Kurtzer Was Right

Rabbi Stewart Weiss - Jerusalem Post - February 5, 2002

Dan Kurtzer was right, at least in part. The US ambassador to Israel, speaking recently to a group of students, caused a stir when he forcefully suggested that interested citizens who truly care about their country's future, need to take a more active role vis a vis the government's policies and positions. He advised the young people to engage in "political action" to influence the course of events, much as he and his generation did in the America of the '60's.

To the extent that Kurtzer was expressing frustration with the Israeli brand of "representative" government - as compared to the American model - I can share his exasperation. The fact that individual members of our Knesset are not directly accountable to their constituents creates a wide gulf between the average voter and those who wield power. Lawmakers rarely, if ever, seek contact with the "man in the street." They do not stand at bus stops and press the flesh during election campaigns; they do not hold regular town hall meetings throughout the land; they are, for all practical purposes, virtually inaccessible to Mr. and Mrs. Public. This distance from the actual men and women who shape our destiny creates apathy, cynicism and even outright anger towards those who would tell us how to live, while neither seeking nor following our collective opinion.

But that's about as far as Kurtzer's sagacity goes. In terms of the issues themselves, Kurtzer is way, way off base. If he thinks that an isolated group of left-leaning students in a joint Palestinian-Israeli school represent the mainstream, then he hasn't got a clue as to the current pulse of our society - which is a serious handicap for an ambassador. If anything, this tiny band of wishful thinkers is an aberration in a country solidly united behind Ariel Sharon and his policies, policies which continue to register public approval at levels of 70% and more. For a nation so historically fragmented when it comes to politics, that is an amazing figure.

Ironically, though Kurtzer sits here and George Bush is thousands of miles away, the American president seems to understand Israeli sentiment and the flow of world events much more keenly than his erstwhile representative.

Yet if Kurtzer's FACTS are skewed, his approach still has a ring of truth to it. We SHOULD insist upon a government that is responsive to the public will, that serves the wider interests of the people, that protects us physically and materially while offering a spiritual vision of the greatness of the Jewish People.

To that end, perhaps we WOULD be wise to follow Kurtzer's lead and heighten the volume of public advocacy. I am certain that the Israeli electorate - never a shrinking violet - has no lack of demands they would make upon our elected officials, but I have my own "wish list."

I would insist:

  • That the IDF systematically enter Palestinian areas to search for and confiscate the thousands of deadly weapons now in Palestinian hands. These are enemies sworn to our destruction, obsessed with violence and mayhem, openly sworn to our destruction. While we certainly made a tragic error when we armed these criminals, there is no reason to compound our sins by letting them KEEP the weapons;

  • That not a single terrorist body be returned to the Palestinians for burial. Every terrorist funeral is a grotesque orgy of anti-Semitism and incitement. These murderers abdicate their right for a public funeral when they terrorize our people; they should be buried in the dead of night, in secret graves under our control, until such time as their people decide to live in peace with us.

  • That terrorists' families be prevented from receiving any reward or compensation for their relatives crimes. There is no doubt that acts of terror are facilitated - if not fueled - by the knowledge that those left behind will be well provided for. A terrorist should know - before he blows himself up - that he will be sentencing his family to a life of deprivation by his heinous act.

  • That loose Knesset cannons, such as Avraham Burg, be totally co-opted from positions of leadership and shunned by their peers, until they check their egos at the door and act for the public good and not their own self-aggrandizement.

  • That, once and for all, we tell our American friends that Jonathan Pollard must come home. In a world where countless criminals are pampered, pardoned or paroled in short order, there is absolutely no justification for keeping this man in prison one day longer than the 17 years he has already served. His continued incarceration is a blight upon our moral character.

  • That every woman in this country - regardless of age - be given the option of a free mammogram at her request. Isn't it enough that we pass anti-smoking laws and then refuse to enforce them? At least, let us not DENY medical care for those who seek it.

These ideas - and others like them - may not be exactly the kind of initiatives that Mr. Kurtzer had in mind when he prodded us to "take action." But they are a lot closer than his far-out fantasies to the "will of the people" in which he so fervently believes.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana He is a frequent contributor to the Jerusalem Post and other publications.