The Politics of Kiddush Hashem

Among American chareidim, regardless of varying views on the Medinah, amcha care passionately about the matzav in Eretz Yisrael. Religious, philosophical and social hesitations about “Zionism” have until now interfered with coordinated activism, but it is a crucial area that cries out for well-thought-out guidance and Torah leadership. This is important for a number of reasons. To cite but a few:

Current secular Jewish leadership on the issue generally does not reflect our values, priorities, messages or ideas.

A Torah-based agenda for activism will be a rallying cry for many frum Jews who want to help but have no outlet for that passion.

It is an eis tzarah l’Yaakov. As more and more primarily secular American Jews redefine “Zionism” and “pro-Israel” in the perverse J Street mode, which is used to justify and even condone violence against Jews in the streets of Israel and around the world, frum American Jews must become more aware and active and must be principle-driven and coordinated in order to be effective.

In addition to ameliorating those direct concerns, there are ways in which such a movement would address issues that go beyond impacting U.S.-Israel policy:

The lack of coordinated or evident chareidi pro-Israel leadership leads the media and the broad public to believe that we hate (or reject or are apathetic to) the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, R”l. Such an organization instantly corrects the narrative.

A proactively helpful relationship with American chareidim will help Israeli governments regard as more influential (or at least relevant) our opinions with regard to their internal policies as they impact chareidim in Eretz Yisrael. When frum Jews in Eretz Yisrael need our help, we will be in a far better position to oblige.

A constructive relationship will certainly help offset the inroads into accommodations of pluralistic “Judaisms” being achieved by Reform, Conservative, etc., because these shifts are largely driven by American Jews with a domestic agenda and a far less compelling commitment to the security and future of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

The steps needed are simple: The first is for Torah leadership to agree on a fundamental set of principles and to make themselves available for ongoing guidance. The second is to organize activism around those principles and under that guidance. I have drafted a proposed set of principles and shared it with several leading Roshei Yeshivah. All have responded positively and some enthusiastically. But whether it is based on my draft or another, promulgating a set of clearly articulated and agreed-upon principles itself is an improvement over what currently passes for “pro-Israel” in Washington. As for the activism, whether it is done through existing groups or whether a new group is formed can be determined. The key is to establish the agenda, and with it a consciousness both within and outside of the Torah world of what we stand for.

Anticipating the question as to the real impact we can have when merubim tzorchei amcha and there are so many other priorities, and we are so few in number, and with so many other financial commitments, I would like to share these personal observations:

This is not about money or numbers. We must set aside our fears and neuroses and self-perceived shortcomings — because this is about the greatness that committed Torah Jews represent. The world is waiting for it. As the Iran debacle demonstrated about the current “pro-Israel” establishment, despite the image of power and influence, those who treat Washington as merely transactional are paper tigers. And their message that it’s about Jewish money and power is not only a sham, but fuel for every anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about Jewish influence and control. The truth is that American support for Israel is rooted in ideas, ideals and faith.

Overwhelmingly, support for Israel in this country comes not from Jews but from Christians. They are being held back by the fact that we permit liberal Jewish groups with misguided agendas to take the lead on policy. We — the frum — can have tremendous influence because we would become the tip of the spear. For 20 years I have worked alongside some of the most influential American Christian leaders. For tens of millions of Americans, a commitment to Israel — to Jews — is a central part of their religious identity rooted in Hashem’s promise to Avraham (Bereishis 12:3: “V’avarchah mevarchecha, u’mekallelcha a’or”). They are as baffled and frustrated by the secular Jewish agenda on Israel as on everything else. They desperately await authentic Jewish leadership.

I can also report from personal experience that if we were to take on this role, our power to accomplish in Washington on every issue — including our communities’ domestic concerns — would grow exponentially. We would not be seen as supplicants or as peddlers commoditizing our small voting power; we would be embraced and elevated as partners and leaders.

And while the primary target of this project is American chareidim, the Modern Orthodox also have to take a look at the enormous dissonance between what they believe and what they actually support in practice. Overall, while America’s religious Zionists are known to be passionate about Israel, they have unwittingly teamed up with groups that do not remotely share their ideology or agenda. They, too, will benefit from achieving clarity via articulable, immutable Torah principles as well as a clearly articulated set of policy goals.

The matzav in Eretz Yisrael is perilous. Our community cares. The time is right for Torah-based leadership.