Deborah Lipstadt, the prominent Holocaust historian, is resigning her membership in her local synagogue because it belongs to a movement that defended an Israeli political deal with the extremist right wing.
Lipstadt belonged to Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, an Orthodox congregation. The broader Young Israel movement, in a statement Monday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, defended an agreement between the Jewish Home party and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power,) a far-right political party. Jewish Power is led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
The merger deal was facilitated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen a future Likud-led coalition following the April 9 election, and has since been widely condemned, including by other Israeli lawmakers — though not from Likud — and mainstream US Jewish organizations.
But Young Israel defended the move.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu acted to get right-wing parties to merge in order to meet the threshold necessary to secure a victory in the election,” read the statement by Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel. “We understand what Prime Minister Netanyahu did, and he did it to have ministers of the national religious and national union parties in his coalition.”
The rabbi of Lipstadt’s synagogue, Adam Starr, himself condemned the statement in a Facebook post Monday, writing, “Not in my name and not in my shul’s name!” But Lipstadt still felt that she could not continue to be associated with Young Israel, despite having fond words for her synagogue and rabbi.
“I cannot be associated with an organization that gives such racism, celebration of violence, and immoral policies a ‘heksher,’” or imprimatur, she wrote in an open letter posted to Facebook Tuesday. “At this time of rising antisemitism, Jew hatred, and prejudice of all kinds, each of us – and not just our spiritual leaders – must speak out and act individually and collectively. And so I speak out with deep sadness that such a despicable action is given ‘cover’ by people who claim to walk in the ways of the Kadosh Baruch Hu,” a Hebrew term for God.
Lipstadt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Tuesday that she felt a particular urgency to act because she is now promoting a book about present-day anti-Semitism.
“This is a party that has racist views,” she said. “This is a party that condones murder. This is a party that condones the man who committed the largest mass murder in Israel by a Jew. Those are all things that I find despicable, and to say it’s just politics is really bad.”
One of the leaders of Otzma Yehudit hung a picture in his home of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish terrorist who killed 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994.
The extremist Otzma Yehudit is the spiritual successor to Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was barred from the Knesset under a Basic Law outlawing incitement to violence and later banned entirely in Israel.
It supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
Lipstadt also condemned Netanyahu for the agreement, which saw Jewish Power merge with other right-wing parties in a joint slate for Israel’s upcoming election. The unified slate will give the parties a better chance of getting enough votes to enter Israel’s Knesset. She said the deal was of a piece with Netanyahu’s recent tendency to cozy up to right-wing nationalist leaders in Europe, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“It was sadly in sync with a number of things we’ve seen,” she said. “This was just one more step but this was a dealbreaker.”