Don’t be the battlefield for somebody’s war by proxy

The other day I was reading an article by a South Korean writer, in which he expressed how unhappy his people were about being a battlefield for proxy wars. The Korean war from 1950-53 was a vicious conflict in which some 2.5 million civilians were killed, far more than even the highest estimates of military dead on both sides. It was a skirmish between the Soviet and American empires, but most of the dead and wounded were Korean. They died from starvation, from being caught in the crossfire, and from massacres carried out by both sides. Much of both North and South Korea was totally destroyed. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, changed hands four times. One can only imagine the conditions faced by its residents.

The Vietnam war was probably the longest of the cold-war proxy wars, counting from the French defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954 to the final withdrawal of US forces in 1975. Although estimates vary widely, several million civilians were killed in this war as well. The fact that the numbers of casualties, military and civilian, are comparable with those of the 3-year Korean war illustrates the ferocity of the Korean conflict.

The two sides aren’t morally equivalent. Although both sides committed atrocities and war crimes in Korea and Vietnam, I believe that the American narrative of defending at least the possibility of freedom in those places is more true than the Soviet one of opposing American imperialism and promoting self-determination of peoples.

The Soviets managed to keep their own troops out of these wars, but the Americans sent expeditionary forces which suffered severe losses. Part of the Soviet objective was to entangle the US in expensive and divisive conflicts, a strategy which the US turned against them during the 1980s Soviet-Afghan War. It was an effective strategy in both cases: Vietnam did great damage to the cohesion of American society (and was helped to do so  by Soviet psychological warfare experts), and the cost of the war in Afghanistan contributed to the collapse of the USSR.

The war in Syria has become yet another proxy conflict, one which arguably has three main outsiders manipulating their proxies: Russia, the US, and Iran, along with contributions from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. All of these are manipulating the local fighters to achieve their desired geopolitical ends as well as to entangle and weaken their enemies. Bashar al-Assad sold his soul (such as it was) to the Iranian and Russian devils; he may survive as long as he is useful to them.

But in all cases, the last thing those who pull the strings care about is the fate of the residents of the battlefield they have chosen.

Israel’s wars in 1967 and 1973 were also cold-war proxy affairs, although neither of the empires of the East and West sent their own soldiers (except some Russian pilots) to die for the cause. The shortness of these wars and the fact that most fighting occurred outside of populated areas kept the civilian casualties comparatively low.

Israel’s next war, which may be fought on several fronts simultaneously, has the potential to hurt many more civilians than any of her previous wars, both in Israel and among her immediate antagonists, Hamas-controlled Gaza, Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, and possibly the Palestinian Authority. Large numbers of short-range rockets and longer-range missiles are expected to be fired at cities and towns in densely-populated Israel; and a large amount of fire will be concentrated on the launchers, which are located in civilian areas. Both sides will suffer.

As the people of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and many other countries learned to their sorrow, it is bad to be the site of a proxy war. Parties to a local conflict often hook their wagons to one or more of the big powers, thinking that this will give them the advantage to prevail (think Assad and Russia and Iran). Then the other side finds its own champions among the enemies of the first group. But when the local conflict becomes a proxy war between powers with relatively unlimited resources, even the winning side often finds that it has won a pyrrhic victory.

The temptation is strong when one side has powerful backers for the other side to give up some of its autonomy in return for help from backers of its own. This tends to exacerbate the conflict, and makes it harder for one side to use its deterrent capability to prevent war.

How do you avoid getting ground up in a proxy war that you don’t control? One way is to avoid becoming too dependent on outside powers. They will use you for their own interests, not yours. Another is to skip the proxy and threaten the puppeteers directly. So Kim Jong-un is trying to develop the means to deter the US from involvement in his conflict with South Korea. Why only threaten Seoul when you can threaten Guam, or even Seattle? This strategy seems insane when you consider the relative strength of the US and North Korea, but the public possession of a deliverable hydrogen bomb could do the trick. While I by no means approve of Kim, I have to admire his strategic acumen.

And so we come to Israel. What she should not do is try to line up great power allies which will promise to defend her. No matter how good allies they are, they can’t care more about our interests than their own. And the protection of our civilian population is our main interest. It is not necessarily theirs. We must not allow ourselves to become proxies for anyone.

The power that supports all of our enemies to a greater or lesser extent, is Iran. Every day Iranians chant “death to Israel” and do their best to transfer weapons to Hezbollah. Iran’s ambitions are global in the long run, and it sees Israel as an obstacle to its control of the Middle East, as well as a base for American power. The regime does not hide its strategy to destroy Israel in a proxy war against America fought on our turf and Lebanon’s. It has piled up a great deal of cash as a result of the agreement on nuclear weapons, and it is using it to make its proxies more deadly. And the regime is quite happy to sacrifice its proxies. This is why Israel can’t deter Iran by threatening to bomb Lebanon.

Kim Jong-un may or may not have a deliverable weapon at this point, but he has caused the mighty US to tremble. Israel has far more destructive potential than North Korea, and Iran is far weaker than America. Israel should neither become a proxy for the US, nor should it expect to deter Iran’s non-autonomous proxy.

Defeating Iran’s proxies is like cutting the heads off a Hydra. They will grow back unless the beast itself is neutralized. Israel’s deterrence should be focused on its real enemy, Iran. And if we are forced into war, Iran should be a primary strategic target from the start.

Posted in Iran, Middle East politics, War | 2 Comments

A dishonest editorial from Ha’aretz

Ha’aretz, the voice of Israel’s Left, published an editorial just before Yom Kippur, whose intent was to frighten those who oppose dismantling Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and establishing a state of Palestine there. It’s worth a close examination, because there are still those, especially outside of Israel, who might take it seriously. Here it is in its entirety, with my comments:

Advocates of a two-state solution – in other words, a majority in Israel and throughout the world, or nearly so – cannot be unmoved and helpless in the face of its accelerated death spiral, in plain sight, under the irresponsible leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israelis have from time to time answered “yes” to questions like “If it would bring peace and security, would you support a withdrawal from the territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state.” But at the same time, a large majority believes that it would bring, instead of peace and security, a hostile terror state next door which would be a platform for attacks on Israel’s population centers. Ha’aretz deliberately misleads – lies – when it asserts that Israelis favor it.

The defense of Israel requires the presence of the IDF in the Jordan Valley and on the high ground of Judea and Samaria. No agreement for a demilitarized Palestinian state or for international guarantees can replace it. The example of Gaza shows that only Israeli military control can prevent the creation of a base for terrorism in view of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport. Ha’aretz doesn’t address the security issues at all.

It is also important to note the ambiguity in the phrase “two-state solution.” For Israelis, it means the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state in the territories. For the PLO, it means the establishment of a Jew-free Palestine in the territories and the “return” of millions of descendants of Arab refugees to Israel. It does not imply an end of the conflict until all their demands are met.

This is a serious blind spot in the vision of the two-staters. All one has to do is listen to the pronouncements of the PLO, look at their schoolbooks, or study the results of polls taken in the PA to know that the Palestinian leadership and street are not interested in a peaceful state alongside Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned 10 days ago, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, of the momentous change taking place before our eyes. It was the first time Abbas addressed in detail the remaining option open to the Palestinians – to declare a new struggle, for equal rights throughout the territory of Israel-Palestine – in other words, a one-state solution.

Here Ha’aretz creates a false dichotomy. It is by no means the only “remaining option,” regardless of what Abbas might “declare.” But such a declaration would mark the end of the strategy, a modified version of Arafat’s 1974 “phased plan,” to establish a temporary “authority” on territory “liberated” from the Jews as an interim stage in the destruction of the Jewish state. As such, I would welcome it as a more honest approach to their true objective.

The threat of “one state with equal rights from the river to the sea” which would be perhaps 40% Arab (or a majority if Gaza were included), has been made before. Sari Nusseibeh proposed it years ago. But there are alternatives to “one state” other than creating a sovereign state of Palestine. One is that Israel annex the parts of Judea and Samaria that contain most of the Jewish residents and are strategic for the purposes of security, grant the Arabs autonomy in the remaining areas, but retain control of borders and airspace. Another is Martin Sherman’s plan to encourage Arab emigration with financial incentives. There is also a plan proposed by Mordechai Kedar to create “emirates” based on Palestinian clans, a logical solution considering Palestinian politics.

Incidentally, “Israel-Palestine” is not a place. There is no state of Palestine – there is an semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in part of the territories, which was created by the Oslo Accords, which have long since been abrogated by the PLO. The pollution of language by advocates for a Palestinian state – i.e., the use of the phrases “State of Palestine” and “Israel-Palestine” to suggest that there already is such a state – must be rejected in the interest of truth.

Thus spake Abbas: “[N]either you, nor we, will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine.”

“Thus spake” the guy whose authority extends more or less to the city limits of Ramallah and who is hated by a majority of Palestinian Arabs. Abbas, a holocaust-denier, an inciter of murder and apologist for terrorism, is not a prophet who “spake” about anything, ever.

Not a week went by before Netanyahu provided the ultimate proof of Abbas’ argument. In his speech at the state Ceremony Marking 50 Years of Settlement in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley, held in Gush Etzion he said, “There will be no more uprooting of communities in the Land of Israel!” In other words, there will be no additional evacuations of settlements, a declaration meaning the end of the chance for a two-state solution, which is based on the simple, fair formula of land in exchange for peace.

The formula of “land for peace” is neither simple nor fair. Not simple, because land, once given, can’t easily be taken back. Why should the other side provide peace once it has the land? Ha’aretz ignores the fact that any agreement (e.g., for demilitarization) with Abbas or any similar dictator could immediately be abrogated by a successor regime – or the regime itself. Any treaty that Israel would get in return for a withdrawal that would endanger its life would depend on the good faith of those who have never acted in good faith, and who proudly admit it when they are speaking Arabic to their own people.

“Land for peace” is only fair on the assumption that the possession of Judea and Samaria by an Arab regime is justified in the first place. But that possession was the result of aggression by the Arab states in 1948, in which Jordan occupied land earmarked by the Mandate for a Jewish National Home. How did this illegal 19-year occupation in some way legitimize Jordan’s later gift of the land to the PLO? If I steal your property and give it to my brother, does he have a right to keep it?

From the beginning, the central goal of the settlement enterprise, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was to frustrate the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel and destroy any hope of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinian people.

This, too is wrong. The objective was to settle the historic land of Israel, for some in order to guarantee its security according to Zionist principles, and for others to fulfill the biblical mitzvah to settle the land. In neither case did the Palestinian Arabs have anything to do with it. But Ha’aretz dislikes both Zionism and religion.

This destructive objective could be within reach. Only the urgent and vigorous mobilization of all forces in Israel and the international community that want a strong and free Israel alongside an independent Palestinian state could avert the evil decree, in the words of the liturgy, and rescue the most logical, just and feasible solution for ending the occupation and obtaining peace.

Ha’aretz and friends often refer to “the occupation” and the need to “end it.” This is another example of linguistic pollution. The presence of the IDF east of the 1949 armistice line is not a belligerent occupation in the traditional sense, because there is no state that is occupied. It is true that the Israeli Supreme Court decided that the IDF should provide the inhabitants with all the rights and protections guaranteed to a population under occupation as specified in the Geneva Conventions, but this was in order to protect their rights, not to limit them – and explicitly not to define the situation as one of occupation.

An “independent Palestinian state” in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem (and Gaza?) would not be any more viable than today’s Palestinian Authority, and would be a deadly threat to the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course this is precisely the intent of those who favor such a state and who also have an understanding of the strategic realities in play.

Those who do not understand, and who – out of misplaced “humanitarian” concerns – wish to bring it about, are supporting the creation of a state that is guaranteed to be undemocratic, corrupt, and racist. And they are bringing us closer to war, not peace.

In which category do we find the Ha’aretz editors?

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Media | 1 Comment

The real meaning of “Never Again”

So we’ve had another murderous terror attack. It happened when Border Police officer Solomon Gavriya (20), private security guards Youssef Ottman (25) and Or Arish (25), and community security team leader Amit Steinhart were opening the back gate of Har Adar, near Jerusalem. A Palestinian Arab approached them, pulled out a pistol and shot all four. Gavriya, Ottman and Arish were killed, and Steinhart was critically wounded. The terrorist, Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal, was from a nearby village. He had worked in Har Adar for some time and was well-known and trusted there, which is probably why he was able to get close to the guards. He was, thankfully, shot dead by others on the scene before he could get into the community.

Jamal was having family problems – his wife had recently left him – so naturally he chose to kill some Jews (and Ottman, an Israeli Arab from Abu Ghosh) and die a hero. He may or may not have been a member of a terrorist organization. Hamas distributed candy in the streets of Gaza as usual, and Fatah glorified him as a shaheed. The Palestinian Authority will pay his family 6000 NIS (about $1700) immediately and 2600 NIS (about $740) a month for life.

That’s the story, again. An unhappy Palestinian Arab solves his problems by murdering Israelis. It’s not surprising, because he’s been told how wonderful and heroic it is to murder us by his political and religious leaders, day in and day out. He learned it in school (Jamal would have been 14 in 1994 when Yasser Arafat took over the Palestinian school system and it began teaching the glory of martyrdom), he was told it by his Imam in the mosque on Friday, and he heard it countless times on Palestinian Authority radio and TV.

The PA is one of the most corrupt governing authorities on the face of the earth. It receives more than a billion dollars a year from the international community, which comes as direct aid to the PA, money for various projects, UNRWA support for “refugees,” NGO and church programs, and more. Much of this money also goes to Hamas, via UNRWA and in payments from the PA for salaries of PA officials in Gaza (who either don’t do anything or work for Hamas). There have been attempts to condition the flow of money on stopping incitement of terrorism, but the PA simply claims it isn’t inciting or – as in the case of the payments to the families of terrorists – refuses to stop.

We are living alongside, and sometimes intertwined with, a culture of hate and death. Unhappy husbands like Jamal, teenagers angry at their parents, women threatened with honor killing, pious Muslims overcome with shame over Jewish feet touching the ground near al-Aqsa, young men who want to impress their friends, cynically manipulated mentally disturbed individuals, workers angry at their bosses, and hardened terrorist operatives all end up committing murder. And they receive encouragement from their peers and authority figures, as well as payments from their government.

Yet the world loves them. The people that popularized airline hijacking, suicide bombing and vehicular terrorism are the toast of the Western Left. The UN has special sub-organizations set up to help them gain their ”rights,” which as they understand them, require dismantling Israel and replacing it with a racist apartheid state of Palestine, that –  judging by the PA’s record – wouldn’t accomplish anything more than absorbing aid and training its children to be monsters. Their made-up history and stories of mistreatment at the hands of the Jews are believed without question. Their fake news and Pallywood video is broadcast without checking or criticism, even when it is obviously untrue.

An observer from another planet would be amazed. Israel is a functional country which provides a good life for its inhabitants, one of the few places where Muslims and non-Muslims can coexist even a little, a country that ranks 12th out of 156 nations in the happiness of its people (several places ahead of the US and far ahead of the UK), a country that generates technological and scientific progress greatly disproportionate to its size, which sends units of its army around the globe not to invade other nations, but to rescue disaster victims. And yet, the majority of the world’s nations support a cause dedicated to its destruction. If you ask why, they will tell you that they do it in the name of “human rights!”

In the early 1990s, the so-called “peace process” began. The Oslo Accords injected new life into the PLO and created the PA, which immediately began its programs of hate indoctrination, along with its “talk and shoot” strategy. The ignorance of the Israeli Left, which facilitated this and which even now after several wars and more than a thousand Israeli deaths from terrorism, believes that it’s possible and desirable to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, is staggering. Recent history and simply listening to what Palestinians say – both their leadership and the people on the street – should make it clear that the goal of the Palestinian cause is the liquidation of our state.

But how is Israel’s “right-wing” leadership responding to the latest terror attack? How did it respond to the last one or the one before that or the one before that? How does it respond to soldiers getting run over at bus stops, or people being stabbed in supermarkets? Unfortunately, almost not at all.

There will be angry remarks by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Internal Security, and the Defense Minister. There will be demands for Mahmoud Abbas to “denounce” the attack. The terrorist’s home will be demolished, and his relatives may lose their permits to work in Israel. For a few days the IDF might carry out searches in his village, and maybe bring in his brothers for questioning. Then the media will move on to other things, the PM will be accused of something new, the army will have other jobs to do, and life will go on.

But not for Solomon Gavriya, Youssef Ottman, and Or Arish. These young men who got up Tuesday morning with plans, friends, and whole lives ahead of them are already in the ground. Their families are shattered. Nothing will be the same for those who were close to them. And nothing will be the same for countless other throughout the country whose loved ones were brutally ripped from them in the name of the “Palestinian cause.”

Perhaps we have been too much influenced by the world media and political institutions that treat terrorism against Israel as understandable. There seems to be an attitude here that there is an “acceptable” level of terrorism. After all, more people are killed in road accidents. But it is not acceptable to the families of those who are murdered. And it should not be acceptable to the state that our neighbors think that murdering us is praiseworthy, that they glorify and pay murderers.

It is not acceptable that there is a culture in which killing Jews is permissible and encouraged. It is our responsibility to our people to put an end to it. To destroy the culture of hate and death.

What else could “Never Again” mean?

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Terrorism | 1 Comment

Zapata was a Zionist

72 years after Hitler’s suicide, the story of the Holocaust has lost its power to deter public expressions of Jew-hatred. In Europe and America, the extreme Right is not embarrassed to say, for example, that massive immigration from the Third World to Europe or from Mexico and Central America to the US is a Jewish plot, that Rothschild family interests still control the destiny of nations, or that all wars are fought to profit Jewish arms merchants.  Meanwhile, the Left has pumped up its irrational anti-Zionism so high that one would have to be blind, deaf and stupid to fail to understand what is so “special” about Israel to prompt such hatred. And don’t forget the religious and culturally-based abomination of Jews that characterizes Muslims everywhere, which is more and more frequently finding violent expression.

Almost every day there is a new example in the news – a murder in France, an ugly celebrity tweet in the US, street harassment in the UK, and on and on. Students of Jewish history will not find this surprising. It is in part a list of times and places which were “good for the Jews” interspersed with persecutions, expulsions and genocide. Human civilization in general seems to be moving toward a dark period, and in particular the quality of life and social/political stability in America and Western Europe are rapidly declining. These places have been refuges for several generations of Jewish people – America has arguably been the site of a “golden age” for Jews since the end of WWII – but all historical situations come to an end, and the rapidity of change brought about by our advanced technology is bringing this one to an end sooner rather than later.

There has been a distinct Jewish people for as long as our historical memory. They have been expelled from their homeland and returned several times, but through the various times and places of exile, they have always maintained their self-consciousness as a nation. It’s not too abstract to talk about the collective consciousness of the Jewish people having a drive to survive, to find stability and peace, to be together with itself. The establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 is an expression of this “urge for being” that characterizes the Jewish people (and other peoples as well).

Jew-hatred is a force that is opposed to this. It wants to disperse the Jews, to weaken them, to kill them, to take away the stable ground from under their feet, to set the nations against them and to set them against one another. Its goal is to end, finally, the existence of a distinct Jewish people, to create a world in which no individual sees himself as a member of the Jewish nation.

It does this by persecuting Jews because of their Jewishness, so as to cause them to try to escape persecution by escaping their Jewishness. It creates fear and anxiety among Jews. It tries to associate Jewishness with undesirable characteristics, like weakness, immorality, and lack of social status. All forms of Jew-hatred, from the historical pogroms of Eastern Europe and Muslim countries, to today’s Islamic terrorism and street violence, and even the social pressure against pro-Israel students on American campuses, has the same objectives. If it can’t kill the Jews outright, it tries to kill their peoplehood.

We can look at the struggle with Jew-hatred as a struggle between the life force of the Jewish nation and its opposite.

Once we understand this, we understand how the various responses to Jew-hatred succeed or fail. In particular, assimilation is no less than surrender. Yes, you can stop suffering caused by Jew-hatred if you stop being Jewish. Change your name, practice another religion, intermarry. Maybe it will take a few generations – the Nazis and inquisitors of the world need proof that your Jewish identity is truly dead – but ultimately the thugs on the street will leave you alone. If that’s the solution that you want, if you want to save the Jew-hater the trouble of murdering you by killing the Jew inside of you, go ahead. You are already lost.

There is a form of partial assimilation that is popular today among American Jews. It goes like this:

  • Proclaim that you are a proud Jew.
  • At the same time, do not observe any of the commandments that historically distinguished Jews from the nations.
  • Adopt a moral system whose fundamental premises are those of secular humanism. Let these premises override Torah commandments when they conflict.
  • At the same time, insist that this is a Jewish moral system.
  • Take the position that other things being equal, every human is equally valuable to you. Do not favor, for example, the rights of Jews over the rights of Palestinians.
  • Assert that Israel is just another foreign country to you. Be ready to harshly criticize her for her relationship to the Palestinians, or for the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism, or for her actions in self-defense, or for the personality of her Prime Minister.
  • Make common cause with Muslims because you are both victims of prejudice. You can ignore their hatred of Israel because it is just another foreign country.

Assimilation protects the individual against Jew-hatred (sometimes). But it works together with Jew-hatred against the survival of the Jewish people.

Traditional Diaspora Jewish communities which do not assimilate keep a low profile. They try to submit to non-Jewish authority with the minimum of compromises. They flourish in good times, and suffer in bad. Sometimes this policy is harmless, as in the US in recent times. Other times, as in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, it was disastrous. The Jewish leadership of the time and place opposed emigration until it was too late, trusting in Hashem to ultimately bring the Jewish people to the land of Israel. In fact, what happened to these communities decisively refuted this belief.

There is another historical response to Jew-hatred, and that is Zionism. Zionism (as understood by Jabotinsky, anyway) holds that the best way to protect the Jews against Jew-hatred is to establish a well-armed Jewish state which will guarantee its rights and the rights of the Jewish people by force if necessary.

Zionism tries to provide long-term stability and peace for the Jewish people in a place where they can express their Jewishness without fear of Jew-hatred. Naturally, this arouses the strongest possible reaction from Jew-haters of all kinds, in the Arab and Muslim world, in Europe and even in America. So it sometimes may seem that peace in Israel is in short supply, compared to currently quiet locations in the Diaspora. But this is deceptive. Peace in the Diaspora is always short-lived.

I am not expecting another Holocaust, not in America and probably not in Europe, although I am convinced that this particular golden age is coming to an end. Jewish life in the Diaspora will get worse before it gets better. But now is a special time, historically. The last time Jew-hatred peaked, the Jewish people had no options. Those who decided to stay put and those who wanted to escape but were unable to were both destroyed. Today there is a choice; there is a possibility to fight Jew-hatred and preserve the Jewish people in their homeland. There is a Jewish state with a Law of Return.

The option of aliyah could be uncomfortable or even dangerous. The forces arrayed against the Jewish nation are great. But as Emiliano Zapata (maybe) said, better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

Posted in American Jews, Jew Hatred, Zionism | Comments Off on Zapata was a Zionist

Abolish the Chief Rabbinate

What would you think if you and your children were registered as Jewish citizens of Israel, but when your daughter applied to be married, she was told that in the eyes of the Chief Rabbinate she was not Jewish? And not only that, but – oops –  you yourself were not legally married? It happens.

Israel’s taxpayer-supported Chief Rabbinate maintains a list of Israelis who may not be officially married by a rabbi in the country, because they are not recognized as Jewish or for some other halachic reason. Recently, the Rabbinate decided that it had the right to review the files of people that had been previously recognized as Jewish and to add them to the list, and in the past two years has added 900 persons to it. Here are some examples provided by ITIM, an organization founded by Seth Farber, an Orthodox rabbi who assists people in dealing with Israel’s religious bureaucracy:

One case involves an American-born woman who married an Israeli in a civil ceremony in Florida in 1984. The couple moved to Israel that year, and the woman and the couple’s oldest child converted to Judaism the following year. Both were subsequently registered as Jewish in the Population Registry, as were two daughters later born to the couple. A few years ago, the oldest daughter applied to marry in Israel. In the process, her mother was notified by a representative of the Chief Rabbinate that her marriage was no longer valid because she was not Jewish. Her daughter subsequently decided to marry in a civil ceremony in Cyprus. The couple’s other daughters were notified that their names had been added to the blacklist until further clarification.

A second case involves a family of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Recently, a relative of theirs who applied to get married in Israel was rejected because he could not provide sufficient proof that he was Jewish. After he was rejected, all his family members, who had already been registered as Jewish, were notified that their Jewish status was now pending clarification.  …

[Another] case also involves a family of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In this particular case, an investigation was launched when a member of the family sought to divorce her husband, citing domestic violence. The estranged husband, in response, claimed that his wife had converted to Christianity. Based on this claim, which the woman categorically denied, the Chief Rabbinate notified relatives, who had already been registered as Jewish, that their Jewish status was now pending clarification.

The Rabbinate has complete control of marriage and divorce for Jews in Israel. It also holds a monopoly on kashrut certification for restaurants, and other aspects of Jewish life. There have been numerous complaints of corruption, and two former Chief Rabbis have received jail sentences. Even where there is no obvious fraud, the Rabbinate has been criticized for acting slowly, arbitrarily and expensively (both for the state and for those who require its services).

I can personally attest to this in connection to my daughter’s marriage, which was delayed for months while the Rabbinate evaluated (or didn’t bother to look at) the American documentation of her parents’ Jewishness (in the interest of full disclosure, she received assistance in the process from Rabbi Farber of ITIM).

Conversion is particularly problematic. For years the Rabbinate monopolized conversions in Israel. Since March 2016, private Orthodox conversions in Israel have been recognized by the state for the purposes of the Law of Return, but a bill is in process that will invalidate non-Rabbinate-approved conversions in the country (the state currently recognizes both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversions abroad and the bill won’t change this). But what the state recognizes and what the Rabbinate demands for the purposes of marriage are far apart.

Conversions under the Rabbinate have always been difficult and slow, and it has even withdrawn recognition that converts are Jewish after they were caught failing to observe the commandments to its satisfaction! It also maintains a “blacklist” of Orthodox rabbis outside of Israel whose conversions it will not recognize (needless to say, no non-Orthodox conversions are recognized under any circumstances).

The Rabbinate is dominated by Haredim, and when it is not corrupt, it operates according to the strictest possible interpretation of Jewish law. Non-Haredim who deal with it often report that they are treated with contempt and/or neglect. It is one more source of friction between the observant, “traditional,” (those who don’t live a strictly observant lifestyle but consider themselves Orthodox in their beliefs), and secular populations.

There is a simple solution: abolish the Rabbinate. There is no need for it in Jewish law and alternatives abound for everything that it does. Kosher certification for restaurants can easily be provided by private organizations, and prospective customers can decide for themselves which agencies they trust. Solutions could be found for administration of cemeteries and mikvahs. The Chief Rabbis also are considered religious authorities on matters of halacha; but whether a rabbi is respected and his judgments taken seriously doesn’t depend on his position but on his reputation. There are no popes in Judaism!

Marriage and divorce are probably the areas where most Israelis come into contact with the Rabbinate, and a major source of frustration. Here the solution is simple, if drastic: The state should provide civil marriage and divorce, and those who want to avail themselves of religious ceremonies (which in Jewish law do not even require a rabbi, only witnesses) can do so. It is absurd that 20,000 Israelis each year fly to Cyprus to marry in a civil ceremony, a marriage that is then recognized by the state (although not by the Rabbinate, which may later create difficulties when the children want to marry).

Uncontrolled marriage will supposedly allow a flood of non-Jews to overwhelm our culture. In the future, it’s said, nobody will be able to tell who is Jewish and who isn’t. But throughout history there has always been a certain number of non-Jews joining the Jewish people by marriage. It’s highly unlikely that allowing civil marriages within Israel will produce a flood of, for example, Jewish-Muslim intermarriages. What it will do is permit those without documentation, like many Russian immigrants, to regularize their relationships.

It’s also argued that allowing private conversions will open the door to uncontrolled immigration. Reform rabbis, it is said, will convert thousands of illegal immigrants to Judaism so that they will be able to obtain citizenship. There are simple ways to prevent this: for example, require proof of legal residency before the state recognizes a conversion. Standards for conversion could be set by a rabbinical commission made up of rabbis from all streams of Judaism (Haredim would have to choose between joining the commission or forfeiting their influence on its product).

Supporters of the Rabbinate say that it provides a national standard for kashrut. But this isn’t true. Very observant people will check to see which rabbi issued the certificate, regardless of whether it is certified by the Rabbinate. Competition between certifying agencies would reduce the cost to restaurant operators as well as provide the public with choices based on the standard of kashrut with which they are comfortable.

This is an institution whose time is clearly past. Israel’s 6 million Jews do not all observe the same form of Judaism, and most of them are far from Haredi Orthodoxy. The institution of Chief Rabbinate is pointless for that reason, and the coercion of the non-Haredi public that results from its excessive, arbitrary and sometimes corrupt power is unacceptable.

It’s not kosher. Abolish it!

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