Meimad: A Viable Alternative for Israel by Deborah Mark
Volume 2 , Issue 4 (April, 1989 | Nisan, 5749)
?How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese??
was reminded of DeGaulle's statement of exasperation as Jews worldwide
struggled to comprehend the results and implications of recent Israeli
elections. Underlying the tensions of the ?Who is a Jew? debate, there seemed
to be both confusion and resistance to a contest of twenty-seven defiantly
individualistic parties competing for seats in the next Knesset. The
parliamentary system, Israeli-style, is foreign to most American Jews, who are
used to the predictability and stability of the two party system. As
coordinator of theAmerican Office of MEIMAD
(Centrist Religious Party) this past fall, I found myself immersed in both
election campaigns. The contrast was inescapable between the American public
relations-run campaign, ending in gracious conciliation by midnight, and the
hard-fought ideological confrontations with its ominous overtones, in
Why Another Party?
In anticipation of such inevitable political chaos, why would anyone seek to create yet another movement, another party?
One obvious reason is that new parties in Israel will always
be an attractive vehicle for political results because, as we have seen,
coalition politics in a close election will reward a ?minor? victory (of one or
two seats) with leverage and clout during the negotiations that precede the
formation of a government. Second, political ends
In the case of MEIMAD, its formation as a new party was,
paradoxically, motivated by the desire of its founders to be a unifying force
by seeking to utilize Jewish tradition in a positive way. MEIMAD foresaw the
crisis stemming from two critical problems: the growing gap between religious
and secular Jews in
The peace, welfare and preservation of the State of Israel as a Jewish State takes precedence over the goal of political control of the entirety of Eretz Yisrael.
MEIMAD advocates Israeli initiatives that reflect needs of Israeli security while creating the basis for a workable peace with the Palestinians and the Arab States.
The ways of Torah are those of peace. Coercive legislation is not the way to advance religious observance. MEIMAD would not support attempts to advance ?religious? legislation that lack a clear national consensus or that threaten the unity of the Jewish people.
MEIMAD supports the full integration of women in public and political life, including the elected lay bodies of organized religious life and the leadership of MEIMAD itself.
MEIMAD supports the movement to change the Israeli electoral system by introducing regional representation in the Knesset and the direct election of the executive branch.
MEIMAD is led by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, head of the Gush Etzion
Yeshiva and founder of the ?Hesder? yeshiva movement
(which requires students to serve in IDF combat divisions). He has become one
of the most respected religious and political personalities in
A Fresh Perspective
My participation in MEIMAD's effort has given me a fresh
perspective on potential relationships between Israeli and American Jews. For
many years, American Jews have been exceedingly Zionist, i.e., ?pro-Israel? yet
they have traditionally drawn the line at direct involvement in Israeli
politics. Many educational programs instilled the passion and
ever-righteousness of the Zionist cause while hardly acknowledging, except as
an occaisonal historical footnote, the serious
philosophical divisions within the movement. By high school, many Jewish
students are familiar with Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian democracy but not with
the conflicting visions and personal antipathy between Ben Gurion
and Begin; they may know of
An alternative approach is that involvement in Israeli
political events is an inevitable outgrowth of a professed belief in a Jewish
State. From the moment that Nathan Birnbaum spun the
term ?Zionist? into modem usage in the late 1890's, it was meant to convey a
political, as opposed to a purely philanthropic, approach to Eretz Yisrael and its eventual
settlement. Beyond the widely accepted belief in Jewish statehood, the concept spawned
sub-headings, hyphenations, with each Zionist subgroup contesting the relative
political, social and religious values that would prevail with the realization
of the Zionist goal. There were debates as to what should be the Zionist goal.
For American Jews to be ?Zionist? without wishing to ?get involved? in Israeli
politics is a deviation from the historical continuum that reflects many of the
same divisions that were so painfully apparent in the 1988 elections. As
unnerving as the outcome was, the apolitical approach to
?A Fresh New Breeze?
MEIMAD received nearly 17,000 votes in November 1988, just
short of the number needed for a seat in the Knesset. In an election that has
generally been characterized as fractured and spiritually divisive, MEIMAD, by
entering the political fray. became a symbol to many Israelis and Americans,
traditional and secular, of ?a fresh new breeze?, offering sensitivity and
reason to the various factions within the Israeli electorate. All polls
predicted success at the level of one or two seats. MEIMAD enjoyed
unprecedented popularity in the Israeli press; on election eve, after the polls
closed but before the returns were reported, Israeli television broadcast a
documentary of Rabbi Amital and his vision for
Unfortunately, the goodwill alone could not ultimately overcome the inherent disadvantage that a new party faces in a system that heavily favors incumbency. MEIMAD, in particular, achieved a very late start, declaring itself fully in the Summer of 1988, thereby allowing less time to raise funds and campaign than is usually allotted for planning a New York wedding or shul dinner!
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of November 1, editorials and
commentators and many Israelis who voted otherwise expressed genuine regret and
provided poignant analysis of what might have been had MEIMAD prevailed
especially in light of the fierce polarization and backlash and resultant
religious stereotyping that took place in the weeks that followed. The issues
raised by MEIMAD became the focus of a painful debate waged within
Rabbi Amital writes:
It is incumbent upon us to find as many good points in this generation as possible...lf we believe that the State of Israel is a haven for millions of Jews, and that the survival of those Jews hinges on peace for Israel and the Jewish State's capacity to withstand its many enemies; and if we believe that the re-establishment of the Jewish State and its survival constituted Kiddush Hashem -- sanctification and glorification of God's name; if the State of Israel is precious to us; if we have not yet been infected by the ?Haredi heresy? which excludes God from the history of the re-establishment of Jewish Statehood and regards it as a purely human act-- then we had better realize that the State of Israel is not going to endure if cordial relations do not prevail between all sectors of the nation. Only if Jews relate to each other as brothers, irrespective of ideology, can we maintain this state. Otherwise we live under a threat of destruction.
From A Torah Perspective on the Status of Secular Jews Today. by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, appearing in Tradition, 23(4), Summer 1988.
By crossing that arbitrary line into direct involvement in Israeli politics, American participants have defined an active, yet non-intrusive role. Unlike many American-based organizations that have been lobbying the Knesset for understanding of American Jewish concerns vis a vis Israel, we are sharing a vision with a significant group of Israelis and through our efforts at hashara and financial support, enabling them to make themselves and their positions known, thus allowing them to function effectively within their own system. As American partners, we've gone beyond planting trees as our means of identification; we're helping to impart new thoughts, fresh energy and spirit into a system badly in need of such infusion.
Harry Truman said that ?Men make history and not the other way around.? Today's politics is tomorrow's historical moment in retrospect. With so much at stake, remaining on the political and historical sidelines is the ultimate default.
Deborah Mark is the North American Director of MEIMAD.