How can we tell when a fiery piece of theater is “anti-Semitic,” or when it is
simply “courageous and challenging”? How do we know a documentary film is
“uplifting and inspirational,” or “white-washing propaganda”? How can we
differentiate between the dangerous enemy, and the confused kid who could do
with reading a book or two? Where is the starry-eyed supporter of all things
blueand- white, and where the McCarthyite in the making?
It seems that
throughout the Jewish world, nuances are becoming dangerously blurred, while the
discourse has grown more polarized. Makom rests in the heart of the Jewish
Agency for Israel, working carefully to inspire intelligent and complex learning
about the place of Israel in Jewish life. As something of an ideological hybrid
(some have called us “a government- funded underground”), we have amassed a
large amount of experience in working with integrity while avoiding head-on
Involved in education as we are, our team is delighted to
recognize how Israel evokes the heat and commitment of conflict, yet our fear is
that the current arguments in the Jewish community are what John Dewey might
call “mis-educative,” since they end up putting people off the whole subject. We
at Makom would like to suggest a way forward.
It may be that we in the
Jewish community have moved a little too far from the source. It may be that
some of our arguments are more about Western values refracted through Israel,
rather than about Israel itself. Our approach is to look to what Israel says
about itself, and what it aspires to be.
When the state was established,
the penultimate line of “Hatikva” was rewritten.
Instead of referring to
a return to the land of our fathers, the line was altered to define our hope of
2,000 years: “To be a free people in our land.”
It may be that this
broad, generative definition of our hope is more useful to us than “a Jewish and
democratic state.” The latter construction hints at paradox, feels painfully
particularistic, and makes no reference to place. By contrast, the aspiration to
be a free people in our land is lyrical, inviting and universal. What else was
behind the world’s excitement at the Egyptian uprising, for example, if not the
sight of Egyptians fighting to be a free people in their own land? All stripes
of Israel-supporter can agree with this statement – and argue within
We may not agree on the exact borders of “our Land,” nor may we agree
to what extent we must share this land with others, but we do agree that the
Jews’ state must be in this Middle Eastern neck of the woods.
We may not
agree on our definition of who is a Jew, nor may we agree on the Halacha or its
applications, but we can agree that the Jews are a people, and as such deserve
Our understandings of “free” will be nuanced, too.
Some Zionists cannot understand the liberation movement of the Jewish people
without democracy: How can we free the Jewish people to control its own destiny
without freeing the Jewish person to do the same? Others will engage in a heated
discussion about the morality of enjoying freedom while restricting the freedom
of others, while their interlocutors will argue about how it is freedom from
terror that should be our most important guide.
WHAT WE are pointing out
is that we would still have plenty of room to argue.
Makom is arguing for
a communal “tent” rather than a communal “tank.”
In a tank we can be
safe, we can fight back against our enemies, but life there is pretty cramped
and miserable. A tent, meanwhile, gives us room to talk freely among ourselves,
have fun occasionally.
Perhaps equally significant, it can empower us to
engage more confidently with those outside the tent.
The sides of this
tent can be open for dialogue.
There is clearly no point arguing the
complexities of Israel’s immigration policy with someone who does not accept
that Israel has the right to decide! There is nothing to be gained discussing
the desired borders of the state with someone who does not agree that the Jews
have a connection to the land. Yet we can debate the basics: why we regard the
Jews as a people, the rights of a people to freedom, and our connection to the
land. As long as we keep our eyes on this three-pillared structure, instead of
turning our backs to critics, we can face them.
Within Israel and within
the Jewish world, we must talk and work at the areas where these different
values clash, where our interpretations of these values clash, and where the
connection between the values can be strengthened.
tent will allow us to better defend ourselves against the malicious rejecter of
Jewish rights in Israel, converse more fruitfully with principled dissenters,
and work with those who live inside this fascinating tent of Israel.
writer is the artist-in-residence with Makom, the place for compelling Israel
education, based at the Jewish Agency for Israel. www.makomisrael.org