I try to avoid electoral politics in my writing. I’m not a political authority of any type. But this week’s election in Israel carries both cultural and spiritual messages that are relevant to American Jews, and offer lessons for Americans in general.
You’ve likely heard by now that the winner was Benjamin Netanyahu. Though he will likely manage to escape punishment for his crimes and run the government, he is not the big winner. The person who has become perhaps the most powerful person in the country, upon whom governments will rise and fall, is the head of the party called Jewish Power, Itamar Ben Gvir. This won’t be fun, but I’d like to introduce him to you, since in essence, 70% of Israeli Jews (including those who voted directly for him and others who voted for parties willing to make a coalition with him) voted for a government that he holds tremendous power over.
Some of you will remember the name Baruch Goldstein. He was a doctor from Brooklyn who moved to Hebron, and on Purim day, 1994 entered the mosque inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and murdered 29 Muslim worshippers. I remember the discussion the following day in my Jerusalem high school, in which most of the class expressed outrage, but in which one kid, Motti, expressed complete support for the killing. That’s the position Ben Gvir took as well. The following year on Purim he dressed up as Goldstein. Until this recent campaign, with his attempts to portray himself as slightly more moderate than he is, Ben Gvir had a poster of Goldstein hanging in his home. There’s a video of him in 2020 standing by that hanging poster in his living room, holding his baby girl and saying to her: “He’s a tzadik, a righteous man, a hero.”
Ben Gvir had a teacher that some of you will have heard of as well. His name was Meir Kahane. Another Brooklynite who became a member of the Israeli Knesset until the court outlawed his party because of its outright racism and hate. That party, Kach, is currently on both the US and Israel’s list of terrorist organizations. Kahane espoused Jewish supremacy. He advocated the forced transfer of all Arabs from Israel. It was in those years that the chant “Mavet La’aravim,” “Death to the Arabs,” became commonplace. Last night some were chanting it when Ben Gvir took the stage to celebrate his victory. Ben Gvir is the first to admit that there are close to no…