The Jewish state, out of context

J Street’s activities are important, but dialogue between world Jewry and Israel – should be conducted internally, within the Jewish people.

masada tourism 311 (photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
masada tourism 311
(photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
Adapted from a speech the Kadima MK and former IDF spokesman gave at the J Street conference this week.
Sometimes, serving as a member of Knesset involves exceptional challenges. You find yourself in all kinds of situations. A week ago, I enjoyed one of those rare opportunities offered to parliamentarians. For the first time in Israel’s history, a race was held from the bottom to the top of Masada, one of Israel’s best known – and steepest – historical sites.
As an amateur runner, I accidentally found myself participating as the most mature contestant.
While I was running the 1.5 miles and climbing the 750 steps to the top, I had time to think about Masada. It stands out as a symbol in Jewish history – a symbol of heroism, but also a symbol of extremism, of the Jewish tragedy of the loss of independence and of the heavy price the Jewish people pay when they split into sects.
We are now approaching the period of the Third Temple, and must learn from our history, especially how not to repeat it.
The moral of the story is one of moderation, of where Israel stands relative to the world, of the willingness to compromise to ensure an independent state with defensible borders.
I RESPECT the passion and involvement of many J Street participants concerning Israel; it is an important asset that we need to be proud of. Attendants came to Washington from all across America to support J Street, but also to promote the State of Israel.
We are a small people, and the number of us who are emotionally invested in this country is even smaller.
Beyond that fact, we must not allow a situation to occur, like at Masada, where we are divided so radically along political lines that our very survival is called into question. We are too few, only two generations after the Holocaust, to allow ourselves the luxury of creating such a rift within the Jewish people.
There is no question that J Street’s activities are important, but the dialogue between the organization and Israel – or world Jewry as a whole and Israel – should be conducted internally, within the Jewish people. The questions J Street raises, which are legitimate and serious warrant answers. The State of Israel and its representatives, official and otherwise, should give them.
That is part of the reason I went to the conference – because I am also one of those people who can help provide some answers.
At the same time, I believe that we should not and must not call on external pressure or coercion to be placed on the State of Israel and its positions. The internal Jewish dialogue is one thing; Israel as it is seen by the world is something else.
There are opinions that are expressed, which are occasionally controversial, within the Israeli discourse, and that are then used by Israel’s enemies against it.
We don’t need to hide our disagreements, but we should be aware that what we say in these internal conversations can have different meanings when taken out of context.
I WAS born in Palestine, grew up in Israel, and joined the political world less than three years ago, not because I was looking for a job, but because I feel responsibility for the next generation. By “next generation,” I mean not only Israelis, but Jews all over the world.
My greatest concern is to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and I am sure many feel the same.
There must be an open dialogue between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities, in which neither side hides its criticism, and in which the criticism is not automatically condemned as delegitimization. We Israelis need to learn how to better distinguish between some constructive criticism and anti-Israel sentiment.
But it must be understood that Israel is in the midst of an international struggle against delegitimization, and some criticism can unintentionally feed that struggle. The challenge is to find a way to air critiques without aiding those who seek to question Israel’s very existence and create a rift between Israel and much of Diaspora Jewry.
AND NOW, to return to the steep – and sometimes slippery – slopes of Masada.
While I was running, I looked back like Lot’s wife. Unlike her, I didn’t become a pillar of salt.
But I did see that some of the runners – and all of my Knesset colleagues who participated in the race with me – were still climbing the mountain. That is what Israel needs to find at the end of the day – a good place in the center of the climb.