The Orthodox Forum of Highland Park/Edison hosted a lecture featuring Micah Halpern, syndicated columnist, educator, author and radio and TV broadcaster on the topics of terror, the Middle East and Muslim Fundamentalism. Halpern’s discussion was titled, “Israeli Elections: What it means for our future.”
Halpern explained that the conflict surrounding the State of Israel has been in existence since its founding. Even in 1948, at the nation’s inception, there was conflict about what to call it. Ben Gurion objected to the suggested name, Yehuda, as it symbolized the European Jew who played such a victimized role in recent history. He preferred the name Israel, which was referenced in biblical stories of constant struggle.
Halpern noted that the state of Israel is still a “laboratory experiment” as a theological democracy. While the world has many democracies and many theocracies, Israel’s concept as a Jewish democracy is still a balancing act. It is not easy to blend a traditional, religious society with a secular one.
Halpern also discussed some differences between secular Jews in Israel and in the diaspora. In Israel, even secular Jews are fluent in Hebrew because they speak the lashon hakodesh in their daily lives. Outside of Israel, Hebrew is often a second or third language at best. Secular Israelis know about all Jewish holidays, including Shavuot, an unfamiliar holiday to many diaspora Jews outside of Orthodoxy. Fully secular Israelis may only know the holiday because there is a large newspaper edition printed about it beforehand, but since the holiday falls after most Hebrew schools end for the year, many Americans never hear of it.
Adding that the recent shift within American Jewry against the state of Israel has been dramatic, Halpern noted that nobody forces a love for Israel or Judaism and there are many other causes that capture the focus of American Jews. A generation ago, it was standard for American Jews to belong to groups that supported many different Jewish organizations. Today, there are so many other interests that compete, resulting in increasingly more Americans who don’t care about Israel. Most Jewish youth do not see the BDS movement or calls of “Death to Israel” as a concern.
In terms of current politics, most Israelis were not surprised to see a second Israeli election; it is indicative of a functioning democracy. Halpern predicts that a third election will “punish” (not elect) those perceived as keeping a government from forming. Noting that historically it has taken an average of 50 days to form a government, Halpern said that asking either side to do it in four weeks is almost impossible. Neither party has seen members leach out yet, but it is highly likely in the near future. Zionist parties will not ask for Arab participation and Arab parties will not permit themselves to align with Zionist ones. The only alignments would come from within Blue and White and Likud parties.
Increasingly, Israelis are looking at what happens in Gaza to influence their vote. Most Israelis would like to see some closure there, and will not increase calls for specific action until cities like Ashdod and Ashkelon are under constant attack.
It would be impossible to talk about Israel without noting the surrounding region. Current protests in the Arab world are increasingly political in nature and less sectarian, with leaders in the Arab world wishing to blame Israel for the protests. The additional blame will increase anti-Israel sentiment worldwide and likely inspire more global acts of terror.
Halpern remarked that the floors of Congress have become increasingly anti-Israel. Unless more young people get involved now, we will be the last generation to care about the U.S.-Israel relationship. There is a need to have more Jews in both the Democratic and Republican parties to increase the support for Israel.
By Deborah Melman