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An Open Letter To Netanyahu, From A Notable "Jew Of The Diaspora"

The Polish-French writer Marek Halter addresses a letter to Israel’s leader warning him against the undercurrents of his government that threaten the very essence of the Jewish state.

Photo of at Habima Square, protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government judicial reform plan.

In Tel Aviv, Israelis gather at Habima Square, protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government judicial reform plan.

Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA Images via ZUMA
Marek Halter

—Open Letter—

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,

I can imagine your surprise upon receiving this letter. A little over 40 years ago, I sent a similar one to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in which I reminded him of the principles that bind us, the Jews of the Diaspora, to those of the State of Israel. Mr. Begin understood my approach and replied to me in an open letter to the press a few days later.

As with Begin, you and I belong to the two antagonistic currents of thought that concern our people: that of the Zealots and that of the Pharisees. The first wanted to be the secular arm of the Lord, the second, his word and voice.

I must admit that, if force could not preserve the Jewish people from exile, the book did not protect them from barbarism either. For there is no redemption if one of these two principles is achieved at the exclusion of the other.

The future of Israel 

In our world filled with violence, for every state, and especially for Israel which, unlike other countries, cannot survive a defeat, determination and strength are strong guarantees of existence. But they are not the only ones.

From the school of Yavneh in Judea to the academies of Nehardea and Pumbedita in Babylonia, via wisemen, scribes and scholars such as Rachi in France or Spinoza in the Netherlands, all have built a stronghold around the Law where Jews, in the land of their ancestors or in the Diaspora, have been able to lay down their collective fate. Freud calls this stronghold "the invisible edifice of Judaism.”

As a guardian of this edifice, among others, as the prophets of the Bible did, I take the liberty of calling political leaders to order, when they deviate from the moral principles that are meant to unite us. Respect for these principles is as necessary for Israel's existence as the security of its borders. And yet, the recent statements of some of your government ministers prove that they have ignored it.

A normal people

I will end on an anecdote that will amuse you. In 1968, I visited David Ben Gurion in his house in Sde Boker, a farm in the heart of the Negev desert. He was visibly pleased to receive a young French intellectual who had crossed the vastness of Russia to Kazakhstan, and to Uzbekistan, before finally finding refuge in Paris, thus embodying a part of Jewish history. After lunch prepared by his wife Paula, he offered to drop me off in Tel Aviv.

His car was comfortable, although not air-conditioned, and the windows were rolled down. At the entrance of the city, the car stopped at a red light, not far from the old opera house where he had celebrated the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948.

A young woman approached the car and leaning towards me, said in Yiddish: Dou kimst? Are you coming?” She was a Jewish prostitute! Who on top of that spoke my mother’s language! I was shocked. Ben Gurion laughed. "You see, we are finally a normal people”, he said, “I bet we even have our own thieves, our own corrupters, our own scoundrels...!"

He was about to continue with the list of pariahs that threaten all the states of the world when, furious, I interrupted him, "But David, I don't want to be normal!"

PHoto of \u200bIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 15,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 15,

Israeli Prime Minister Office/APA Images via ZUMA

Pursuit of justice 

I knew that thanks to those in history who had opposed such normality, Jewish people had survived exile, persecution and even the Shoah. What I did not know was that one day in the not-too-distant future, an Israeli government would attack the Supreme Court of Justice that Ben Gurion had built in order to prevent politicians from twisting the Law in their favor. Or to change the constitution as they pleased.

This same Supreme Court has been admired by democracies around the world. Finally, I did not know that we, the victims of religious persecution, would one day risk reigniting the religious war for no other reason than the ambition of a minister in your government.

I understand that my convictions may upset you, as a politician who has made promises to his voters. But as a man with a sense of responsibility toward history, you should be pleased that there are still Jews in the Diaspora and in Israel to counter this normality which threatens democracy and undermines that call so dear to Abraham: "Justice, justice shall you pursue."

In wishing peace for all of Israel, please accept, Mr. Prime Minister, my most respectful sentiments.

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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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