This week, Jews across the world will read parshat Shmot, which picks up with the nation of Israel residing in Egypt. While, in some respects, they have settled into life in exile, they are beginning to attract attention – and not the good kind of attention – from their neighbours.
As Canadian Jews, let us step back from this weekly story and consider our own Galut, or exile, and how it ties into our country’s foreign policy, particularly regarding Israel.
We have a vested interest in Canadian domestic and foreign policy that pertains to Israel, and have long sought to play an active role in political life. We often note with pride how Canada stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel as one of its staunchest allies. Among other factors, this loyalty to Israel is a result of the two countries’ shared values, and the concerted advocacy work of leaders in the Canadian Jewish community.
Although Canadian and American political support for Israel has traditionally not been a partisan issue, two troubling trends are beginning to unfold. After the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s now infamous speech in which he called Israeli settlements a threat to peace, it seems that not only is Israel becoming a partisan issue, but that moderate Jewish voices are increasingly hesitant to speak out or question Israeli government action for fear of being branded “anti-Israel.”
Immediately following Kerry’s speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration, launching a personal attack against the sitting American president. In doing so, he threw his support behind president-elect Donald Trump, an unpredictable and extremely polarizing figure. While many Jewish voices applauded Netanyahu’s words, other, no less Zionist Jewish voices, likely felt uncomfortable entering the monolithic maelstrom. There seemed to be a message that you’re either anti-Obama or anti-Israel.
In Shmot, Exodus 1:8, we read, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Joseph.” The rise of a new pharaoh is a fitting development to read about during the week of an American presidential inauguration. Perhaps the aforementioned sentence ought to serve as a warning for the Jewish community in the Diaspora.
‘We cannot ignore or demonize the views of opposing political parties or figures, since their political future is not yet written’
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once warned that even if Jews have friends in high places within the secular world, such friends can change their tune or turn against us. The Rebbe’s meaning was that the Jews are only safe when they entrust their security to God, but this teaching also gives insight into our current situation in the Galut; Foreign leaders come and go, and we are left wondering who we can turn to for support.
This is a fitting question for Jews to ask ourselves as we approach Donald Trump’s inauguration. At a time when Israel’s government has aligned itself with the divisive U.S. president-to-be, and when support for Israel – once a given in North America – is eroding, we can take from this parshah two warnings.
The first: Unlike what happened to Joseph, we must ensure that whoever is the new “king” – in this example, the U.S. president – we Jews are known to him. We cannot squander our goodwill, misrepresent our intentions or overreact in a fit of anger or frustration. Our community must work with whoever is in power in the Diaspora to ensure that our values and concerns align with our countries’ domestic and foreign policies.
The second: The pendulum of political will is given to swinging. We must therefore not become complacent. We cannot ignore or demonize the views of opposing political parties or figures, since their political future is not yet written. We should enjoy the good relations cultivated by governments supportive of Israel, but not, as the Israelites were when a new pharaoh rose, be caught flat-footed, having failed to consider the possibility of certain leaders’ rise to power.
Further, with the knowledge that internal weakness breeds external strife, we must encourage respectful engagement and dialogue within the Jewish community, even with those we disagree with.
On Jan. 20, a new pharaoh rises. Right now, he appears to know Joseph, as it were. But let us as Jews approach this relationship with the president-elect and the office of the president with cautious optimism, diligent diplomacy and the knowledge that we, as Am Yisrael, are ultimately responsible for one another.
Adam Hummel and Zack Silverberg are both lawyers living in Toronto.