Parashat Masei: Understanding Jews who don’t support Israel

It is tempting to dismiss these opponents merely as self-hating Jews, thinking, “What type of proud Jew could possibly be opposed to the Jewish state?”

A shepherd walks his flock in the Jordan Valley, June 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
A shepherd walks his flock in the Jordan Valley, June 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
One of the most gratifying aspects about the State of Israel is the broad support it enjoys across so many varied Jewish communities. It is reassuring that despite the myriad differences which divide us, our beloved state so deeply unites us.
It is equally frustrating to encounter Jews severely disconnected from and alienated by the State of Israel. That they dispute or debate particular policies is legitimate and valuable, but their vocal disagreements with Israel and its policies sometimes transform into public and hostile opposition to Israel as well as ghastly political cooperation with enemies of the State of Israel. Encountering this resistance in Jews can be puzzling and even infuriating.
It is tempting to dismiss these opponents merely as self-hating Jews, thinking, “What type of proud Jew could possibly be opposed to the Jewish state?” To be sure, there are Jews who revile their Jewish identity and despise all things Jewish. However, many opponents of Israel are proud Jews who struggle to reconcile their Jewish identity with how they perceive Israel and its policies. It is crucial to try to understand their narrative in an effort to reduce the friction and to better sharpen our own basic Jewish values.
Any proud Jew senses a unique moral and historical calling: to showcase critical values and ideals to an international audience. Furthermore, at the core of the Jewish message are the values of morality, ethics and social justice.
To some, the Zionist reality greatly imperils this agenda. How can Jews exhibit morality when our state is accused of not offering equality to its inhabitants? How can we stand for justice and compassion when our State is believed to be upon disputed lands? How can we provide universal messages when our religious and spiritual ambitions for our State seem to challenge democratic norms? These contradictions sometimes create tension between Jewish identity and the State of Israel.
Where and how do we differ? Don’t we also believe in morality, ethics and social justice? Given our belief in these core values, how can we so fervently support a state that appears to compromise these values? In truth we differ in at least three crucial issues: our sense of a divinely crafted mission, a messianic view of history, and our views of antisemitism.
Divinely crafted mission
Indeed, Jews are charged a historical mission that includes the spread of moral values. However, our mission is Divinely crafted and delivered, not one which merely evolved over the passage of history. The ultimate barometer of morality is Divine will – not popular opinion or current moral trends. Often, we must uphold values or pursue agendas that differ from common moral convention but are based upon absolute and eternal Divine will.
Moreover, we are committed to morality because we believe God is moral and we seek to shape our world in His image. To accomplish this, we study His Torah and obey His commands. If we merely showcase morality without attention to Torah and ritual, we haven’t represented Him accurately or fully in this world. We may be echoing a moral voice, but it has become severed from its Divine origin. Our message of morality must be coupled with attempts, including ritual, to amplify His presence in our world.
Part of that Divinely crafted mission is ideological and part is geographical. We are meant to disseminate these vital moral messages from our national platform in Israel; our moral voice isn’t meant to ricochet in a historical vacuum. Our absence from Israel for close to 2,000 years severed our sense of mission from the Divinely designed platform. Without efforts to return to Israel, our agenda of disseminating moral guidance is, at best, limited.
Messianic history
It is frustrating to live in a world that doesn’t recognize our broader religious mission and, even worse, is extremely antagonistic to our efforts to resettle Israel. We are routinely depicted as a foreign imperialist regime imposing an iron-fisted occupation upon innocent victims. How can an “apartheid” state opposed by so many possibly contribute to a historical agenda of morality and compassion?
It all depends on how you view history. If history is evolutionary and open-ended, current voices and opinions condemning Israel may sound convincing and compelling. Current historical conditions cast our return to our indigenous homeland as immoral and if so, living in Israel against opposition is immoral and antithetical to our Jewish mission.
However, religious Jews are messianists who view history differently – as predetermined and cyclical – careening back to an earlier time and a different set of conditions. Our current historical reality, though impressive, is fundamentally “broken.” We currently inhabit a world in which our efforts to re-establish Jewish nationhood and reassert our moral voice appears hypocritical and imperialistic, but one day these perspectives will change. One day the world be Divinely re-aligned and even our fiercest enemies will thank us for the values we stand for and the God we continue to represent in this hostile world. Messianism should never serve as an “escape hatch” to flee from basic moral norms and practical measures of this world. However, this world is still imperfect and the prevailing opinions do not represent absolute moral truth/virtue. Sadly, many who view the State of Israel as an immoral enterprise, lead lives trapped in a myopic historical lens with no view of messianic horizons or broader historical perspective.
As a West Bank resident (“settler”), I struggle with this dualism on a daily basis – I believe in overarching messianic historical recalibration and I take active measures to advance that reality. However, while living under the current situation, I attempt – to the best of my capabilities and without surrendering my historical vision – to be respectful and to operate within legal, moral and practical means.

History and antisemitism

To many, the overwhelming disapproval of the State of Israel is indication that we have veered off course (“If the State of Israel acted morally, all opposition would vanish”). To many, hatred of Israel in the modern world has no justifiable root other than the “despised policies” of an aggressive nationalistic state.
By contrast, we believe that antisemitism is deeply woven into the fabric of history. If we are despised, it is because we challenge the world to higher moral and religious ground, and no one likes a whistle blower. Without question, we should make every effort to curb antisemitism and assert all the forces of modern democracy to protect our legitimate rights. Likewise, we should embrace a modern world that has by and large offered Jews equality and security. However, antisemitism is rooted in the very narrative of history and will fully disappear only when history itself concludes. The stiff opposition to the State of Israel isn’t just a product of unpopular Israeli policies but more often a manifestation of a story as old as time itself. This opposition cannot serve as a moral yardstick; wholesale and disproportionate rejections of Israel’s morality and even national legitimacy are driven by the same imbalanced hatred that has aroused antisemitism for thousands of years.
It is important to assess anti-Israel sentiment among deeply proud Jews that are unable to reconcile their sense of Jewish mission with the current struggle to resettle our land. By understanding their qualms we can better appreciate our differences and better reinforce our own values.
The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a master’s degree in English literature from the City University of New York.