The storm over God’s protection thunders on. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned religious Jews not to travel to Ukraine, pointing out that “God has not always protected the Jewish people in Europe,” he angered his ultra-Orthodox Jewish coalition partners. The leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, Israel Eichler, responded to Netanyahu’s warning and blamed the secular and Zionist Jews. “It was these Jews who caused the rescue plans of European Jews to fail in the Holocaust and humiliated the Jews in the ghettos.” In the media, everything was blurred between politics, God and Israel. If you question God’s power, is that blasphemy or impertinence? Israel’s mainstream media from left-to-right is in this case standing against the words and position of the government’s ultra-Orthodox representatives.
According to Eichler, Jews in the Diaspora have always lived in relative peace and quiet, and only in Israel is Jewish blood spilled like water. Added to this is the assimilation of the secular regime. The lawmaker added: “For over a century, the God of Israel has saved the Land of Israel from the idolatry of power, vulgarity and assimilation of the secular regime.” By this Eichler of course means the secular and Zionist governments in the country. “It was not the Zionists and partisans who prevented the Holocaust in Israel, but the Almighty,” stressed Eichler. “The Germans were stopped by God’s miracles and not by the Zionists.”
Eichler’s remarks sparked the anger of Knesset members on both sides of the political map. “Anti-Zionist nonsense. A sick and racist text. We are ashamed of what you wrote.” Even from the coalition, Education Minister Yoav Kish offered harsh criticism: “As the grandson of Brigadier Kish, who fought against the Nazis, as a Zionist, as a Jew and as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, who fought against our enemies, I am ashamed of the things you wrote.”
Aryeh Ehrlich, editor of the popular Orthodox magazine Mishpacha (Family), tweeted: “When the ‘head of the religious camp’ opens his mouth to utter such egregious heresies, and all in an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the entire theory of sweet Israel collapses like a house of cards. We should not respect Bibi when such sacrilege and such base and rude comments are made against God.”
In another tweet, Ehrlich explained that the ultra-Orthodox message was clear: “Loyalty to God is stronger than admiration of Bibi. Netanyahu? Bibi is not an idol.” Another Orthodox journalist, Yossi Elituv, tweeted: “Benjamin Netanyahu, there is no shame in apologizing. By the way, a Jew who wore tefillin (Jewish phylacteries) from time to time would not have fallen into such heresy. You can still repent.”
The point is always the same: To what extent is God’s work visible in Israel’s politics? If God does everything, then what role do Israeli politicians have? In this case, they can sit passively in their chairs in the plenary, twiddling their thumbs, conserving energy and simply doing nothing. God is in control. This is how the majority of Orthodox Jews in the country see it. I’ve had countless discussions about this with Orthodox friends and colleagues, even in my extended family. Trust in God is everything, but always passive. This is the difference between the two overriding worldviews among the Jewish people. Those who put God’s promises into practice were the secular and Zionist Jews, who often do not believe in God as Israel Eichler does. But they were active and implemented the faith, while the Orthodox Jews like Eichler have always believed that the Jewish state of Israel appears with the coming of the Messiah, descending ready-made from heaven. That’s why the Orthodox were passive, and that’s why they are still passive today, believing that everything will take care of itself, in politics as well as in Israel’s wars. This topic has long been a stumbling block for the Jewish people.
God is always present, but to see His power, His people must actively believe in Him. There is a real danger in flying to Ukraine right now, even for those who are used to the annual pilgrimage. Netanyahu’s Orthodox coalition partners insist that the tens of thousands of pilgrims who make the trip every Rosh Hashanah should do the same this year, no matter the risk. What Bibi told his colleagues in the coalition boils down to this: “You shall not test God.” This angered the Orthodox and once again raised the question of who speaks for God. Or, who had it right? Bibi, who noted that “God has not always protected the Jewish people in Europe”? Or Ehrlich, who suggested the time had come to cut ties with Bibi, “who speaks so sacrilegiously, vilely and rudely against God.”