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The Rabbi Writes: Shula is Coming

The Jewish Humanist, November 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 4

Shula is coming. 

Shula is the famous Shulamit Aloni, the fiery Shulamit Aloni, who transformed the politics of Israel. Founder of the Ratz party, she was the first champion of individual freedom and women’s rights in the Knesset arena. Her courageous voice rallied thousands of Israelis to push for separation of religion and government and to demand the civil liberties that we as Americans take for granted. 

When the Labor government under Yitshak Rabin took power in Israel four years ago, she was appointed Minister of Education. Her predecessors for fifteen years had been the tools of Ultra- Orthodox Rabbis and the “yeshiva” lobby, funneling millions of shekels into the hands of religious fanatics. Her attempt to reverse the process was met with fierce opposition. Her bold articulation of a secular vision for Israel was labeled ” blasphemous”. In the end, Rabin was forced by panicky Laborites to shift her to the less controversial Ministry of culture. Even members of her own party turned on her for her “indiscretions” island sought to find more timid leadership. But the nature of Shula is to speak honestly and never to be intimidated. 

With the arrival of Netanyahu, Shula became part of the opposition.  She understands that there are two urgent causes for those who are concerned about the survival of Israel.  The first is the development of a strong secular humanistic movement in Israel, which will offer effective resistance to Orthodox demands and which will provide a positive Jewish alternative.  Shula was instrumental in helping to launch Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel after her 1979 visit to the Birmingham Temple.  The second is the defense of the peace process which Rabin and Peres initiated and which Netanyahu is in the process of destroying. 

The threat to the security and survival of Israel provided by the intransigence of Netanyahu is enormous. Bibi talks peace but he is unwilling to make any concessions which will make peace between Jew and Arab possible. This inflexibility flows both from personal conviction and political necessity. He is totally dependent on the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset to guarantee the viability of his government. 

The consequences of his intransigence are frightening. Credibility and authority of the government will collapse. Chaos among the Palestinians will ensue. Some Palestinians will renew the Intifada. Many Palestinians will turn to the fundamentalist Hamas as an alternative leadership. The moderate Arab regimes of Mubarak in Egypt and Hussein in Jordan, which committed their prestige to the peace process, will be in danger. The Israeli army, prodded by the insecurities of Orthodox settlers, will engage in a campaign of repression which will alienate American and world opinion. Israel will be isolated, surrounded by fierce and fanatic enemies, fighting a war that cannot be won. The conflict will stimulate fear and chauvinism in the Israeli public and make them prone to increasing Orthodox control. The vision of a free secular democratic Jewish state will die. 

The peace process was intended to initiate a different scenario. The Israelis would evacuate Gaza and the West Bank, including Hebron. A Palestinian state would emerge next to the Jewish state. Peace would strengthen Mubarak and Hussein in Egypt and Jordan, who would offer their support to guarantee that Arafat behaved and that the fundamentalist were restrained. The reality of Peace would persuade other Arab and Muslim states to abandon their hostility and to enter into a friendly relationship with Israel. The intransigent government of Gadhafi in Libya, Bashir in the Sudan (sic) and Assad in Syria would be isolated. In time the Arab and Muslim worlds would open up to Israeli know how and technological skills. Israel would function as a high-tech Hong Kong or Singapore in a Middle Eastern Muslim sea. The secular forces in the Arab world would be encouraged by these transformations to resist their fundamentalist enemies. Israel would be smaller but safer, a partner in projects of economic cooperation. Hate and distrust would continue. But they would be controlled by the growing possibility of mutual respect and mutual dependence.  

The dream of this second scenario cannot be allowed to die.  Israelis who supported the peace process and who suffered the cruel disappointment of losing the May election need to know that there are thousands of Jews in the Diaspora who support their cause and who are prepared to act on behalf of the vision of Rabin and Peres.  Many of these Jews are in America the nation that has the power and vested interest to pressure the Israeli government to change its course. 

On Monday evening November 18 at 8:30PM Shula will be in the Birmingham Temple to speak to us about Israel and peace.  This meeting will be a Rally for Peace.  All members of the Birmingham Temple-all members of the Jewish community-all concerned citizens who believe that the peace process must not be allowed to die and that Netanyahu must be persuaded to reverse his course of self-destruction are urged to attend. 

We must join Shula in offering resistance to this act of national suicide.  Those in power, in both Israel and the United States must hear our voice.  Silence and resignation are ethically unacceptable. 

Rabin died because he would not surrender to the demands of inflexible nationalism.  Today his assassin, Yigal Amir, is being honored by Orthodox fan clubs who celebrate his act of “patriotism”.  If we are appalled by this indecency, if we do not believe that these demonstrators speak on behalf of most of the Jewish people.  If we are passionate about the long-run survival of the Jewish people, then we will make it our business to attend the rally on November 18 to hear Shula and to offer our support to the struggle for peace. 

Shulamit Aloni

The Jewish Humanist, May/June 1993

SHUALMIT ALONI IS COMING! YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS HER!

Aloni is the leader of the Meretz coalition in the Israeli Knesset She is the controversial Minister of Education and Culture, whose defense of a secular state has aroused the passionate hostility of the ultra-Orthodox. Over the past few months a public battle has been waged between liberals and religious conservatives over her membership in the Israeli government. The Orthodox want her head. The moderates see her as the one guarantee that the present regime will defend civil liberties and begin to dismantle the state support of traditional religion. This controversy has been featured on the front pages of most newspapers and given Aloni international fame.

Shula is a native Israeli who grew up in Jerusalem. Her early years were the formative years of the Jewish state. Reared in the secular Zionism of the Zionist pioneers, she hoped that the state of Israel would fulfill the humanistic dreams of the founders. To her dismay the Labor government of David Ben-Gurion compromised these ideals for political expediency and turned over the regulation of family life to the Orthodox. Her response to this betrayal was not the cynical resignation of most Labor politicians, but open defiance. She committed her life to politics, to feminism, to personal freedom and to the defense of the liberal democratic tradition of the modern Enlightenment.

This defiance was not easy. Given her talents and charisma, she could have, with little effort, achieved political power If had been willing to compromise the Integrity of her ideals. Her punishment was that she was banished by the leaders of the Labor Party to the periphery of Israeli political Golda Meir, in particular, was incensed her disobedience and by her embarrassing persistence. Golda, as Aloni points out, saw herself as the ultimate Jewish mother of the Jewish nation, whose children were not as wise as she was. When she encountered political resistance, especially within her own camp, her response could be ruthless. Golda believed that pursuing the cause of either feminism or civil liberties was a harmful division from the main task of Unifying the Israeli people in defense of the Jewish state against the Arab aggressors.

Shula expressed her defiance in many ways. She wrote books and newspaper articles and hosted a provocative radio show. She counseled the marriage and divorce victims of Orthodox law, finding creative ways for secular Jews to avoid Orthodox jurisdiction. She became a consumer advocate, mobilizing thousands of followers to press for domestic reform. She was elected to Knesset where she remained, for a long time, a sole advocate for women’s rights and Separation of religion and government. She organized a new political party, the Citizens Rights Movement (Ratz), which provided a clear public voice for the elementary personal freedom which we in America take for granted. For over a decade she was treated as a political pariah, a solo prophetic voice in a sea of cynics and chauvinists. But, in the last election, her party helped to create a coalition of the liberal left – Ratz and Mapam and Shinui – which named itself Merétz and went on to win ten seats in the Knesset. With Meretz, the Labor Party and Rabin were able to unseal the Likud and to achieve political supremacy. Aloni’s reward was the Ministry of Education and Culture, a crucial ministry which had been under Orthodox control in the previous government and which had wrought havoc with the secular curriculum of the state schools. The battle lines were now drawn, especially when she proclaimed that feministic values needed to re-enter the Israeli school system. She has now become the chief target of Orthodox hate. Even Rabin has wavered in support of her and has tried to censor her.’ Power has brought her no relief from continuous assault.

Now Shula is more to us than a brave Jewish defender of freedom and human dignity. She is the longtime friend of the Birmingham Temple and one of the founders of the Humanistic Jewish movement in Israel.

We first met her in 1979 when she consented to come from Israel to be our special guest at the annual meeting of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Her appearance was transforming. The rapport between her and her American audience was electric. We loved her from the start. And she loved us.

In 1981, enthusiastic about the prospects For Humanistic Judaism in Israel, she helped to organize a dialogue between secular Jews from America and secular Jews from Israel at Shefayim, a seaside kibbutz north of Tel Aviv. Many important Israeli intellectuals and writers attended. Within two years the Israeli Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism was born.

Shula’s coming is part of our celebration of our Temple’s thirtieth birthday anniversary. One of the best things that has happened to us in the past thirty years is that we made the Shula connection. Her participation in our celebration is testimony to the fact that Humanistic Judaism has an important part to play In the Jewish world.