All Jews are responsible for one another

We might be tempted to focus all our resources on our own respective crises, but the obligation toward other Jews should inspire a cross-border effort to support one another.

By JILL JACOBS
November 30, 2017 23:14
3 minute read.
‘A RECOGNITION of our shared struggle should also compel American Jewish leaders to demand accountab

‘A RECOGNITION of our shared struggle should also compel American Jewish leaders to demand accountability for attacks on progressive Israeli leaders just as vociferously as we defend our own dignity.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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In the hours following the white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville this summer, one of the first people who reached out to me was Avner Gvaryahu, executive director of Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army veterans who testify about their service in the occupied territories.

This gesture came at a crucial moment, while I anxiously tried to reach the rabbis who had traveled to Charlottesville to represent T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights organization that I lead.

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Within a day, Breaking the Silence issued a statement of solidarity with American Jews. The organization may even have been the first Israeli one to issue such a statement; certainly their words came days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found anything to say about self-proclaimed Nazis marching through a college campus.

I thought about this incident this past week, as furor erupted over Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s disparagement of American Jews. In the English-language interview that set off the maelstrom, she accused American Jews of not serving our country by enlisting in the army.

In a Hebrew-language interview the previous week, she conceded her willingness to write off 90 percent of American Jews, and dismissed liberal Jews as having abandoned all values other than tikkun olam.

Perhaps on her next visit, Hotovely will spend time with liberal communities living vibrant lives of prayer, ritual, care for one another, and yes, repairing the world.

But Hotovely saved some of her venom for Israeli Jews. Sitting next to Gvaryahu in a joint TV appearance in the days between her two attacks on American Jews, she labeled the veterans of Breaking the Silence as traitors – a serious accusation with the potential to incite right-wing vigilante violence. This attack belies her claim that, if only American Jews would move to Israel and serve in the army, she would welcome their political opinions.

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I happen to believe in a few Jewish values beyond tikkun olam. One of these is kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Once upon a time, Zionism viewed its mission both as establishing a state for the Jewish people and as protecting Jews wherever they lived. Sadly, the current government of the State of Israel displays such concern neither for Jews elsewhere in the world, nor for its own citizens when they dare criticize the policy of occupation that undermines the safety of Israelis, along with the human rights of Palestinians.

This privileging of right-wing policy over Jewish lives leads the Netanyahu administration to make dangerous alliances both with Christian Zionists and with an American administration that tolerates and empowers antisemites.

Jews in both the United States and Israel face the danger of administrations that have adopted anti-democratic tactics, including discrediting protesters, assaulting the free press, and spreading lies. We might be tempted to focus all our resources on our own respective crises, but the obligation toward other Jews should inspire a cross-border effort to support one another in standing up to these dangerous maneuvers.

Jews working to protect democracy on both sides of the Atlantic have an opportunity right now to support one another in our respective struggles, to learn from one another’s experience, and to present a united front in standing up to threats on our safety. The existing relationships among Jewish and Israeli human rights and social justice organizations can serve as the foundation for such partnerships.

A recognition of our shared struggle should also compel American Jewish leaders to demand accountability for attacks on progressive Israeli leaders just as vociferously as we defend our own dignity. If we call for the dismissal of a government official who insults our religious practices, we must also call for the dismissal of those who undermine democracy and endanger their own citizens.

And, as the Trump administration enables a rising tide of hate speech and hate crimes, American Jews should be able to expect the Israeli government to stand with us, rather than ignoring antisemitism in order to advance a narrow political agenda.

The concept of kol yisrael areivim zeh lazeh does not mean that Jews must agree on every political or ideological point. Indeed, our community rarely has. But membership in Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, does demand that we stand with other Jews facing threats to their safety or freedom, regardless of citizenship.

The writer is a rabbi and the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

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