On Israel And Democracy


Gary Rosenblatt’s essay (“Between the Lines: Three Weddings and a Scuffle,” Nov. 24) bemoans the fact that “the concept of freedom of religious practice [is one] that Israel espouses but has yet to honor.” Apparently, Mr. Rosenblatt did not read the advice offered by his paper’s columnist, Jonathan Tobin (“A Matter of Opinion: The Pluralism Conundrum”), in the same issue. In Tobin’s view, those objecting to Israel’s failure to honor democratic values are “spouting off in a way that makes matters worse.”

Of course, Tobin plays at being even-handed in his apportioning of blame. He grants that Israelis should recognize that they are “making this problem worse.” But his conclusion is that the real failure is on the part of the Reform and Conservative movements for not succeeding in Israel’s world of power politics. Until such time as liberal Jews can capture enough power in the Israeli electorate, they should stop making a ruckus.

Mr. Tobin does not want to identify the real “problem” that he blames both sides for exacerbating. The real problem is that Israel is losing ground as a democratic society. Mr. Tobin’s prescription that it’s all a matter of liberal diaspora Jews failing to influence the Israeli electorate utilizes a false concept of democracy. In a true democracy, minority rights are protected precisely when they have no electoral power. It is this fundamental value that is fading away in Israel, and that should raise alarms for everyone who believes that democracy is the only hope for sustaining a decent society.

For all his lamenting the state of Jewish religious freedom in Israel today, this is Mr. Rosenblatt’s failure in his concluding remarks, as well. And it is evident in his own earlier selective reading of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Rosenblatt writes: “But Jews everywhere expect and deserve a Jewish state that treats all Jews equally, in keeping with the 1948 Declaration of the state that says Israel must […] ‘ensure complete equality’ for all its inhabitants.” This is not about Jewish religious pluralism; it is about the rights of “all its inhabitants” — Jewish and not.

Indeed, to the extent that the non-Orthodox movements treat this issue as a problem that only touches them, rather than a problem that reaches into the heart and soul of Israel, they, too, participate in making this an issue of power politics rather than of principle.

The failure of the State of Israel to seek to fulfill its founding democratic commitment is an existential crisis for everyone who supports Israel.

Congregation Shomrei Emunah Montclair, N.J.