NEW YORK — A "rising tide of contempt" for Western democratic political culture is increasing in Israel and is threatening the "basic concord" between the Jewish state and Diaspora Jewry, according to the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch issued the warning this week in the keynote address of a two-day conference on Zionism and the Conservative movement at the seminary and featuring leaders of Conservative Judaism from the United States, Israel and other countries.
Six seminars at the conference focused on such topics as democratic values in the state of Israel, Israel-Diaspora relations, the role of religion in Israel, aliyah (emigration to Israel), the centrality of the state of Israel in Jewish life and peace, and land and security in the state of Israel.
In his address, Schorsch said: "Israel represents the most potent force for unity in a secular age in which the Jewish people has become deeply fragmented religiously. Israel stirs the emotions of secular and religious Jews alike, especially in moments of crisis."
However, the seminary chancellor said, "Nothing endangers that centrality more gravely than the continued growth of Orthodox power in public life." He asserted that "Jews in the Diaspora remain viscerally committed to the political culture of Western democracy" and warned that "the rising tide of contempt for this political culture in Israel among certain right-wing circles and all-too-many young people threatens the basic concord on this issue that has existed between Israel and the Diaspora since the founding of the state, especially if Meir Kahane and his ilk are saying what others merely think."
While Schorsch maintained that Israel has handled the Palestinian uprising "with less brutality and bloodshed than usually mark the repression of a national rebellion," he added that "the matter is far too important to all Jews for this conference to remain silent. Israel's fate hangs in the balance, and we should not be cowed by voices of authority and expertise."
The Conservative Jewish leader said the uprising "has not challenged Israel's security as much as its moral fiber" and asserted that "the Palestine problem has become an internal Jewish problem in much the same manner as anti-Semitism is essentially an internal Christian problem."
According to Schorsch, land was "never granted unconditionally" to Israel in biblical times. "On the contrary," he said, "its retention came to be regarded as a function of the piety and justice of its body politic. To pervert God's law would defile the land and lead to expulsion. The world harbored enough decadent societies. The language of the Bible is visceral, 'So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you,' " he said, quoting Leviticus 18:28.
The seminary chancellor declared that "the parochialism of Judaism always had at its core an ecumenical thrust. Our exercise of power must continue to accord with the lofty moral standards we espoused when powerless, for that is the ultimate biblical sanction of a Jewish state--to validate our vision in the crucible of reality."