My younger son recently did something he should not have done. And he told us about it. He didn’t even know why he did it, but he knew it was wrong, and he felt terrible. Even though it was painful and he was in tears, he wanted to be honest with us about it and ask for help.
After two decades of different forms of activism against the Occupation, my hope is that the Jewish community may now be able to be as brave as my son. That we may finally be able to move away from collectives Baseless Ignorance and admit to ourselves — and speak openly about — the reality and impact of 50+ years of Occupation on the State of Israel and, more broadly, the Jewish people.
That we may be able to have an honest conversation about the pervasiveness and impact of the Apartheid that has been inherent throughout the entirety of post-1967 Israel. It may be very hard to do and bring us to tears, but we cannot move forward with any conversation about bridging the gap between Israel and the Diaspora until we are finally able to have the honest conversation that is the beginning of any process of change or healing.
It may even be a conversation where many, both inside and outside of Israel, will say that change is not actually necessary or possible because the policies are inherent to Israeli/Jewish survival, pointing to honest and real concerns about threats that Israelis and Jews face.
But at a minimum, this week must mark the end of disingenuousness, of blindness, of ignorance to the fact that when you invoke the need for security, you bless Apartheid.
It is remarkable when so much comes together in just one week, especially when that week leads to Tisha B’Av. If we are taught that the physical destruction of the Temple underlying the core of our observance of Tisha B’Av was rooted in Baseless Hatred, then let us recognize that the spiritual destruction underlying our current state is rooted in Baseless Ignorance.
Enough happened in this week to fill a book, but these are the events that must finally change our view:
- Passage of the Nation-State Law that elevates Jewish Israeli rights and privileges over those of non-Jewish citizens
- Passage of the “Breaking the Silence Law” that allows the Minister of Education to prevent speakers from groups viewed as problematic from speaking to students in schools
- Attack by settlers on a Breaking the Silence leader while giving a tour in Hebron, as Israeli authorities stood by and watched
- Outrage when American Jews left their Birthright trips to take tours organized by Breaking the Silence and Ir Amim
- Detention of a Conservative Jewish rabbi for performing non-Orthodox weddings
- Racist attacks on African asylum seekers by Israeli youth
These are not the actions of a state that embodies democratic ideals but one that is rooted in the concept of separation and distinction that was at the root of Apartheid in South Africa and in the United States before that.
My own view is that they are not the actions of a state that embodies Jewish ideals either, though they are all taken in the name of preserving and advancing Jewish security and strength.
But let us at least be willing to admit and own the fact that these are its policies, and that this is where we are. If you support them, then support them openly and honestly. Explain why Apartheid is necessary both inside and outside the Green Line. Accept that people will disagree.
And if you find these policies abhorrent, then be willing to say so out loud. Understand that people will disagree, but recognize that they require an open and honest conversation in places and forums where they have been previously uncomfortable or even impossible. Your synagogue, your JCC, your Hillel, your school. Even your home.
For too long our community in the United States has preferred not to criticize, or pretended this wasn’t happening. Or that this is something else unique to Israel and therefore different than reality. It has been reality. It is reality. It will continue to be reality.
Unless we let this be the end of Baseless Ignorance and speak out. And do something. We have allowed this to fester under a cloud of Baseless Ignorance. We must accept that this has not been productive, regardless of which view you hold, and follow my son’s lead to move an honest and difficult conversation into the open, before we yet again see a form of destruction sadly appropriate for the month of Av.