When Israel embarked on “Operation Guardian of the Walls” following massive rocket fire from Hamas in the Gaza Strip in May, the country needed national unity.
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received full support for the operation from Naftali Bennett, who would shortly thereafter become his successor, and from other anti-Netanyahu politicians, such as current Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Even United Arab List (Ra’am) Party head Mansour Abbas went to a synagogue that had been vandalized by Arabs and pledged to rebuild it.
Only a real extremist, fringe politician would come out against the government when Israel Defense Forces are fighting terrorists, while both Jewish and Arab civilians are running for cover. Only the most divisive Israeli would post a message on Facebook denouncing the operation.
And she did.
“War is not a legitimate step to build a coalition,” she wrote, in an anti-Netanyahu post on May 15, the same day that Israel destroyed a Hamas terror tower in Gaza.
Who would go so far as to attack a prime minister that way in the heart of a war, while lives were being lost?
A woman currently running for a position seen as no less than the presidency of the entire Jewish people in Israel and around the world: chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Former Yesh Atid Party Knesset member Ruth Calderon became Alternate Prime Minister Lapid’s candidate to head the Jewish Agency after Yesh Atid minister Elazar Stern put his foot in his mouth and joked about shredding sexual harassment complaints in the IDF. Stern has actually defended women’s rights throughout his military and political careers, but he was still forced out of the race for suggesting that he might have done otherwise.
Calderon has engaged in hate speech throughout her career, and no one has asked her to take it back. Luckily for her, she has never criticized women’s rights. Calderon only attacked Orthodox Jews.
In 2015, soon after she was not re-elected to the Knesset, she issued a scathing attack on Orthodox MKs for not supporting her radical bills about Shabbat, civil marriage and shmita.
“It was the religious population that stopped me,” she complained. “Their closed-mindedness, their libeling and their cruelty will collapse the dream of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.”
Anyone who would say that about any group of Jews is unfit to hold a post once held by Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
Calderon also called for ending the Orthodox monopoly on burial ceremonies, which is a fringe point of view even among the most secular Israelis. She spoke out against Lag B’Omer, a holiday that crosses ethnic and religious divides.
Bennett endorsed Stern, but he declined to go along with Lapid’s shift to Calderon, undoubtedly because of her unconventional approach to Judaism. Many were outraged by a video of Calderon saying on a panel with former Jewish Agency chairman Avraham Burg that she puts bread—not matzah—on her Seder plate in order to remember the poor.
“Not Jewish Agency material,” has been a frequent comment from many who viewed the clip.
If there ever was an understatement, that’s it. Mansour Abbas would be a better fit to head the Jewish Agency because he at least makes an effort to be a unifying figure.
The Jewish Agency needs to unite the very divided Jewish people, which is a formidable task, but it can be done, and it has been done.
I wrote the first article supporting Isaac Herzog even before he officially ran for Jewish Agency chairman, even though his views on many issues look different from mine and he may not at first blush observe as many commandments as his grandfather, the late chief rabbi of Israel. Clearly, Natan Sharansky was also a unifying figure that the Jewish Agency needed.
If there ever was a time when bonds within the Jewish community need to be strengthened, it is now, when the plagues of COVID-19 and divisiveness have joined intermarriage and anti-Semitism in harming us disproportionately around the world. All streams need to work together.
There are currently multiple candidates being considered by the selection committee. None may be a Herzog or a Sharansky, but understand the need for Jewish unity and peoplehood, and can make an effort to fight the aforementioned plagues.
The selection committee is set to meet on Tuesday and perhaps will make its final choice ahead of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings at the end of February. Lapid is pushing the committee hard to adopt his choice, telling them that he will become prime minister and the Agency head will have to work with him.
But events of the last two weeks have underscored that anything can happen in Israeli politics and Lapid rotating into the Prime Minister’s Office is far from a foregone conclusion. The selection committee needs to resist political pressure and pick whoever could best serve the Jewish people and, as importantly, the Jewish Agency.
I hope and pray that the committee rejects Calderon and chooses a unifying figure.
Martin Oliner is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and serves as a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former U.S. President Donald Trump as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed are his own. [email protected].
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