Outrage over far-right Israeli government has American Jewish leaders stewing

by | Feb 3, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — Shortly before Israel’s new right-wing government was sworn in late December, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of New York’s Ansche Chesed Synagogue penned a blog post on the congregation’s website.“This government is beyond awful,” he wrote. “It deserves whatever small protest we can offer from afar.”
He then proposed his own. He would stop saying the Prayer for the State of Israel in the Saturday morning liturgy and replace it with Psalm 122, which includes the phrase, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Kalmanofsky made clear he was not protesting Zionism, to which he said he is still committed, but Israel’s newly sworn-in coalition government that includes cabinet members whom he described as Jewish supremacists, fascists and racists.
Several, in fact, have criminal convictions and have made plain their desire to restrict the rights of minorities, weaken the judiciary, allow for harsher treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and expand the settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky. Photo courtesy Ansche Chesed Synagogue
Kalmanofsky’s small protest gained headlines in “The Forward” and has since led to the resignation of one of the synagogue’s board members and at least one other synagogue member.
But mostly his 650-family Conservative congregation has welcomed the change. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he said in a phone call.
Many American Jews are outraged by Israel’s new government and its anti-democratic leanings, which run contrary to their liberal Jewish values. In the past month, at least three petitions with hundreds of signatures have emerged, each criticizing the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what many see as its potentially authoritarian bent.
“Even rabbis who don’t usually take risks to speak about Israel, occupation and democracy are taking a few more risks,” noted Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
In one petition, days after Israel’s government was sworn in, hundreds of rabbis pledged to block the most extreme Israeli cabinet members from speaking in their congregations or organizations.

RELATED: Hundreds of US rabbis protest new Israeli government in public letter

Then came a letter from a group of 134 Israeli and U.S. historians castigating the new government, saying Israel has never faced a graver political crisis.
And on Wednesday (Feb. 1), 185 Jewish leaders called on Congress not to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism:
“Our criticisms emanate from a love for Israel and a steadfast support for its security and well-being,” said the statemen …

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