Once we've thrashed out among ourselves the best course to take, we shouldn't break ranks.
By STEWART WEISSPublished: JUNE 7, 2009 22:36Advertisement
The question on the mind of every Jew today is, "What is US President Barack Obama up to?" Is he out there trying to forge a real peace, which he sincerely believes will be in our interest and the interest of the entire world, or is he selling us down the river, lock, stock and eternal capital?
I think I have an answer to that probing question.
In 1973, I was a young yeshiva student, searching for God in a turbulent world. The Vietnam War had just ended, and the Yom Kippur War was soon to begin. National security adviser Henry Kissinger, who had negotiated an ill-fated truce to extricate America from Southeast Asia - at the tragic expense of the hapless South Vietnamese - had been named secretary of state by president Richard Nixon. He was largely viewed as lukewarm in his love for Israel, and the perception was that he would bend over backward - in an Arab direction - to show that he was not biased toward his coreligionists. Indeed, it is still an open question as to whether it was Kissinger - or Nixon - who led the charge against resupplying the IDF during the war, in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Israel to its knees and force it to make painful concessions in return for a cease-fire.
I vividly recall asking my esteemed rabbi what he thought of Kissinger. Rabbi Herzl Kaplan had gained the trust of the idealistic boys in our class by speaking out publicly against the war in Vietnam, and had broken with yeshiva policy by allowing his students to leave class to attend protest rallies. "Protests save lives," he said, "and saving lives is the ultimate mitzva in Judaism." I trusted him completely, and so his take on Kissinger caught me totally off guard.
"Stop thinking of the secretary of state as a Jew," he told me. "Henry Kissinger is first and foremost an American, and so he will always do what he thinks is best for America."
There is no doubt that Barack Obama, now that he is president, will also do what he believes is best for the United States. If he decides that a strong and independent Israel is in America's best interests - as president George W. Bush believed - then he will offer us unwavering support. If he concludes that Arab/Muslim numbers and wealth serve America better, he will lean that way. And if he can somehow keep both sides feeling fulfilled, he will certainly go that route.
BUT WE HAVE a more important issue to be concerned about. What scares me most about Obama is the wedge that he seems to be driving not between Israel and the rest of the world, but between the Jews themselves. Obama has become a kind of cult figure among American Jewry - who worked tirelessly to see him elected - and his eloquent, Harvard-honed words and wisdom have an almost mesmerizing effect upon them. They accept his worldview at face value. And so, if he says that settlements are the sticking-point and settlers the heart of the problem, then that must be true. If the Palestinians deserve a state, if Jerusalem must again be divided, if the Golan must be given away and Israel dismembered to achieve a lasting peace, then that is the gospel and the way it has to be.
But these issues are far from being one-sided. Millions of Jews completely disagree with Obama's conclusions. For starters, we don't all think the Palestinians deserve a state of their own; their steadfast penchant for violence, incitement and hatred makes them the exact type of neighbors we don't want. And we don't think Jerusalem should be either divided or internationalized; Israel is the only party that respects all religions and guarantees equal access to holy sites - something denied by even the "moderate" Jordanians when they occupied the city. And we have not gained sufficient trust in the countries to our north - who become more radical as the days go by - to surrender the strategic heights that afford us security.
Internal debate is not necessarily an unhealthy thing. We Jews can thrash out, among ourselves, the thorny problems that dot the landscape. We can search for solutions that will bend, but not break, our safety and security. We can decide, as brothers, where to trust, and where to hang tough. But what we must not do is break ranks. That was the sine qua non of the black community during its heroic struggle for civil rights, and it must also be the pledge we make to one another.
Obama is going to do what is best for America; we Jews must do what is best for the Jews.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. email@example.com
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