26 August 2014

haTikvah - Don't Lose the Hope!

A member of the congregation challenged me to read this OpEd by Antony Lerman in the New York Times Sunday Review.  I was telling her that I thought her views on Israel were probably very close the mainstream of the congregation.  She said that she had read this article and had felt great sympathy with its point of view and therefore was probably out of step with our suburban New Jersey Reform congregation.  I replied that while some of the more outspoken members of our congregation were probably farther to the right on Israel, there was a large group who felt confused, alienated, and afraid to speak or even think about Israel at such turbulent times.

I agree with Mr. Lerman through much of this piece. I think the liberal Zionist voice is caught as the public voice of Israel becomes more restrictive, as recent polls show that Israeli children are sounding racist (mainly, I would opine, because they no longer encounter Arabs in their daily lives), as the reality of terrorism and reaction erodes the possibility of the emergence of moderate Palestinians. He says:

Liberal Zionists must now face the reality that the dissenters have recognized for years: A de facto single state already exists; in it, rights for Jews are guaranteed while rights for Palestinians are curtailed. Since liberal Zionists can’t countenance anything but two states, this situation leaves them high and dry.

But, I disagree with his defeatism and that the idea of a two-state solution is gone for all time. Perhaps it reflects the eternal optimism of the liberal, but I am not yet at Mr. Lerman's state of hopelessness. I do believe Israel can be not only a state of Jews, but a Jewish state, reflecting Jewish values about treating the stranger among you as the citizen.

I am fearful, however, of the weakening of the Israeli-Diaspora connection and nod as Mr. Lerman (and, as often, Peter Beinart) state:

Today, neither the destruction wreaked in Gaza nor the disgraceful antics of the anti-democratic forces that are setting Israel’s political agenda have produced a decisive shift in Jewish Diaspora opinion. 

I agree that the current situation actually pushes us further apart, rather than closer together.  Fear is a temporary glue.

He concludes with a message that I do find hopeful:

In the repressive one-state reality of today’s Israel, which Mr. Netanyahu clearly wishes to make permanent, we need a joint Israeli-Palestinian movement to attain those rights and the full equality they imply. Only such a movement can lay the groundwork for the necessary compromises that will allow the two peoples’ national cultures to flourish.

While I join in his hope for the like-minded of both sides to come together, I do not agree with his next statement:

This aspiration is incompatible with liberal Zionism.

I hope it isn't.  I hope there is still a place for liberal Zionism.  Herzl, who held together the largest open tent of Zionists in history in order to build the dream of the land of Israel, would have had it so.  Im tirtzu, ein zo agadah. If this is something we truly desire, then it will not remain a fantasy.