I have been thinking about Israel a lot, especially since the dust up (mostly manufactured) regarding President Obama’s speech and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speeches. It seems so easy to resort to slogans, to create controversy too, instead of facing the challenges and finding solutions.
Rabbi Fred Guttman, recently returning from AIPAC convention, suggests 7 things (I count 8) about Israel that all Reform Jews should be able to agree upon. His complete blogpost is worth the read; I excerpt much of it here:
- As American Reform Jews we support the Foreign Aid bill which contains more than 3 billion dollars in needed security assistance for Israel. This money is critical in helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge. Much of this money is spent on military hardware in the United States and thus helps the American economy. We also support foreign aid to the other countries because we view it as a good investment for our country. Building schools and health clinics is good for America because it reflects the highest of humanitarian values.
- As American Jews, we are very concerned about Iran’s continued push towards the development of nuclear weapons. Therefore we support any act in Congress which will increase and strengthen the international sanctions again the regime in Teheran. We also would support measures directed especially at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps which has been so brutal in quashing all resistance to Ahmadinijad and the mullahs. Currently in both houses of Congress, there are bills which would do what I have just mentioned and we as American Jews support such efforts.
- We as American Reform Jews believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore we call upon the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with Israel. We feel that while Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian leader has been traveling all over the world talking with others about the future of the Palestinian nation, it has been tragic that he has not spoken directly to Israel.
- We also feel that unless Hamas recognizes Israel, renounces violence and agrees to abide by all previous agreements, Hamas has no place in these negotiations. Hamas currently seeks the total destruction of Israel. Of all the liberation movements in the world today, Hamas is alone in demanding the total annihilation of another country. Other national libration movements envision living side by side in peaceful coexistence with their foes, but not Hamas. As American Reform Jews, we feel that should an unrepentant Hamas become part of the Palestinian government, the United States should reexamine its relationship with the Palestinian Authority and suspend aid to it. As a matter of fact, such a suspension of aid is mandated by US law.
- We as American Reform Jews while passionately concerned about the security of Israel are also concerned and critical about decisions made by the Israeli government. We are opposed to building in settlements that clearly will be evacuated in some future peace deal. We are also concerned about elements of civil society in Israel. We feel that Israel can do more to advance the opportunities of Israel’s religious and ethnic minorities to be able to participate fully in all aspects of Israeli society. As American Reform Jews, we are deeply concerned about the lack of religious pluralism in Israel. Therefore particularly on these matters, we will not hesitate to be critical of Israel.
- As American Jews, we support ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, because ARZA is our way of supporting the cause of religious pluralism in Israel. In a recent article, Rabbi Daniel Allen, ARZA’s Executive Director wrote: “We must work to expand liberal Jewish religion. We can build an ever more inclusive democratic Israeli society if we marshal the human and financial resources. Israelis physically built a country, with significant assistance from world Jewry that most of us believe is here to stay. It was done through times of war while bringing in our exiles in massive numbers. Israel was built by people many of whom had broken lives before they arrived on its shores. Israel was assisted in physically building the state by a Jewish community that was not as affluent and capable of participating in building the soul of the society as it is today.” Rabbi Allen calls for increased support from American Reform Jews for the liberal or Reform congregations in Israel. He feels that such support could make a significant impact from within on the state of Israel and would strengthen the ties between Reform Jews and their brothers and sisters in Israel.
- We need to visit Israel. We need to encourage our congregations to take trips to Israel, to send their kids to Israel, to keep abreast of events happening in Israel and to make Israel part of our consciousness as Reform Jews. Too many of our members have never been to Israel. Too many have never seen a country which is so very different than they way it is portrayed in the media. Too many of our teens have never been in Israel, never had the opportunity to love it and appreciate it and as a result, are ill prepared to speak about Israel when they go to college. Perhaps the worst part of this is that too many young Reform Jews feel alienated from Israel, not in my opinion because they disagree with the policies of its government, but rather the only Israel which they know is that portrayed in the often sensationalist media. The chief cause of the alienation of young Reform Jews from Israel is due to the fact that so few of them have been there and as a result have no appreciation of a narrative as to why Israel is so important and precious to the Jewish people.
- My seventh and final point is that as American Reform Jews, we will not hesitate to express and teach our love for Israel; its land, people and its right of national determination. Yes, Israel has much wrong with it. There are many things which need to be improved in Israel. However, when teaching Israel, I want to teach first the narrative of love. I want to teach the story of the importance of Israel as a place for persecuted Jewry throughout the world and as the only place wherein the Jewish people have the right of self determination. I want to teach about the miracle of Jewish self defense in Israel and how Israel in 1976 flew 2500 miles to Entebbe to rescue Jews of various nationalities who had been on a hijacked plane. I want to teach to stories of commitment and heroism of people like Yoni Netanyahu, Alex Singer, Avigdor Kahalani and Michael Levin who make me so proud and inspire me so much. If you do not recognize these names, that it part of the problem! And I, as a rabbi, Zionist and Jewish educator, view it as my holy task to teach you about these heroes. Yes, I want to first teach you about the love of Israel. Once I have done this, I will teach you about all of the imperfections she has and the challenges she faces in making a more just society and in bringing peace to that part of the world. When we fall in love, we tend only to see the good aspects of our spouses. My feeling is that if we focused upon the imperfections of our spouses only, we would have never fallen in love in the first place. So I will teach you the narrative of love before the narrative of imperfection.
Rabbi Guttman concludes:
Yes, you may point out twenty five things wrong with Israel, but I will still love her. Israel is a part of my very neshamah, my very soul. It is a tremendous part of how I as a Jew define my Jewish identity.
So what do YOU think? Can we all agree on this? Is there more? Are some beyond the reach of agreement?
Can you share it without name-calling? Without resorting to sloganeering?
If so, I look forward to your thoughts.