I wish this were a joke. I wish that in the modern state of Israel, on the eve of 61 years of independence, this were not a headline. But it it’s not, and it is. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents ‘Mexico Flu,’ rather than ‘Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher.
There is so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Perhaps we should start with the notion of even having a health minister who worries about such distinctions in the face of a genuine threat to public health. Perhaps we should address the proof that Litzman’s declaration offers that when God-craft and sate-craft mix, it too-often brings out the worst in each. Or maybe it just bothers me that once again, an individual who represents Torah in the public square demonstrates just how out of touch a beautiful tradition can be made to seem when it is used so foolishly.
Litzman reminds me of the banana republic dictator in Woody Allen’s Bananas, speaking about how, in the new republic, Tuesday would be Thursday, Sunday would be Wednesday, etc. In each case, what the speaker imagines as a demonstration of their power proves why they are completely unfit to have any power at all. All of which leads to the most important question of all: why do the citizens of Israel put up with an electoral system which gives so much power to jokers like this?
Let’s agree that one important way to celebrate the existence of the state of Israel, and to help assure its vibrant future, is to advocate for election reform. Whatever our own political dispositions may be, we should turn away from any party, left, right or center – religious or secular, which rises to power on a single issue or with the support of only one segment of the society.
This kind of reform would force the “religious parties” to have well-defined platforms on the full spectrum of issues which any government must address. It would also force so-called secular parties to stop giving Judaism away to others simply because they look like Tevye the Milkman. Instead, they would need to real agendas for the spiritual life of the nation, ones which reflected their commitment to pluralism and the celebration of religious freedom. Without such shifts, Israeli politicians from every party, really do begin to look like characters in a Woody Allen movie and that is nothing to celebrate.