and the conversations, Jewishly and Zionistly that's we’re having. And where did we end up? We ended up having a conversation about the Jewish people. We ended up having a conversation about how it's time for Israelis, and I had no idea you were going to go there, it's time for Israelis to stop pontificating to the diaspora, to start listening to and learning from the diaspora. There's going to be things in which their views will be deeply enriching. There'll be things in which Israelis are thinking they're going too far. But you're talking about kind of pressing control, alt delete on the way in which we're having this trans-Atlantic transcontinental trans whatever conversation. And you're saying really okay, fine, be worried about this election if you want to understand it a little bit in context you said in our previous one, you got to understand Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, a little bit in light of the Aharon Barak judicial revolution of the 1990s. Everything is a reaction to something. So be more sophisticated, learn more Israeli history, learn more Israeli legislative history, understand all of that. But today you're saying you want to be worried, to be worried, but let's Israelis use it as an opportunity to begin to ask, why are the left and the Right not offering profound visions? And why doesn't Israel and the diaspora not begin to understand that we need to engender an entirely new conversation, in which case this election is actually very good news. And that, I think, is something that well, certainly nothing that I expected you to say, but it's so profound for people who are despondent at this moment to recognize that. I don't know if it's true that the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity is really the same word. I've heard that a thousand times, but I don't know any Chinese, so for all I know, it's baloney. But let's just say for a second that it's true. This is a crisis in certain ways. It's a huge opportunity, and we would not have been able to have an awareness of and an understanding of this opportunity and this conversation about that opportunity without the really unique take on all of this that you bring. So, on behalf of everybody who's now saying, oh, my God, I didn't think this was going there, a really deep thank you for helping us understand. As you said, the government at this moment hasn't been formed yet. We don't know what it's going to do. It's a response to a vacuum in Israeli discourse and it's a response to a vacuum in the discourse of the Jewish people. And we can fix that.
It's a call to action, Daniel. That's what it is. And we can fix it.
And we're going to fix it and if we do, in large measure, it is because people like you call attention to it. So, thank you very much for your time, for your insight, for your wisdom. We'll do this again sometime, I hope.
Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:
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