Counterpoint: A letter to a Jewish leader from abroad

Consider moderating your displeasures with the Jewish state.

david forman 88 (photo credit:)
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Robert,* When I received an invitation to lead a tour of the security barrier around Jerusalem for your group, I was more than pleased to accept. You have been an avid supporter of progressive causes in Israel. Like many of my colleagues and friends who belong to the liberal camp in this country, we appreciate those who identify with our struggle to maintain Israel's moral integrity under extremely difficult circumstances. It is leaders like you who understand the complexities involved in upholding Jewish ethical standards while also protecting one's physical well-being. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I have taken dozens of groups on a tour of the security barrier. I have led groups that are on the right and left of the political spectrum, as well as led tours for secular and religious Jews and for liberal Christians and Evangelicals. My presentation always remains constant. Never have I encountered anyone who reacted like you. AS WE were leaving the first stop, you remarked that I was speaking to the group as if the participants were hostile to Israel, that I was defensive. When I questioned what you meant, you sardonically said: "If you would like, I could replay the tape for you." I would like to think that my presentation is balanced, nuanced and objective - an approach that apparently displeases you. Clearly, you were projecting your views onto me - that the barrier was a truly evil invention, and you were sorely disappointed that I did not reflect this view. I pointed out that we Israelis see the barrier as saving lives, while the Palestinians see it as grievously limiting their civil liberties - and how one reconciles these two narratives is a great challenge. Your group seemed fully engaged in my explanations. If I misread their reaction, then their politeness is something you might want to emulate. It is obvious that you had a vision of what the tour would look like. Again, after that first stop, you accusatorily told me that I had not mentioned Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), of which I am a member but was not representing - although I had intended to speak about the organization at a later point on the tour. And then, when I emphasized RHR's educational programs over its activities in the territories, your body language revealed a haughty disapproval, and you quickly asked me to address the issue of the state's archeological excavations in Silwan, no doubt anticipating a hoped-for scathing condemnation of Israel's behavior. When I explained that every country had the right to conduct archeological research, and only where RHR felt that the excavations were unduly harming the Palestinians in Silwan by unwarranted demolition of homes did the organization protest, you were visibly upset, and said that this was a differing view than the one you heard from someone else in RHR. Thankfully, RHR has a very eclectic makeup and does not reflect a one-dimensional approach to complicated issues, as do you. Your remark, "Well, if RHR cannot be consistent [i.e. match your view of the world], then perhaps I should send my support elsewhere," is one that I would expect from a 12-year-old. There are many organizations that I support - B'Tselem, ACRI, ICAHD, The Israel Committee against Torture, Machsom Watch and RHR - with whose activities I do not always agree, but still recognize their overall good works and continue to support them. While I personally encourage active Diaspora engagement in Israel, and recognize that criticism of Israel's behavior is legitimate, I would hope that a Jewish leader would be dutifully conscious of the geographical locale from whence that criticism emanates. There is nothing more irritable to those of us in Israel than to hear Diaspora Jews pontificate about what we should or should not do, thereby displaying an all-too-ready willingness to sacrifice our and our children's blood for their ideological purity. ROBERT, WHAT I am about to say is not unique to my family, but indicative of the experiences of all Israeli families. I don't recall you having fought in war here (or anywhere), literally cradling comrades in your arms as they lay dying from their wounds; having comforted a child when a friend was murdered in a bus bombing; or having witnessed Israeli kids sharing pictures of themselves with each other, indicating which one they wanted to appear in the paper should they be a victim of terror. The very night of my tour with your group, I prayed with my sister-in-law, who was marking the 26th anniversary since her brother, Zachary Baumel, went missing in the First Lebanon War. Try planning a daughter's wedding in the summer of 2006 while her husband-to-be receives a call-up for the Second Lebanon War (whether one agreed with the war or not - which I didn't - does not alter the emotional strain that sweeps over you). And yet, at the same time, we demonstrate against what happened in Sabra and Shatilla and join Yesh Gvul; we stand in front of army vehicles attempting to destroy Palestinian homes; we get up at the crack of dawn to pick olives and grapes with Palestinians, protecting them from settler violence; and we protest all manners of human rights abuses against Palestinians (and Lebanese), despite their cowardly acts perpetrated against innocent Israelis (and fellow Palestinians). Therefore, you might want to consider moderating your displeasures with the Jewish state, so that they reflect a modicum of sensitivity for what we Israelis undergo. Indeed, it would be helpful to recognize that those of us who live here may hold a different perspective than do you because of some very painful experiences that we - not you - have suffered (no less painful than Palestinian suffering, with which you so readily empathize over Jewish suffering), and yet we still remain on the front lines, crying out against Israel's excessive actions in the territories. If you wanted to impose a tour on your group that mirrors your singular view of Israel that is your business, but do not impose it on me, who certainly does not need to prove his liberal credentials because they do not parallel your unduly simplistic (and self-righteous) left-leaning opinions. Basically, Robert, you would do well to exercise a measure of humility. Yours, David Forman *The name is fictitious.