20 June '11
Dear Jonah and Kelly,
Your post, “Refocusing the conversation” aroused strong feelings in me.
What you said was outrageous, false in many respects, and even insulting. But there are extenuating circumstances:
- You suffer from the arrogance of youth
- You are angry at your treatment at the hands of the religious establishment in Israel
That’s about it. You are also ignorant of history and security matters, but take it from me, once you publish your thoughts, ignorance is no excuse.
You find the discussion about Jewish rabbinical and education students who are anti-Israel “shallow and paternalistic” because you feel that it finds fault in you, when you would prefer it to find fault in the state of Israel.
I wonder if, in your fault-finding, you’ve taken into account how Israeli Jews got to where they are today? I mean, things like the pogroms, the ‘riots’, the Holocaust, the farhud, the wars, the privation, the expulsions, the terrorism? Have you compared these things to the way you grew up in America?
Probably not, because you write,
The world changes, people’s perceptions change, reality changes and our generation has been raised to understand that we must work to build a better future for Israel and to appreciate but not dwell on its past.
In other words, the experience and perspective of the older generation of Jews — indeed, history — counts for nothing. ‘Don’t dwell on the past’, you say, but you mean ‘ignore it’. Talk about a ‘shallow’ discussion!
You say that “no human being should live subject to tyranny … every individual should be judged on her or his own merit and to seek out the personal interaction needed for true understanding.” Can I remind you that until the state of Israel was created, the majority of the world’s Jews lived under various tyrannies? Did the Czar, Hitler or the King of Iraq judge each individual according to merit? What would be the position of Jews in ‘Palestine’, if such a state were to replace Israel?
You say that “We are comfortable and confident Jews – and this reality is not a character flaw.” What a remarkably revealing comment! Clearly the character flaw is the self-absorption that makes you unable to conceive of other Jews who have not been able to be ‘comfortable and confident’ in the past, and are insecure that they may not be so again in the future.
We see injustices, religious and political, that need to end. This is true not only because we refuse to see all Palestinians as our enemies, but fundamentally because we refuse to blind ourselves to the fact that the reality that has been created is bad for the Jewish People as a whole.
Leaving aside the false and insulting statement that Zionists “see all Palestinians as our enemies,” what makes you so sure that the ‘reality’ that bothers you so much was created by Israeli Jews alone? Could the Nazi Mufti al-Husseini and his heirs, Yasser Arafat and even the ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas, who have continuously incited murderous hatred of Jews for almost a hundred years, have anything to do with this ‘reality’? What about Hamas and it's antisemitic covenant?
Oh — I forgot. We mustn’t dwell on the past.
When we are confronted by the deep fear of the other and the ways in which that manifests itself into structural violence and racism, we are shocked and want to work to make it better. We, who were taught that the Israeli Army is the most moral army in the world, are thrown into disequilibrium when we see our own acting cruelly to innocent Palestinians at checkpoints. We stand witness in disbelief as the very land we were taught to love is overturned, as trees are uprooted and mountains are moved all to build a giant concrete wall in the name of security.
This is also remarkable. There is ‘great fear of the other’ — but it’s a justified fear. The ‘other’ blows us up every chance that he gets. And it’s not ‘racism’ — it has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with the response to a hundred years of murder as a political tool. Yes, most Israeli Jews are suspicious of Palestinian Arabs — they have good reason to be.
The IDF is “the most moral army in the world.” Name one that is more moral. No, it isn’t perfect. War is not the most morally simple business. Try being a soldier yourself (most Israelis have) and see how you do.
The ‘giant concrete wall’ which is in most places a wire fence, is not being built merely “in the name of” security. It is being built for security. It, and the checkpoints that you object to — as well as incursions of the IDF into Arab areas to arrest terrorists — are what put an end to the second Intifada, in which more than a thousand Israelis were murdered.
Sorry, I’m dwelling on the past again.
While we must always be engaged in making ourselves and our programs better, what we most need is a collective commitment to fixing the brokenness of our greatest project, The State of Israel, and with it the growing brokenness of the Jewish People.
Could you possibly be more arrogant! What you correctly call the greatest project of the contemporary Jewish people has thrived despite enormous odds, overcome huge challenges and done so at great human cost. It has been in peril of destruction since the beginning, and today possibly faces its greatest existential threat ever. And you have the chutzpah to call it “broken” because it doesn’t fit your wild academic fantasies of an ideal society!
I understand that you are upset and insulted by the attitude of the Israeli rabbinut toward liberal Judaism. You know what? I’ll give you this one. It’s unfortunate and should change. It’s an even bigger problem for thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union who can’t produce documentation for their Judaism. But compared to the security situation, this is a 1 on a scale of 10. Get over it. It’s not a reason to aid Israel’s real enemies.
Finally, you write,
As an educator and rabbinical student, we have been tasked with caring deeply for the intellectual and spiritual needs of our students and congregants. We are taught that we are responsible for their achievement and behavior. If a student is having difficulty, do we simply tell her that she is doing fine? If a congregant is in crisis and doing damage to himself, do we tell his family to cheer him on? The State of Israel deserves, at the very least, the level of respect and care we have for our own students and congregants. We have no choice but to view ourselves as responsible for Israel’s achievement and behavior.
Would you entirely ignore a student’s or congregant’s background and experiences? Would you judge his or her behavior according to a fantastic standard so high that only a tzadik could achieve it? Would you criticize him or her by repeating lies told by someone that you know hates him and wants to kill him?
The degree of smug self-righteous ignorance that you display might be relatively harmless if your career choices were different. It might irritate me to have one of you as a cab driver or barber if you insist on talking while you work. But the fact that you have chosen to be Jewish spiritual leaders and educators is shocking.
You are not qualified for those positions, because you lack an elementary understanding of the Jewish people and its history, and because you have an astonishing deficit of humility, a form of moral autism.
Unless you mature, and perhaps put your anger at the rabbinut in perspective, my recommendation is that you take different jobs, ones that do not require you to work with other humans, particularly Jewish ones.
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