MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp): we are experiencing a radicalization of the national-religious parties. As I see it, they are taking Israel in a direction that is less Jewish and less democratic

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp)in a meeting with senior world leaders of the Conservative Movement: "We have a situation in which the government includes a large number of ultra-Orthodox Jews and we are experiencing a radicalization of the national-religious parties. As I see it, they are taking Israel in a direction that is less Jewish and less democratic "

We have a mutual understanding of what it means to Israel and to you to be a nation for all Jews – I believe that we should start a new dialogue with the Jewish world and I am concerned about various trends in Israel concerning this subject. To be honest, I find myself in a strange situation of being a Masorti Israeli who goes to an Orthodox synagogue.  For many years I failed to understand the non-Orthodox Jewish movements, because I understood the choice as being secular, traditional (in the sense of liberal-orthodoxy) ultra-Orthodox, or national religious.


I grew up in a home where my parents were traditional Jews who chose which mitzvot to incorporate in their lives. We resided in a building with a diversity of religious observance, ranging between ultra-Orthodox, completely secular and national religious. However, what has happened in current day Israel is that we have become separated from one another without understanding each other. For political reasons, the monopoly over Judaism in Israel has been given to the ultra-Orthodox Jews, even though they are a minority, they assimilate their views regarding what Israel should be as a Jewish state, and the majority in Israel do not see this it as an important issue.

Secular Jews in Israel relate primarily to the issue of Shabbat in the public sphere, but that is it. Just as I myself lacked sufficient familiarity with you, most people do not understand you and the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. What happens inside Israel affects relations with the Diaspora. We are not the democracy that will invent what it means to be a democratic. There are many people who are attempting to take Israel in the direction of a halachic state and less to a place of Jewish values as I understand them. The main debate is what kind of character does Israel have as a Jewish state – the monopoly should not be given to the ultra-Orthodox parties, i.e. Judaism in the national sense. Everyone can express their Judaism and assist in the way he or she chooses.


It is not my job to judge or determine what is right or wrong and what is more or less Jewish. We have a combination of a government with many ultra-Orthodox Jews and a radicalization of the national-religious parties. And they are taking Israel in a less Jewish direction, as I see it – and a less democratic one. Judaism means equal rights, and it's not a favor that we do for citizens. My love for the other is part of Judaism. Due to Israel’s politics and this extremism, and the reduction in democratic agreements, I think that fewer and fewer young Jews in your congregations understand or feel connected to the State of Israel. It is our responsibility here to create a new dialogue with you. This means that Israel is your home, as it is mine, and it makes no difference if you are reform, conservative, etc. This is not just a statement, the significance is that should you wish to go to the Western Wall you can do it the way which you feel connects you to the place – and Israel's obligation is to enable you to do this.

We need to confront the ultra-Orthodox together in order to achieve the same goal – Israeli society needs to know more about you, you are a riddle for them. It's funny for them to see a woman with a skullcap. That's why I believe you and we need to think together how to make Israelis understand that they are closer to you than to the ultra-Orthodox. When my son was small and came to the NOAM Youth movement with a friend, I understood that there they were learning more about Judaism than in any other youth movement in Israel. That is what many Jews want – to be connected with Jewish music and Jewish values.

Q: More and more young people in America do not support Israel. Now it does not matter who tells them to support Israel. We see things happening in Israel that break our hearts and embarrass us and we wonder where the Jewish values are in Israel, and what can we do about it?

"I agree about the situation with the US, this was once our closest relationship. There is a huge gap between the Democrats and the Republicans, and this influences relations with Israel. Some of the Jewish leaders told me that they prefer not to talk about the sensitive issues because they are completely out of touch.

I don’t like the patronizing tone that is coming from the Minister of Education, who says that “they do not know enough about Israel, I will send people to educate them.” This is not a real understanding of the true feelings beneath the surface. I believe that the government should distinguish between criticizing a government plan and loving Israel for what it is. Israel is strong enough to withstand criticism. I love Israel and I can criticize the government because of this. It is worse to be indifferent. If it is possible to conduct a discussion on government policy without accusations that it [the criticism] is against Israel – that is the key. Criticism should take place be without touching the basic principle that Israel is the Jewish State – this is what unites us, however the discussion about how to implement this is legitimate. This government will not do this, but the message that can open the possibility for young people to say that they love Israel and respect the country as the Jewish State does not mean that I as a Jew have to agree to every decision made by the Israeli government. Together we need to create a better understanding about who you are. Many young Israelis also feel alienated from Judaism or religion. More and more young people choose not to marry under the auspices of the Rabbinate. This is an opportunity for Israelis to achieve a better understanding of Judaism, even if they do not identify with it. That is the significance of a Jewish state.”


Q: What is your position on immigration to Israel and conversion?

"Israel opened its gates to immigrants from all over the world, there are currently approximately 300,000 immigrants in Israel have not received equal status in marriage because of the conversion issue. In the past, I tried to ease the process of conversion and I was not very successful, and the conclusion I reached was that instead of arguing about the conversion procedure, the answer is to do what is called a civil union. To offer the possibility to marry not only through the Rabbinate but through something similar to a civil marriage. I submitted a bill like this and the Jewish Home party objected to it, even though the Likud initiated something similar in the past, when I was part of the Likud faction, and despite the fact that it was approved by some of the rabbis. Perhaps the issue of conversion may bring about increased support for the civil union bill."