Rabbinic Reflections: Israeli solidarity

Minutes before midnight Wednesday night, Israel marked a most mundane miracle. It was mundane for me because it was years in the making, because more has been happening on the ground than meets the usual eye, and because Israelis are good at holding multiple truths at the same time. The miracle was the formation of a coalition government made up of parties across the spectrum, including an Arab party, without Benjamin Netanyahu. The American media focusing on his ouster misses the miracle.

(Photo from The Times of Israel. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021 (Courtesy of Ra'am)

First, allow me to explain what happened before getting back to how I find it prosaic. Yair Lapid, leader of the secular, centrist Yesh Atid party (“there is a future”), put the final two pieces together to create a razor-thin majority coalition. He started with another centrist party (Blue and White), the left-wing Labor party, and the far-left Meretz party, along with the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel is our home”) and right-wing New Hope parties. Then, he worked out a deal to include the religious, right-wing party Yamina (“to the right”) and the Arab, Islamist party Ra’am (an acronym for the United Arab List). The picture above of Lapid with Naftali Bennett (Yamina) and Mansour Abbas (Ra’am) signing on went viral.

Truly, it was an historic moment. It is the first time that an Arab party has been part of the ruling coalition of Israel’s Knesset (“parliament”). More to the point, Ra’am played the role of kingmaker; it is their photo that went viral. I do not mean to diminish or to discount the significance of that in relation to Israel’s 73-year history. I only found it unsurprising in that I expected it a month ago.

I should say, though, that in that month, Hamas (in Gaza) and Israel had a brief war which was accompanied by riots of both ultra-nationalist Jews and of Arab Israelis. The coalition forming after that conflict seems all the more amazing, even miraculous. Unless, of course, you knew about the dozens of Jewish and Arab protests against the conflict and the violence. Even if you did know about those protests for co-existence, you might not have known the people involved in organizing them; leaders of institutions for co-existence found many new allies. People on the ground--left, right, middle, Jewish, Arab--all Israelis have been waiting for their government to look more like them. This election was the fourth in two years as Netanyahu’s ability to govern has slowly diminished.

What muscle were Israeli citizens and political parties exercising that led to this moment? Perspective. The ancient rabbis ingrained in the Jewish mind that one should be able to give 49 arguments against one’s own position; we have to see the truth of the other side, especially if we disagree with it. Likewise, and I recognize I am making a gross generalization, time is different in the Middle East; everyone has a much more expansive, patient view. If Netanyahu had been voted out four elections ago, that would have been fast. If this coalition lasts two weeks or two terms, it will still be part of a much longer history.

Life happens in the day-to-day, every day, and within the expanse of generations. That is where multiple truths co-exist even as people try, often messily, to do so: my neighbor is my friend and also lives on my ancestral land. Maybe one part of that is truer than the other at any given moment, but both can be true. As Daniel Gordis puts it, “The reality on the ground here is far more complex, more nuanced and infinitely more healthy.” That is a miracle made one relationship at a time; it is another Israeli miracle, extraordinary in its mundaneness.

About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hillel Network, responsible for West Chester University, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and other area colleges. He is the former head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington and was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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