U.S. Rabbis withhold Prayer for New Far-Right Israeli Government, now Justified as that Government Legalizes New West Bank Settlements despite U.S. Objection
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
U.S. rabbis recently made a strong protest against Israel’s new far-right government by withholding their annual prayer for the government. Not just rabbis, but many American Jews expressed outrage at the new government. They are especially against the government’s anti-democratic leanings. True to form, the new government, just as soon U.S. Secretary of State Blinken ended his visit to Israel, legalized new West Bank Jewish settlements.
In Protesting Far-Right Government, U.S. Rabbis block traditional Prayer for new Israel Government
Just before Israel’s new right-wing government was to be sworn in in late December, a leading Rabbi in New York posted a bombshell on his synagogue’s website. He wrote, as the Washington Post reported, “This government is beyond awful, it deserves whatever small protest we can offer from afar.” The Rabbi then proposed his own prayer, Psalm 122, including the important phrase, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
The prayer for Israel, known as ‘A Prayer for Our Country,’ is read after the Torah reading in synagogues across the U.S. It was written by Israel’s chief rabbi on the founding of Israel as a nation in 1948, after the Torah reading on Shabbat mornings. The prayer has been a pillar in Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and many modern Orthodox prayerbooks. The Prayer includes two sentences specifically aimed at Israel’s government: “Guide its leaders and advisers with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel.”
Many other rabbis across the U.S. joined the New York rabbi in condemning the new Israeli government. They are protesting “Israel’s newly sworn-in coalition government, which includes cabinet members … 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 Palestinian Israelis and expand the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
These rabbis made clear, however, that they were not protesting Zionism. Zionism, to recall, is a nationalist movement that espouses the establishment of and support for a homeland for the Jewish people centering in the land that is known in the Jewish tradition as the Land of Israel.
Not just rabbis, but many American Jews have expressed outrage at the new government. They are especially against, per the Post, Israel’s “anti-democratic leanings, which run contrary to their liberal Jewish values.” Others have voiced opposition to what they see as Israel’s “potentially authoritarian bent.” Synagogue members have joined their rabbis in pledging “to block the most extreme Israeli cabinet members from speaking in their congregations or organizations.”
In concert with Jewish religious leaders, a group of 134 Israeli and U.S. historians wrote a letter “castigating the new government, saying Israel has never faced a graver political crisis.” Other Jewish leaders have insisted that their criticism of Israel should not be conflated with antisemitism. They noted, “Our criticisms emanate from a love for Israel and a steadfast support for its security and well-being.” They reiterated the fear of other American Jews that “the new government’s direction mirrors anti-democratic trends that we see arising elsewhere.”
The Washington Post piece ended on a very somber note, quoting an American Jewish leader: “But in the battle between liberal Jewish values and Israel’s slide from democracy, the future appears fraught. That should present an opportunity for American Jews to forge a new understanding of their faith, its foundation and its future.”
No sooner than Secretary of State Blinken departs Israel than its Government legalizes new West Bank Settlements
Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office announced this past Sunday, February 12, as reported by Axios World: “The Israeli Security Cabinet on Sunday decided to legalize nine illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank and turn them into new settlements.” This decision is the first since 2012 to legalize illegal outposts, done so despite the Biden administration’s objection. It is anticipated to cause tensions between the two countries.
Objections from the U.S. include “any unilateral moves by Israel that could hamper efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including settlement expansion and annexation.” This decision is the new government’s first to approve new building in the military occupied settlements on the West Bank. The motive for the decision about the outposts and settlements was described as “retaliation for two recent attacks in Jerusalem that killed 10 Israelis.”
An immediate step of the new Israeli ministers was in response to an escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That decision was to expand police operations in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The number of police and border guards were increased to deal with protests and violence between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Legalization of the nine outposts was not all that the ministers mandated, they decided to bring water and electricity to additional illegal outposts. Also, approval was given to “the planning and building of thousands of new housing units in the settlements.” Following that, the Prime Minister’s office also approved new building in existing settlements in the West Bank.
Finally, the Israeli Cabinet approved plans and building permits for 10,000 new housing units in the settlements. This probably represents 50,000 new Jewish settlers in the West Bank. That number adds to the approximately half-million settlers already there.
The Biden administration stated its strong opposition to the Israeli plan to further settle the occupied West Bank. The chances for any sense of a just solution are becoming more and more remote by Israel’s creating facts on the ground. Additionally, the Netanyahu government’s attempt to dominate Israel’s judiciary (in part to keep him from criminal conviction) will only add to the deterioration of the Palestinian situation.
“Some U.S. rabbis forgo prayer for Israel to protest far-right government,” Washington Post and Religious News Service), 2/10/2023
“Israel legalizes 9 West Bank outposts despite U.S. objection,” Axios World, 2/12/2023
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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