Excerpts from my new column at Hadassah Magazine:
Please don’t give up on Israel. And please give me a chance to explain before you hit the delete button.
I know, your last e-mail virtually asked me not to write this one. You said that you were tired of news about growing West Bank settlements, stalled peace negotiations and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s bellicose statements. Your daughter says the campus debate between anti-Israel and pro-Israel groups is too shrill to bear. You would prefer to focus your progressive political energies on issues close to home. When I write, you implied, I should stick to updates about my kids….
I know you are not alone in your despair. In the recent, excellent documentary Between Two Worlds about American Jewry’s internecine battles, there’s a scene in which Daniel Sokatch, head of the liberal New Israel Fund, explains why young Jews are leaving the conversation: “People will walk away from an argument that looks like [a choice between] ‘Israel, right or wrong’ or ‘Israel is an apartheid demon state.’ That is not a compelling paradigm for most young American Jews.” My only quibble is that lots of older Jews are equally unhappy with a debate restricted to those choices.
But I don’t think you can walk away. If you choose silence on Israel, your silence will also be a statement, interpreted in a way entirely different from what you intend. Besides that, “progressive” means “working for progress.” Giving up on Israel because it isn’t living up to your liberal values would violate those values. …
The bottom line is that you should be working for a better, more progressive Israel and for a more open discussion of Israel among American Jews—a discussion in which supporting Israel includes supporting peace and social change. And the dissonance that makes you want to give up on Israel is a result of two assumptions that I think you will reject once you examine them.
The first is that a Jewish country will automatically be progressive, because that’s how Jews naturally act. Think about it: You don’t believe in the inborn superiority of particular ethnic groups any more than you believe in the opposite, the inherent inferiority of ethnic groups. The Torah does not tell us to remember that we were strangers in Egypt because Jews are instinctively, unequally committed to equality. It repeats that message in a loud drumbeat because we are people, and the natural thing for people to do when they get power is to forget that they were once powerless….
The second flawed assumption is that you should feel tied to Israel only if it is already a progressive country. Think about that word: Progressives are people who work for progress. To your good fortune, Israel is rich with organizations working for change— groups promoting human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, religious freedom, Jewish-Arab dialogue and, of course, peace. In the last several years, American Jewry has seen a flowering of organizations supporting those efforts. …
Read the full column here, and come back to SoJo to comment.