MK Stav Shaffir
MK Stav Shaffir Hadas Parush/Flash 90

Two prominent Israeli leftists have appealed to like-minded liberal Americans to join forces with them to help the Israeli Left regain power, after a series of sound defeats in democratic elections - the latter of which occurred despite extensive support from foreign liberal donors.

Zionist Union/Labor MK Stav Shaffir and Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit were speaking at a plenary meeting of the Union for Reform Judaism last week, which they both used as a platform to attack the current Israeli government, and joined with Union of Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie in calling on American Jews to be more vocal in criticizing Israel.

The biennial event saw a great deal of mutual back-slapping, as well as attacks on the current Israeli government. The panel even ended with a pre-recorded address by non other than Arab-Israeli MK Aymen Odeh, leader of the extreme anti-Zionist Joint List party.

In particular, the panelists called to "reclaim Zionism" from the hands of "right-wing" and "Ultra-Orthodox" Israelis.

Shaffir accused the Israeli Right of deflecting all the blame for Israel's woes onto assassinated Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, whose Oslo Accords set the tone for subsequent years of escalated conflict with the Palestinians.

"It’s been 20 years since Yitzhak Rabin’s murder," she said. "The Right is still blaming Yitzhak Rabin for our lack of security; it’s still blaming the progressive camp."

If the Right wanted to, she argued, it could have simply undone major decisions by previous governments which it opposed later down the line, such as the Oslo Accords and the expulsion of Jews from Gaza.

"All the time, the Right kept saying Oslo was a huge mistake, disengagement from Gaza was an enormous mistake, we should have kept Gush Katif in Gaza and that the settlements are Israel’s security," she said. "Now the Right has been in government for all of those years in between. If they wanted to annex settlements that could have done that, if they wanted to rebuild Gush Katif, if they could have done that, if they wanted to break all the security cooperative we have with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, they could do that - they have a majority."

The reason successive right-wing-led government have not done so is not because of the inherent practical difficulties in undoing such comprehensive actions, she insisted, but because they don't really believe what they are saying.

"But the fact is that they don't do it because they know this is nonsense, they know that this would be a horrible mistake, that we will lose the game. So what we see is a collapse of all of the security arguments the right has been selling Israelis all the years."

Panelists consistently attacked the Israeli government's refusal to grant the Reform Movement - which rejects Halakhah (Jewish law), the Divinity of the Torah and other traditional Jewish practices and beliefs - equal status to Orthodox Judaism.

"We want access to the Wall and we want it now!" Yoffie said, in a reference to the movement to allow non-Orthodox practices at the Kotel. "We want our rabbis recognized and we want it now. We want our religious institutions supported no more and no less than the Orthodox!"

Shavit in particular sung the Reform Movement's praises, claiming it has created a "perfect Diaspora" in the US.

"The Jewish future will not only be decided on the borders of Gaza and Lebanon, but with you people doing the sacred work you are doing to guarantee a Jewish future," he gushed.

"Sadly, the Israeli Right, my government, does not understand that. I am a passionate Zionist, I think Israel is a miracle… but the other Jewish miracle of the last century is you - the perfect Diaspora you created here. We both need each other. We don't have a future without you and you don’t have a future without us.

Both Shaffir and Shavit claimed the Right had "hijacked" Zionism, and said they felt a need to speak out in the US to prove that many Israelis were not "right-wing" and shared much ideological ground with liberal American Jews.

"When Israel becomes a settler Israel, when Israel is perceived as an ultra-Orthodox Israel that rejects progressive values, that is not about social justice, and alienates young US Jews as well as non-Jews, it betrays its fundamental mission," Shavit said.

"Israel is all about not only being a light unto the nations, but being a light unto the Diaspora," he added. "The only way to have modern relevant non-Orthodox Judaism in the 21st century and beyond is to have a deep link, a deep alliance between you and us, and Israel under the right wing governments has been betraying that mission."

Reform President Yoffie agreed, but challenged left-wing Israelis to be more vocal in criticizing their government to foreign audiences.

"We need a coalition of moderate Zionists and moderate Diaspora Jews who are going to work together," Yoffie said.

He recounted a conversation with a senior official from Shaffir's Labor Party who, during a visit to the US, urged Yoffie and other liberal American Jews to speak out more against the Netanyahu government. When Yoffie asked the official why he himself was not doing so, the official responded by saying he did not think it was appropriate to attack his own democratically-elected government in a foreign country.

That, fired Yoffie, had to change if liberal American and Israeli Jews were to forge a common alliance against the Israeli Right.

"How are we going to do anything together that way?" he asked.

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