A MAN rips a cloth depicting an Israeli flag during a protest against Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, I received an email from Tikkun Magazine crowing, “Major American Jewish Leader Changes his Mind About Israel.” Rabbi David Gordis, who has served in an astonishing number of major American Jewish institutions, reflected on his years of love and advocacy for Israel, and on the rightward trend in Israeli policies. He wrote, “sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way: Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.”
My heart sank. Many of us engaged in advocacy for Israel no doubt share Rabbi Gordis’ discontent with the trajectory of public affairs in Israel. Clearly there is reason to be troubled. Extremism has become embedded throughout every level of Israeli society. The occupation, and the racism that has grown from it, are alarming.
But, while I am sympathetic to your feelings of near-despair, Rabbi Gordis, I beseech you: don’t give up; Israel can’t afford to lose you.
It’s not only that the Jewish people have longed for our return to the land for 2,000 years. Throughout the thousands of years of texts that elevate the land of Israel as a sacred aspiration, the struggle about what that means has always been there. To live in the land does not – and must not – be to give in to injustice to others.
To the contrary, Jewish views of the land have always contained the requirement to do so with justice. The 13th century commentator Ramban notes that the land is conditional upon Israel’s acting justly; we have a duty to live in the land with justice – to have one law for all (Leviticus 24:22, among other places) Jew and non-Jew.
We thus have an obligation not only to consider the land sacred, but also to work for Israel’s justice, for her highest ideals. To say Israel is “a noble experiment, but a failure,” is extremely shocking.
Such a response is giving in to the despair that Rabbi Nachman famously warned against, the despair that is the opposite of faith in God. If “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God and men” (Genesis 32:29), surely we, the children of Israel, are obligated to wrestle with people for justice in Israel.
And how can we give up on our Israeli brothers and sisters who have kept their hearts and hands in the fight to elevate Israeli society and end the occupation? They dedicate their time, their resources and their hearts, and vote with their feet by continuing to live in Israel, a country that is currently engaged in a war for its soul. They deserve our help – how can we leave them to struggle alone? Rabbi Gordis, you are not alone. Not in your despair, and not in your love. There are thousands of Israelis, and yes, Americans, too, who are still determined to bring the vision of Israel as a nation of righteousness to pass. We are not giving up. Not when extremists try to muzzle us with bills; not when fear makes American Jews afraid to face the reality of occupation; not when we are vilified or attacked and not when we are mocked and ignored. Because ultimately, we will succeed, and Israel will stand in friendship with her neighbors and the world. But we need you. We need everyone to rise above the fear; we need every voice to be heard.
Find strength in our ancestors, who over a history of struggle dating back thousands of years didn’t give up. Be inspired by courageous Israelis who are going out and protesting and struggling every day to change their own society and to end to occupation and injustice. Draw energy from fellow American Jews who love Israel and are working every day for an Israel that embodies the values we all share.The author is a rabbi and Americans for Peace Now’s director of strategic communications.