Our Relationship with Israel

For our discussion about “Our Relationship with Israel,” I offer these insights and observations:

            The aspirations of Israel’s founding vision, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, are most closely aligned with those of Reform Judaism. And on matters of religious freedom and equality, the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews share core values and principles with Reform Judaism.

            The significance for Reform Judaism of the State of Israel is both underappreciated and not fully perceived. Most missing is recognition of Israel’s role as a laboratory for the relevance of Judaism in the contemporary world – Israel tests the viability of a modern nation-state that aims to be both Jewish and democratic. As a result, Reform Judaism has not regarded the State of Israel with as high a priority level as it merits.

            The non-Orthodox Jewish movements that are directly impacted by the discriminatory policies arising from the Israeli political alignments, which distort both Israel’s founding vision and the will of the Israeli people, never have developed a comprehensive strategy to contend with the overarching challenges inherent in Israel being both a Jewish and a democratic State.

            The bond between American Jewry and the State of Israel is critical for the sake of Jewish unity and peoplehood, and is a vital strategic asset for the State of Israel. While Israelis may be ambivalent about the degree to which their government should take into consideration the views of American Jewish leadership on domestic and security matters, a large majority – 68% – responds affirmatively when asked whether they view positively greater “engagement from American Jewish leadership in advancing religious freedom and equality in Israel, such as in legalizing civil marriage and divorce and in doing away with the monopoly of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate”.

            For the sake of Israel, Reform Judaism, and the Jewish people, our Movement needs to be far more engaged, outspoken, and committed in its relationship with Israel. In so doing, we need to be strategic, informed, and responsible. We must realize that inasmuch as the Kotel controversy may be relevant to many American Jews, it is a marginal issue at best for the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews. Therefore focusing on it, as the Movements have done in recent years, would neither significantly enhance religious freedom in Israel nor grant Reform Judaism greater acceptance and relevance. There are other challenges in this arena of the unholy alliance of religion and state, which Israel faces, shared by both Israelis and world Jewry. These include, for instance, the right to family and gender equality. This is where our advocacy should focus.

            Now more than ever before, we can establish partnerships across religious and political lines, and our efforts should reflect the unifying potential that this struggle offers. A prime initiative to advance this cause is the “Vision Statement on Israel as Jewish and democratic state,” which has already been endorsed by key leaders of Reform Judaism, along with others in all streams of Judaism and from different political camps.

– Rabbi Regev

Rabbi Regev Speaking about Our Relationship with Israel: