As a Republican Jew I often find myself in the minority. As someone who is deeply involved in Jewish life this happens quite often. Yet when it comes to Israel, I find affiliated Jewry, especially those identified as liberal, becomes lackluster in their commitment to classical liberal values. This is not a clarion call for the Jewish community to wake up and smell the politically conservative flowers. Rather it is a call for our community to recognize that Progressive Jews are right on Israel and wrong regarding their critique of the Jewish community.
Israel is not perfect and the Jewish Progressives are 100% right that we should not hide this fact from inquiring minds. Whether on Arab-Israeli’s, women’s, and religious rights, Israel has a lot of space for growth. Many Progressive Jews want an Israel that is Jewish, democratic, and maintains separation between Synagogue and State. This is a noble, commonsense, and tricky aim. But it is not dissimilar from many nations in the West, such as England, which is Anglican, democratic, and maintains the freedom of conscience for all. Nor is it all together removed from the culturally Christian liberal democracy we enjoy in the US.
Regarding Judaea and Samaria, the Progressive Jews are equally correct. By example Israel has taught three generations of Palestinians what democracy looks like. When polled on which form of government they would model theirs on Palestinian overwhelmingly choose Israel. Yet since 1967, Israel has alternated its control between mixed military rule incorporating archaic Ottoman, Jordanian, and Israeli law with terrorist gangs from Tunis it empowered to rule in its stead. Arab onslaught against Israel and politics aside, the American Jewish community should not condone a legal regime we would balk at living in and which bears a striking and unfortunate resemblance to apartheid.
While Progressive Jews are right on Israel they are wrong on the American Jewish community. Jewish Progressives and organizations such as JStreet constantly and consistently state that they represent the silent majority of American Jews and that they have been left without a place at the Jewish community table. Yet the majority of American Jews are uninformed, unaffiliated, and tuned out. To claim this lack of engagement as a default endorsement of one side is the definition of chutzpah. The majority of American Jews remain outside the AIPAC vs. JStreet debate because they do not know the Jewish communities nuances, its internal political debates – indeed they barely know about the Jewish community at all, let alone Israel.
Juxtaposed accusations that the mainstream Jewish community is silencing the “Israel conversation” is the fact that mainstream Jewish communal organizations such as Federations, Hillels, Moishe Houses, JCC’s, Synagogues, and many others have all fostered a community of inclusion. These and other Jewish organizations have hosted speakers and events that include Breaking the Silence, the New Israel Fund, JStreet, and public intellectuals critical of Israel such as the late greats Tony Judt and Christopher Hitchens.
As if there is a hidden right wing nationalist conspiracy behind each corner, Progressive Jews exclaim “J’accuse!” and seem to expect some heretofore unrevealed hidden document proving that they are in fact the silent majority and treated like a persecuted minority. They impugn the integrity of a community that has repeatedly proven its commitment to diversity and pluralism in order to silence detractors. That they can not understand that not everyone in the organized Jewish community shares their views speaks volumes.
Supporting, through financial commitment, socio-political movements towards freedom in Israel is to be applauded. Bringing Israel’s and the Jewish people internal policy disputes to the halls of Congress is inexcusable. The debate over how we can improve Israel, our ancient homeland and the Jewish people, is a very different discussion from what, as American citizens, our policy goals should be regarding our nation’s friend and ally Israel. There is one legislative body already dealing with the internal Israeli political issues from a government perspective – the Knesset. All American Jews who wish to pressure government rightward or leftward on Israel should and can make aliyah and vote.
As someone who is politically involved, I am well aware of the allure of the attack tactics aimed at gaining concession and/or discrediting ones opposition. It is as unhealthy for the Jewish community as it is in the larger American political arena when we elevate talking points and sound bytes, ignoring basic facts and civility. Whether it is an attack on someone for being critical of Israel or accusing the Jewish community of exclusivity because not every Israel board includes a representative of JStreet, it is unacceptable and frankly juvenile. Moreover, even where one to disagree that these are jejune cat calls (they are) or real issues (they are not), the Jewish community should recognize that these side shows distract us all from the real goal of engaging the unengaged and reaching out to develop a full bodied, complex, deep and meaningful connection with Israel for all American Jews.