April 15, 2019

The Fifth Tribe Has Not Yet Really Spoken

Amir Shacham Associate Executive Vice President, Global Connections
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

The results of the Israeli general elections are clear cut. “The tribe has spoken.” The Israeli democracy, despite all its faults, is producing for us a distinct reflection of the Israeli society and its choices.

President Rivlin will most likely ask Netanyahu, once again, to form the government with his Likud’s “natural partners,” the right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties. It will make Netanyahu the longest serving prime minister, his fifth term in office.

But it is the same President Rivlin who constantly speaks out about the need to break the natural alliances, move out of the silos, and create a more cohesive, less segregated Israel, a shared society for all its residents. In his famous Tribes speech, Rivlin describes four main sectors in the Israeli society that are almost totally separated from one another by their ideology and their day-to-day lives. They are the secular Jews, the national religious Jews, the Arab Israelis, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Obviously, there are more groups, and subgroups, but these bold categories are reflected clearly in the results of the elections and the attempt to form the next coalition government. Netanyahu, one of the most sophisticated politicians in the world today, was able to create an alliance between his mainly secular Likud party and two of the other “tribes”: The National religious and ultra-Orthodox groups. They became his so called “natural partners” and therefore it will be quite easy for him to form the government.

So where is the problem? you might ask. This is a Democracy in action and it is based on like-minded coalitions. Correct, but when Rivlin is talking about the “tribes of modern Israel,” he calls for unity, for collaboration, for respect and understanding. He reminds us that unconditionally we all deserve our basic human and citizen rights. We should all be treated equally as part and parcel of the mosaic of this country and its society.

The problem is that, in recent years and clearly during this last election campaign, the tone was totally the opposite: We were exposed to highly divisive discourse. The “tribes” were fighting with one another, were delegitimating one other, and were using social media to discredit one another.

The values that have kept us such a vibrant and successful nation, the values that are reflected in our Declaration of Independence, are now at risk. The implications are frightening.

So, what should we do as a Diaspora Jewish community? The worst response would be to check out, disconnect, and disengage. It is now more important than ever for Diaspora Jewry to speak out and raise the flags of equality, pluralism, integration, and tolerance. Israel is the state of all Jews, whether or not they are Israelis.

The values that founded Israel are mainly the old Jewish values that our people have upheld for generations, for centuries. We cannot let them go down the pipe with the short-term political climate. World Jewry should become even more active in any way possible. You have a right to criticize the government of Israel on policies and actions that go against your values. Last year President Rivlin added Diaspora Jewry to his tribal mosaic, as the Fifth Tribe, so now there is even a presidential Heksher to speak out and voice your opinion.

Our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest N.J is a national leader in working on these issues and supporting grassroots Israeli initiatives. A few years ago, we predicted this wave, restructured our operations, and focused our Israel and overseas efforts into four platforms, representing our communal agenda. One of them, Kedma, is responding exactly to this need. We have adopted President Rivlin’s tribe speech, as well as the Declaration of Independence, as our vision statement.

We promote shared society and dialogue between all groups, including Arab Israelis; Jewish pluralism; cohesiveness; and Israel Diaspora relations. We invest close to $1 million annually in these efforts and are working with many organizations as our partners on the ground. We can and should do even more. It’s our historic role and our Jewish calling. The Federation is one of the most effective vehicles to conduct such programs and take such actions on your behalf.

This week we will all celebrate Pesach and recall the exodus story, which made us a nation. We should never forget and share with our children that we were once slaves and foreigners. Now that we are back on our land and have so successfully rebuilt our nation from the ashes, we simply can’t afford going back to becoming segregated. And no less important, we should always remember the non-Jews, “the foreigners,” who live among us and are part and parcel of our Israeli society.

We might not be able to move the needle right now, but if we make our Fifth Tribe voice heard loudly and clearly, in the ears of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, Dayeynu.