Tag Archives: Israel

Beyond UN 2334- A Message of Hope and Peace

The UN Resolution 2334 has us engaged in a fiery back and forth that is divisive for the world Jewish community, the relationship between the US and Israel, and most importantly deflecting from the important issue at hand; creating a real peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Let us step back and reflect on the larger issue.

The Israelis and the Palestinians must figure out how to coexist and live side-by-side, respectful and tolerant of the other. Regardless of any UN Resolution, the ultimate responsibility for peace between these two people resides with them. Both sides must want peace enough. This includes each side acting in good faith, building foundations for peace within their respective Peoples and societies and doing things to promote good will instead of things that would be viewed as obstacles to peace. Until and unless both sides can come to the table and have the important and very difficult conversations that conclude in an agreement, peace is not possible.

Those of us on the outside can have our opinions, but only the Israeli and the Palestinian voices truly matter.   It is time for those voices to speak out and be heard.

May we hope and pray that in the coming year, 2017, both sides will find a way to reach out to the other, building bridges that ultimately result in both Peoples living peacefully together in the region.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

It is War

Israel_Declaration_of_IndependenceIsrael is a strong Jewish Democracy filled with promise for her people and for the world. She must continue to strive to remain so. However, Israel is engaged in a two-pronged war that challenges this. One front is BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). The other front is manifested by the wave of individual stabbing assaults taking place in the streets. These fronts are critical but they are not the places where the war will be won.

BDS is a clever maneuver in the public space to demonize Israel in the world of public opinion. Although BDS appears to be struggling to gain acceptance by national governments, it is resonating with the young on the college campus and other groups who want to support those they believe are the downtrodden and persecuted. It is part of the war for the hearts and minds of the public at large and it has become a force to be reckoned with.

The second front is on the streets of Israel. There is a de facto guerilla war underway. Individuals are arming themselves with any weapon they can: knives, guns and cars, attacking wherever and whenever, creating fear on the streets. This too is a shrewd campaign to inflict maximum damage with limited resources. Each knife-wielding individual creates a bit of terror. And every one, whether caught and imprisoned or killed, is a soldier sacrificed for the cause.

Two sets of actions are required, one tactical and one strategic. The first is to combat the immediate crises effectively arguing against BDS and containing the violence. These undertakings are necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the people of Israel. However these are tactical in nature; stopping the violence with better patrols, containing the violence by encouraging vigilance and raising the profile of law enforcement to preempt the violence. Unfortunately there is an insidious component to the tactical responses to the fear and terror.

In its efforts to protect itself, Israel ironically becomes complicit in the war to undermine itself. Israel undermines its promise of a democratic state by curtailing rights to citizens and non-citizens, it promotes a culture of animosity, seeing the other side as strictly an enemy who does not want peace, the Knesset considers punishing MKs without any consideration of “due process,” internal debate is squelched and not encouraged. The democratic and Jewish underpinnings of the state are compromised. Reacting this way to the situation actually plays into the hands of the adversary. Beyond tactics there is an urgent need to engage strategically, stepping back to consider the root causes of these offensives and how to grapple with the source of the discontent.  This is the critically important second set of actions.

Strategically, Israel needs to take the actions that only a strong powerful nation can and take the risks to build a society within the Palestinian people that gives hope. A future of prosperity and peace is far better than the hopeless squalor and disenfranchisement now suffered by most Palestinians. In Gaza, economic development such as the proposed port is a concept to be seriously considered. A decision on the West Bank is required. Whether it is the pullback of the Israelis to permit a Palestinian state, or the annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the State of Israel can no longer pretend the status quo, with its continued expansion of settlements, is viable. Which of the two choices is the subject for intense and deliberate debate. But after 50 years, Israel cannot pretend this situation is temporary or the disenfranchised people living in the land will simply become satisfied with it.

The risks of maintaining the status quo are arguably even greater than the risks of taking bold actions toward resolution of the conflict. Israel is strong. Its people are energetic and innovative with a deep love and commitment to their land.   With this solid foundation, Israel can build and move forward. It is an incredibly hard needle to thread, but it can be done. Watching Israel help Syrian war victims demonstrates Israel’s ability to do just that. Israel is at war and the threats are quite real. But Israel can still forge the way toward peace.

The Kotel Compromise- A win or pyrrhic victory?

kotel-black-and-white-0The Kotel is a special place. As a remnant of the Temple, we have gravitated to it to feel a special closeness to our history, to a Divine place, the home for the Almighty that we built. We feel a deep emotional and often mystical connection that draws us into the space. Otherwise it is nothing more than a large brick wall.

 I recall arriving in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school in Israel. I got off the plane, hopped into the sherut to Jerusalem dropped off the bags and then headed to the Wall. It was late. I had traveled for what seemed like days and although exhausted, I was compelled to go to the Wall. The emotions welled up from deep inside. I stood in the plaza gazing upon this place. With the kind of intense reverence and awe that happens rarely, I slowly approached the Wall. It was powerful. The thing that happened to me was an extraordinary moment, an encounter between my history, my people, my God and me. But the Kotel is not the sole place of my Judaism. The Makom or place of my Judaism extends beyond time and space and includes the idea of a Jewish people. This vision of Judaism however is compromised by the very compromise announced to create separate spaces for different kinds of Jews to pray.solitary wall prayer

 The arrangement for the space at the Wall has in many ways undermined what the space itself means for Judaism. Each denomination of Judaism now has a place it can call its own. The Wall of the Temple has been segregated, sliced and diced so each sect has an area where it can feel comfortable. The gain of a place for egalitarian Jews at the wall however is also the loss of the symbol of the Wall for us all as a place of unity; for these partitions are along the fault lines of Ashkenazic observances segregating us from each other instead creating a place accessible to everyone. The remnant of where God dwelled amidst the Jewish people has become a place of division and discord within God’s people.

 We have all seen the photographs of the wall at the turn of the century. Men and women were 1891amonthinpalestineandsyriathere together. The Wall was a private space to connect individually in a public place. How you practiced or the community with which you identified did not matter. In the early post-1967 days that sense of Klal Yisrael permitted a similar experience. It was fleeting, and sadly, it has devolved into staking territory in a turf war. Although liberal Judaism may have won something important in getting a place at the wall to pray, we must regretfully acknowledge that in this agreement something else important continues to elude us, namely the unity of the Jewish people.

 Perhaps we should re-focus the issue as one regarding the kind of ceremony and ritual that are generally permitted in this public private space. The kinds of rituals that permit us to be together could be more important in the grand scheme of things than the particular observances that create schisms among us. In my experience I was solitary but in communion with Am Yisrael. Under our current circumstances an experience at the Wall might require we visit both areas, one to be among those who share our beliefs and practice and the other to be with another part of our people, to taste their experience and ponder the ideas of the Judaism values that guides us all and strive to create a Judaism that connects us all.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?- Israel and Me

The haunting question from Cain’s lips in response to God was the rhetorical non-answer when asked of Abel’s whereabouts. Cain and God both knew what had become of Abel and Cain’s response has been read as a guilt-ridden deflection from the true answer: Yes.connection

 As a Diaspora Jew, so too, I am responsible to my Israeli brothers and sisters. The understanding of our relationship as family contextualizes the obligation. I cannot force my sibling to act, but I am certainly invested in her welfare. I do not walk in my sibling’s shoes, but if I see him appear to go astray I am duty-bound to voice my concern. Whether my perspective is accepted or rejected, I am compelled to share my thoughts because I care. This is harder to do however when I feel my voice is rebuffed or my views disrespected, when it feels as though my sibling acts with the arrogance of the prodigal son.   But my love for my brothers and sisters obliges me to speak nonetheless.

PeoplewithJoinedRaisedJoinedHands It is in that tension that we find ourselves now. Chemi Shalev, the eminent Israeli journalist, is right to express his concern that we in the United States are not speaking up forcefully enough. But an Israel Prime Minister that foments the political divide among American Jews and a Chief Rabbinate that expressly refuses to acknowledge my practice of Judaism are but two ways my voice is repressed.   And yet I must speak.

 I care deeply about Israel, both the state and the aspirations it represents. Israel is a homeland to my people. It is deeply rooted in my narrative creating profound meaning. Israel is also a refuge for my people from a hostile world. Equally important, Israel is also a place where Jewish values might live and thrive. These values include belief in the sanctity of human life and a system of laws that guide just behavior. These principles guide a place where they can be lived and realized, no longer the province of a powerless people. Rather than a nation like all other nations, Israel is a light unto the Nations.Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.04.44 PM

 Israel can be a beacon of hope, striving to better herself through the proper treatment of her citizens and the protection of the weak. She is to be a nation of laws equally applied, a country striving towards the highest moral standards internally and externally in her treatment of friend and foe alike. Sometimes Israel falls short. It is our responsibility to lovingly speak out when she does, based on our deep caring for Israel and what Israel means to us and to the world. And we must continue to speak up undeterred by those who might find us an annoyance or at odds with their particular worldview.

 I am my brother’s keeper.

This Land is Our Land

Flags

Two iconic songs reverberate in my mind. The first is the American classic, “This Land is your land, This Land is my Land.” It is a dream of a shared society here in America. The second song is the deeply moving “Theme from Exodus”, with its seminal line “This Land is mine, God gave this Land to me.” This soaring tribute to the Jewish Homeland is the dream of a people rooted in an ancient connection to the Land. The two songs are not as dissimilar as they appeared initially to me because of what is missing.

 Woody Guthrie’s Ballad in its beautiful message of inclusion does not include the Native Americans of the land. The message of Exodus is similar in its treatment of the long-time native inhabitants of Israel. The Palestinian narrative likewise does not have a place for the Jewish State. Each song of hope is exclusive to its own kind.

 Sharing is often profoundly difficult, particularly when it is with people unlike us, whether culturally, ethnically or by some other difference. It is even more problematic if the claim of one is at the expense of the other, as some zero-sum game. The Israeli and Palestinian people both struggle with it and suffer from it. “This land is MY land” seems to be the respective song of each. For many Palestinians, Israel’s existence notwithstanding, the long view holds that eventually Israel will go away and the rightful owners will again return. And Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, born from a combination of hard work to build, war to defend, investment, political will and a historic claim. The Israeli’s ongoing and expanding presence in the West Bank however severely complicates the landscape.

 If Israelis and Palestinians will not amend their respective stories both sides will continue to fight, one to preserve what is there, one to restore something there. These limited narratives foment strife and hatred and inflict great human suffering in a world growing ever smaller and more dangerous. As long as each side clings fast to a story that rejects the claims of the other, the status quo will continue. Statesmen and visionary leaders on both sides must work to move past narratives that are mutually exclusive and find space to coexist with the other. Then these leaders must persuade the people of this reimagined future. Both sides must embrace a peaceful coexistence to finally stop the otherwise never-ending cycle of death and destruction. For neither side is ready or willing to go away.

 Can Zionism embrace the Palestinian narrative respectfully? Would the Palestinian narrative accept Israel’s legitimacy? Ironically, because both Israelis and Palestinians are so fully committed, each requires the other in order to survive, let alone thrive, for neither will ever give up. Furthermore, in this difficult and ever more radicalized region external forces challenge both. A new way forward based on coöperation and mutual respect is desperately needed for both Peoples. Let us pray that someday all might sing together.

It Takes Two Mr. Abbas

DomeSo much of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. We find it easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. We put the onus on them, we remain ready to go, with no hard decisions to make. So Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.

Those of us who advocate for a two state solution speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that we can do to create space for peace or even unilateral moves to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.

The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leadership must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.

So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Moslem faithful regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace. You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.

It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours. A never-ending battle using your people as pawns or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.