In his article sent to Arutz Sheva and titled "Zionism: The Great Jewish Ethical Project," Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz argues that the State of Israel and Zionism have derailed from a vision of morality to one of banality, lack of ethics and distortion of Judaism. Although none would deny the crucial import and centrality of morality to Judaism, Rabbi Yanklowitz argues that the State has in large measure abandoned this mandate:
“(F)or too long, the focus by Jewish religious communities has been on the land of Israel, rather than the moral purpose of Israel…
“But, at the same time, it’s vital to recognize that the Zionism at the core of Israel’s unique identity is stagnating as a mechanism to further and foster justice. And, as a result, we are losing enthusiastic progressive Zionists within Israel and in the Diaspora. How do we move the centrality of social justice ethics back to the heart of the Zionist experiment? How do we engage those who many believe can no longer be engaged in the Zionist enterprise?
“The answer is simple: the call to justice, liberty, and dignity. In this respect, we progress beyond the ultra-nationalistic, land-idolatry, distortion of Zionism and instead we return to build off the broad-based ethos of Herzl’s vision of a protective nation for a susceptible people.
“While Israel is excelling in many areas—including medical technology, animal welfare, and forming just courts —we must also be honest about where Israel is falling short and losing respect. When we’re honest about the alienating treatment of liberal non-Orthodox diaspora Jews, the treatment of Sephardic Jews in Israel, the treatment of Palestinians, the plans to deport thousands of African refugees, treatment of Israelis living below the poverty line, we’ll see that Israel, and Jews, are falling short of our moral excellence.”
Rabbi Yanklowitz views the Land of Israel as a practical moral venture and not as an inherently holy enterprise. The moral element is critical, but the Torah views Eretz Yisrael as much more than a place of caring for others, as important as that is. Eretz Yisrael is the locus of kedushah – holiness – as manifest by the Temple, whose kedushah and blessing impacted the entire country, and whose existence made the Land Godly and unique. This concept of holiness is absent from Rabbi Yanklowitz’ essay, and in fact Rabbi Yanklowitz has elsewhere written that he does not view the Temple as a positive thing! Rabbi Yanklowitz has also expressed support for the Temple’s destruction and the greatness of the Exile. The entire idea of Kedushat Eretz Yisrael – the Sanctity of the Land of Israel, especially as related to the Temple - is absent from Rabbi Yanklowitz’ theology.
We should take great exception to the allegation that “Israel, and Jews, are falling short of our moral excellence”. Yes, there is much work to do, and no one is exempt from introspection and the need engage in teshuvah (repentance for misdeeds). But the examples cited by Rabbi Yanklowitz are quite incorrect (“the alienating treatment of liberal non-Orthodox diaspora Jews, the treatment of Sephardic Jews in Israel, the treatment of Palestinians, the plans to deport thousands of African refugees…”).
Liberal non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry is a failed experiment. An intermarriage rate of 58% and heterodox Jewish movements which have abandoned all sense of traditional belief and practice are what liberal non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry has wrought. While all Jews should be welcome and treated equally, their brand of Judaism is owed no special recognition.
Sephardic Jews have made tremendous strides, and State discrimination, which was pronounced in the early years under left-wing Israeli governments, is a thing of the past. Rabbi Yanklowitz’ allegation about the present is inaccurate and unfair.
“Palestinians” are in large measure a vicious and existential threat to the life of every Israeli (and diaspora) Jew. Countless thousands of unprovoked, vicious murders of innocent Jews are the fruit of the “Palestinian” tree. The Israeli government does what it must out of necessity of self-defense and preservation of life, and yet “Palestinians” receive better treatment by the State of Israel better than by any Arab country! Rabbi Yanklowitz’ condemnation of Israeli “treatment of Palestinians” does not deserve to be taken seriously and is an affront. The Israeli government and IDF need not be lectured by Rabbi Yanklowitz about this matter.
The Israeli government has tried hard to find new homes for the 40,000 African migrants who seek asylum (and whom the State graciously hosted for so many years). There are over a hundred other countries which are far better able to absorb these migrants, and it is unfair for Rabbi Yanklowitz to condemn the Israeli government for not agreeing to permanently retain them.
But let’s go a bit deeper. As much as Rabbi Yanklowitz professes the importance of Eretz Yisrael and the State of Israel, as defined within his own “progressive” value system, a few weeks ago Rabbi Yanklowitz called for a disengagement of sorts from Eretz Yisrael/Medinat Yisrael. In a Jewish Journal article entitled Alienated from Israeli Policies: The Diaspora as the new Jewish Center?,
Rabbi Yanklowitz stated:
"When American Jews prioritize making the world a better place and consistently feel shame about the Israeli government’s policies, are we really going to tell them they’re bad Jews who don’t get it?
"We must, of course, engage in American-Israeli dialogue as we have so much to learn from one another, but we should also be respectfully honest about the growing divide and our major differences in values and Jewish ideologies.
"Now is the time for Jews everywhere to take heed of the words of David Ben-Gurion, who expressed in a 1950 letter that: “…the Jews of the United States…owe no political allegiance to Israel….We, the people of Israel, have no desire and no intention to interfere in any way with the internal affairs of Jewish communities abroad. The government and the people of Israel fully respect the right and integrity of the Jewish communities in other countries to develop their indigenous social, economic, and cultural institutions in accord with their own needs and aspirations.”
Ben-Gurion’s diplomatically cautious words, rhetorically uttered in the context of easing tensions, are now seized upon by Rabbi Yanklowitz as an affirmative mandate for disengagement from Eretz Yisrael/Medinat Yisrael!
It is now clear where Rabbi Yanklowitz really stands - and it is a far cry from the right place.