Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times writes an op-ed with the headline, "American Jews, You Have to Choose Sides on Israel:"

Ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, supporting the country’s security and its economic development and cementing its diplomatic ties to the U.S. have been the “religion” of many nonobservant American Jews — rather than studying Torah or keeping kosher. That mission drove fund-raising and forged solidarity among Jewish communities across America.

Now, a lot of American Jews are going to need to find a new focus for their passion.

Because if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds with his judicial putsch to crush the independence of the country’s judiciary, the subject of Israel could fracture every synagogue and Jewish communal organization in America. To put it simply: Israel is facing its biggest internal clash since its founding, and for every rabbi and every Jewish leader in America, to stay silent about this fight is to become irrelevant.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency just ran an article that offered a revealing glimpse into this reality. It quoted Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous as beginning her sermon on Israel last month with a content warning to her congregants: “I have to say some things today that I know will upset some of you.”

Every American rabbi knew what she meant: Israel has become such a hot-button issue that it cannot be discussed without taking sides for or against Netanyahu’s policies.

As Rabbi Brous told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “You have a wonderful community, and you love them and they love you, until the moment you stand up and you give your Israel sermon.” She said the phenomenon has an informal name: “Death-by-Israel sermon.”

Death-by-Israel sermon. Never heard that before.
Unlike how Friedman portrays her, Rabbi Brous has not exactly been an "Israel right or wrong" leader before the current government. She wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2018:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition continues to recklessly enforce its ideological absolutes, passing an anti-democratic nation-state law, denying surrogacy rights to LGBTQ Israelis, escalating personal attacks against the New Israel Fund and other progressive organizations [Brous is a leader in NIF - EoZ], and detaining American journalists at the border, interrogating them about their political beliefs and associations. As an American rabbi, I can’t ignore the message the Israeli government is sending to diaspora Jews: Stick to the playbook. Send Israel your money, your youth, your tourists and your unquestioning loyalty. Don’t talk about the occupation (now in its 51st year) or the millions of Palestinians denied equal protection, freedom of movement, the right to vote for the government that dictates their daily lives. Don’t visit Bethlehem or Ramallah, where you might hear a Palestinian narrative. Pay no attention to Breaking the Silence, Parents Circle or any other group where Israelis and Palestinians speak frankly about the challenges and the possibilities for a shared future
The maddening thing about Rabbi Brous is that she positions herself as a lover of Israel, and I have no doubt that she believes this. This op-ed started off with her description of a tour of Hebron that her family took with Breaking the Silence, and she wrote, "My daughter loves the miracle of Israel. It was time for her to see the other side." And, "We witnessed the harshest effects of the occupation: roadways forbidden to Palestinians, abandoned blocks, Jewish settlements the world deems illegal. We saw the once-thriving Casbah, dead quiet now. All of this, the direct result of Israeli military policy."

Why does her narrative go back only that far? Why doesn't she mention the attacks by Arabs on the Jews of Hebron before Baruch Goldstein that prompted the IDF to divide the old city? 

This hints at the real issue.

The problem isn't that American Jews must choose to be either for or against Israel. The problem is not that one side wants debate about Israeli policy and the other doesn't. 

The problem is that partisanship is poisoning any chance for a real debate to begin with. 

The current discussion on judicial reform in Israel is a perfect example. Lahav Harkov described it very well from the Israeli perspective:
Reports of the demise of Israeli democracy are greatly exaggerated. The proposed changes relate to the balance of power between the judiciary, the legislative and the executive branches of government — a matter of usually staid debate among Israeli academics and wonks for nearly three decades. Today’s incendiary rhetoric on the issue says more about the vicious and polarised state of Israeli politics than the controversiality of the Supreme Court reforms.
People in Israel and Jews in America are looking for excuses to justify their politics and their hate for their political opponents. But the politics and partisanship is what drives the debate, not the facts. 

When Tom Friedman describes the judicial reform proposal as a "judicial putsch to crush the independence of the country’s judiciary" he is not engaging in a debate, but in mudslinging. When Breaking the Silence makes up fake stories of IDF soldiers mistreating Palestinians for no reason, they are not engaging in debate but anti-Israel propaganda. 

And when people like Sharon Brous claims that she is impartially weighing both sides and soberly informing her congregants that Israel is on the road to dictatorship, I somehow do not think she is giving them access to any articles that argue that the unelected Israeli High Court has been the side that has near absolute power over Israeli law. 

Part of the reason for that is that such articles are not easy to find in the American press, which prefer the narrative of a criminal Bibi who wants absolute power to the detriment of the State of Israel.

Not that Bibi isn't a political animal as well - he absolutely is, and his conduct during this supposed debate has also been guided more by politics than by doing what is best for Israel. 

So how can Jews - in Israel, America and Europe as well - act responsibly?

The answer is simultaneously simple, extraordinarily difficult and rooted in Jewish tradition.

The answer is to be dan l'chaf zechut - to judge our fellow Jews meritoriously.  

This is a fundamental Jewish concept with multiple sources and extensive commentary

We need to shed the partisanship and honestly believe that the other side is not evil, but that they want the best for Israel and the Jewish world. (This does not apply to those who are irredeemably evil, who in the case of Zionism I would define as anyone who never says anything positive about Israel. Those people, in my opinion, are not acting out of love but from hate. But that's me, and that is part of what makes this mitzvah difficult.) 

How many people know that the supposed anti-Arab racist Netanyahu has done more to improve the Arab sector in Israel than any other prime minister, by far?  How many American Jewish critics of Israel have spent more than two minutes seeking out the arguments for judicial reform? How many American Jews who have taken Breaking the Silence tours of Hebron have read the criticisms of that organization's methods? 

We need to go beyond the reporting of mainstream media - whose entire business model is based on eyeballs that follow controversy and partisanship - and instead do our own research with the assumption that our fellow Jews want what is best for Israel. That they are not terrible people because they voted for Trump or live on the east side of an imaginary line drawn in 1949, and neither are they bad people because they chose not to report for reserve duty or spend hours every week protesting the Israeli government. Assume that they, too, want what is best for Israel and the Jewish people.  

Thomas Friedman wants Jews in America to make a choice - love Israel or oppose Israel. That is a false choice, and one that is predicated on wanting to stoke division. The real alternative is to stop looking at everything through the primary lens of us vs. them, right vs. left, and assumptions of bad faith on the part of our fellow Jews who are of the "wrong" political party. Stop being defined by division and have an honest debate.

Moreover, if your political philosophy does not leave room for giving the other side the benefit of the doubt, than you should question that philosophy. (And look at the motivations of those who stoke division.)

"Tikkun Olam" as it is defined today is not a real Jewish tradition - but dan l'chaf zechut is.

People who take Judaism seriously, whether they are religious or not, must realize that dan l'chaf  zechut is a fundamental part of Judaism that can and should be embraced by every Jew from the far-Right to the far-Left. 

The future of the Jewish people is at stake.

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

Read all about it here!




EoZ Book:"Protocols: Exposing Modern Antisemitism"


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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