Israel News

A National Tragedy of our Own Making?

Recently Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit published an essay in which he called upon the rational Israeli majority to join forces. He is convinced that our political and national future as a Jewish democratic and peace loving state is not lost. All that we need do is to reach out to one another and join hands politically, affirming the moderate center, in a new national movement of reconciliation and constructive policy advocacy. Unfortunately I think Ari Shavit, expresses wishful thinking about what he would like the basic mind set and aspirations of the Israeli people to be. I think his assumptions are incorrect and his proposals are, at this time, painfully unrealistic.

Yes of course I would like to believe that he is correct that most Israeli Jews do aspire after the idea of a Jewish democratic and just state. Yes of course I would like to believe that ours is an enlightened nation-state that does not harbor ill will towards our neighboring states; nor toward our own minority population groups. But unfortunately this is not the case. Our political and military policy of occupation and articulated viral hatred and distrust of our presumed Arab antagonists, domestic and foreign, has defined our vision as myopic and our role as self defeating.

For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Israeli majority has fallen victim to the forces of psychological terrorism, racism and nationalistic extremism. Our political leaders justify our policies by asserting the need to protect us from certain destruction at the hands of radical extremists near and far. Lest we are unable to see clearly, they tell us, we are surrounded and threatened not only by Islamic fundamentalists from without but equally so by their coreligionists within. Promoting fear is an effective way to divert the popular mind from rational discourse and analysis. The consequence is that we are less what people like Ari Shavit would like us to be than what we have become. And this is a savagely divisive society defined by narrow sectarian, political and ideological interests.

Characteristically, following the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, our right wing coalition government effectively punished several hundred thousand Palestinians for the outrageous acts of two independent killers. Ten of thousands of entry permits to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque now, during the holy month of Ramadan, were cancelled; permits to work in Israel were permanently cancelled for all residents of the village where the terrorists lived and other repressive measures as well. The lead editorial in Ha’aretz on the following day declared “The Only Solution to Palestinian terrorism is the end of the Occupation.” These “acts of collective punishment” the editorial asserted, “will just increase the frustration and hatred among those forced to live under Israeli occupation…The only way to deal with terrorism is by freeing the Palestinian people from the occupation.”

All this is against a background of an obvious increase in frustration with and disbelief in Israeli policies on the part of the international community. Nonetheless our people appear to be nonplussed.They accept as credible the claims of our leaders, that our problems are a consequence of a plot hatched by unrepentant European and American anti-Semites and Islamic fanatics. All we need to do is destroy the BDS movement and we will relieve ourselves of the need to reconsider the wisdom of our policies. How sad it is that we have allowed ourselves to be led by a class of political leaders who in recent weeks in particular have demonstrated just how arrogant, egotistical and self-assured they have become. The very idea that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman think that they will win the support and confidence of the European community, the United States and the U.N., simply by saying that they support the two state solution and consider the Arab League peace proposal to be constructive is astounding. Indeed now, just a week or so later the news here headlines the fact that the Prime Minister announced at a meeting of his Likud Party Knesset faction that “Israel will never agree to the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Of course, our right wing government coalition, has good reason to want to promote the myth that Israeli policy is rational and responsible. Would that this were more than a proven tactic of diversion and political obfuscation. There is small reason to believe that our ruling revisionist leaders are ready to amend their irredentist policies and thinking to allow for an end to our settlement program and a readiness for genuine territorial compromise. They have confirmed this in their own words and actions. Nonetheless, if does seem that they are successful in convincing the Israeli silent majority of their good intentions. Our people are simply too unnerved and verbally abused by our leaders to think otherwise.

No, I do not believe that there is a silent majority of rational people who have the capacity to transform reality. Our silent majority gives quiet support to our right wing ruling coalition.

In the end, I am now convinced, that the consequence of advancing policies based on irredentist and racist programs will result in our undoing. Our “leaders” continue to act blindly without concern for the implications of their actions. They appear to be convinced of their ability to achieve their objectives, regardless of world opinion and reactive policies. In the end, hopefully sooner than later, they will be proven wrong. Let us hope and pray that in the process, we will not be the victims of another historical tragedy. This time it may be one of our own making.


Rabbi Stanley Ringler is an Israeli Reform Rabbi and Social and Political Activist

General CCAR Israel News Rabbis

More Than One Way: A Father and Son on Israel

We represent two generations of rabbis, five decades of love for the State of Israel and advocacy for its security and wellbeing. We recall anxious moments that we have shared together as father and son. There was a crisp fall morning in 1973.  As we drove to synagogue on that Yom Kippur morning, our heavy hearts were at one with Israel as we learned of its battle against a devastating Arab onslaught on this holiest of days.

In 2002 we joined rabbinic colleagues for a conference in Jerusalem.  In this City of Peace we experienced first hand horrific attacks on coffee shops and clubs that took the lives of many innocent souls.  We can never forget the wail of sirens and the roar of helicopters overhead.

And now, though the prospects for peace, reconciliation and agreement seem distant amidst a tumultuous middle east, we reaffirm a traditional affirmation of faith:  Anu ma’aminim/We still believe that there is hope for the future.

But faith and hope, while critical, are not enough to resolve intractable problems. While the issues are difficult, the frustrations innumerable, and the intentions of all parties often unclear, the ultimate outcome is unmistakable:  A two state solution, essentially along the 1967 lines, with modifications and exchanges reflecting Israel’s defense requirements and the evolving facts on the ground in the West Bank.  The chilling, fateful question is: Will it take 3 or 30 years to achieve the inevitable, 300 or 3000 more lives lost? We pray that the current  Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will be successful.

How can we as American Jews be supportive of this effort to achieve peace?   We often respond to this question by joining worthy organizations that are committed to Israel’s security and survival.  Sometimes we do this with a sense that the group we support has all the answers, and “those other groups” are weak or blind to the dangers Israel faces.  At times we even demonize those Jewish organizations whose approach may be different from ours.  We find this to be counterproductive at best, devastating and diluting of Israel’s best interests at worst.  A committed and thoughtful American Jew who loves and advocates for Israel can support several different worthy groups who are working to fulfill the dream of a strong and secure Israel living at peace with its neighbors.

IMG_3497One of the oldest and most influential organizations is AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. For nearly half a century, AIPAC has worked diligently to insure support for Israel by American Presidents and the U.S. Congress.  That very special partnership continues to this day, as President Barack Obama has continually affirmed.

For more than a century the American Jewish Committee has defended the rights of Jews throughout the world.  In our own day the AJC has developed incredibly valuable diplomatic programs that build support for Israel among dozens of nations around the globe.  In addition, AJC programs bring non-Jewish American community leaders—mayors, legislators, academics, and union leaders–to Israel to foster greater understanding of the achievements and challenges confronting the Jewish state.  And as one of the pioneer Jewish Defense agencies, the Anti-Defamation League does similar valuable work on behalf of the American-Israeli relationship and is worthy of our support.

Finally, we would mention J-Street, the most recent of the Israel advocacy organizations.  J Street has gathered significant support within the American Jewish community by emphasizing the critical need for greater effort to find a Two-State solution.  Most studies indicate that a solid majority of American and Israeli Jews favor a two state solution reached by a negotiated settlement between the parties.   J Street focuses its efforts in Israel and with America’s political leadership to fulfill this goal.

Many of these pro-Israel organizations have an outreach to Jewish college students and young adults. J Street’s work in this area has uniquely engaged a growing generation of young American Jews. In a time of increasing apathy amongst young Jews toward their faith and their communities, and growing ambivalence towards some of Israel’s policies, J Street is the voice of a new generation of American Jews inspired by a renewed vision for peace.

If we step back for a moment to consider the broader challenges and stratospheric stakes, we can see that each of these pro-Israel organizations offers unique and helpful support to Israel.  An American Jew who is concerned about Israel’s future could whole-heartedly support any or all of these groups. In an era of increasing polarization and diminishing civility in the public discourse, we hope that those who zealously support one or the other group will tone down their negative comments and accusations, and respect the work being done by others.

Sadly, we saw last year how an extreme pro-Israel/anti-Obama position can lead to madness.   The entire American Jewish Community condemned the comments of Andrew Adler, the editor of the Atlanta Jewish Weekly, who suggested in his column that Israel should consider sending an assassin to kill the President of the United States.   This was a complete desecration of Jewish values.  It carried to the ultimate a campaign of falsehoods about the President’s support for Israel that some politicians were using to attract Jewish votes.  Let us hope that our community has learned something from this experience.

We all have the same ultimate goal:  a strong and secure Israel. To slightly modify rabbinic tradition:  The time is short, the task is great and we are accountable.

 Rabbi Daniel Weiner is the Senior Rabbi of Temple De Hirsch-Sinai of Seattle Washington.

Rabbi Martin Weiner is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco and a past president of the Central Conference of America Rabbis.