Culture, Israel, Politics

Guest post: Refocusing the Conversation

by
Jonah Geffen, Rabbinical Student
Kelly Cohen, Jewish Educator
We are trapped in a discourse that has no logical end. It has been asserted that the knowledge and life experience of the current generation of Rabbinical students with regard to Israel is cause for great concern and fear. The deans and Presidents of Rabbinical schools have responded to the contrary, stating that though perhaps more willing to “wrestle” with Israel, these students are wise and committed. And yet, this entire conversation remains shallow and paternalistic. The debate has been devoted strictly to the students, their teachers and the methods by which they are chosen and taught. We believe this discourse to be fundamentally flawed. We note with dismay that this conversation about Diaspora Jews and our relationship to Israel has left out Israel, its choices and actions.
It is true, we do have a different relationship with Israel than our parents’ generation. How could we not? The nature of the situation in Israel today is so vastly different than it was forty years ago. 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. We have been raised in the American ideal, that no human being should live subject to tyranny, that every individual should be judged on her or his own merit and to seek out the personal interaction needed for true understanding. We are comfortable and confident Jews – and this reality is not a character flaw. We know what we see with our own eyes. 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. It hurts us as a people to exist in this reality and creating further divides amongst ourselves is not the answer. We cannot truly be am hofshi b’artzenu until everyone b’artzenu is free. As long as we are perpetuating these injustices, stoking fears and succumbing to anger – we will not achieve this deep collective wish, articulated so beautifully in Israel’s national anthem.

For so many of us who choose to come to Israel, or are sent to Israel to learn for the year, we are confronted with a reality very different from the one about which we have been taught, shown on our teen tour, or even shown to others as leaders of those tours. The authentic American Jewish life in all its manifestations all too often runs contrary to the reality experienced when spending time in Israel. We are often forced to confront the exclusion of our own Judaism. We were taught and feel that Israel is a homeland for all Jews, we experience the profound power of walking the land of our ancestors, marvel as the changes in season meld so seamlessly with the Jewish calendar, and smile proudly as we hear the language of our people used to express our greatest hopes and ideas.
Yes, we believe that Israel in its purest sense is a homeland for all Jews, but over time and with experience we have come to understand the caveats to that rule – it becomes quite clear that homeland is a subjective term. Israel is a homeland for all Jews, but don’t try to get married here, don’t try to pray at the Kotel in a way you find authentic, don’t try to get a student visa to learn Torah if your halachic status is not acceptable to the Rabbanut. It is extraordinarily painful to feel outside of something that is at the core of your identity.
Still, this lack of religious pluralism, while deeply distressing and ostracizing to so many of us aligned with liberal movements in America is only the tip of the iceberg. We have been raised to believe that every Israeli truly wants peace, and that all that stands in the way are just some political barriers. Yet, after living here we can say without question that many Jews and Palestinians say that they want peace, but the peace they describe is a a far cry from the shalom for which we pray. 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. When soldiers protect settlers as they throw rocks at Palestinians we cannot comprehend this information because it does not fit anywhere in the reality of Israel that we were taught.
The problem is not the students and young Rabbis, and it is not how Rabbincal Schools are educating them. The problem is the Jewish reality that they are being asked to stand by and defend. The call to serve the Jewish people is born out of a deep love and desire to work to actualize our people’s potential in the world. 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. We must remember the words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, “If you believe you can break it, you have to believe you can fix it.” The answer to a seemingly strained relationship between future Jewish leadership and the State of Israel is not avoidance, re-branding or unquestioning allegiance, but meeting Israel where it is and working to help it improve.
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. If we see that either of these are not living up to the highest ideals of our tradition, then it is on us to do everything that we are able to help it to improve. Such improvement can only be realized through deep relationship and commitment. We are not afraid that if we look the bright light of Israel’s reality in the face we will have to turn away. We understand that concern, but know that for us, and for so many of our friends and colleagues who have chosen to devote their lives to serving the Jewish people, turning away is not an option. We are in this, we are committed, and we are here to stay. Israel is not a piece of our identity that we can take or leave, it is a deep part of who we are as members of the Jewish people, it is a part of our Rabbinate, of our classrooms, of our lives. We are not going to walk away, and we are not going to be pushed away. We have cast our lot with the Jewish people, with all of its projects, successes and failures.
We refuse to let this debate continue to be about us. To focus on us is to miss the point – so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering, and inflicting so much suffering on others. We refuse to sit by and watch as our family melts down, cultivates fear rather than courage, anger rather than compassion. The conversation should not be about us; it should be about Israel.

62 thoughts on “Guest post: Refocusing the Conversation

  1. Thank you Jonah and Kelly for this important and timely piece. You’ve articulated a lot of points that many young Jewish leaders and fture leaders have been thinking about.

  2. Pretty good. I like the language of ‘meeting Israel where it is’. It’s a dark and dismal place, to be sure, but our goal isn’t to replicate that place in our soul, but to elevate Israel to a better place.
    And by elevate, y’all know I mean something connected to evicting as many settlers as possible, right? To cleanse the Land of their Abomination?

  3. Maybe Jonah Geffen and Kelly Cohen should visit Israel’s neighbors – yes Egypt, Syria, and “moderate” Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Maybe they should go and see how NATO forces staff checkpoints in Afghanistan, and how US troops do so in Iraq. Then they will realize what Israel has achieved despite being under constant military and political attack.
    I taught with Israeli-Arab colleagues at the Technion, and we taught many Arab students there. Yes, there are problems in the West Bank – but this is primarily a function of Arab refusal to contemplate any solution that allows any permanent Israel (even one consisting of just Tel Aviv).
    The blindness that many young Jews have to the existential threat to Israel from both political and military action is appalling. The tragedy is that they might wake up to the reality only once they have collaborated in the downfall of Israel.

  4. This article made me sick to my stomach. My son is a soldier in the IDF, Search and Rescue Unit and the thought that he voluntarily puts his life on the line for these idealistic know-nothings who spout nonsense about Israel’s actions and right to defend itself in the face of the threats that they refuse to acknowledge is an embarrasment to all Jews who care about Israel.

  5. I certainly agree with the general sentiment expressed here. The key phrase is:
    “We are not afraid that if we look the bright light of Israel’s reality in the face we will have to turn away. … We have cast our lot with the Jewish people, with all of its projects, successes and failures.”
    But what of Jews who have not (yet?) reached this level of commitment. Do we lie to the children, lest they turn away in horror? Or do we teach them first a love of Judaism and the Jewish People without an over-identification with Israel, and only later expose them to the good/bad/and ugly of the Jewish State. In my opinion, we need to educate (both youth and adults) to a love of Judaism – of which the State of Israel is just a project – and not a love of the State of Israel – for which Judaism is just a support mechanism.

  6. We just read the portion of the twelve spies. They saw what they wanted to see and missed the real picture and so were destined to spend another forty years in te desert. The Israel that I live in is not the one described in this article. The authors missed the picture because of preconceived notions. It is a tiny piece of land existing surrounded by people who want it to be destroyed. It is the only country in the area where Jews and Arabs live in peace with one another. Where Arabs can vote in a democracy, have Arabs represent them, and an Arab supreme court justice. Where over fifty percent of the residents of East Jerusalem said that if it was made part of an Arab state they would prefer to remain inside Israel. Can things be improved? Yes? Do Israelis take seriously the need to improve them? Yes? But it makes it harder when the world, and some fellow Jews look for every critical act to be able to attack Israel. Do you know what it means to be condemned by the U.N. Human Relationship Council in which Syria and Libya sit as members, and the world remains silent.If you want to help Israel I suggest that you first take a really good look at the situation here and be proud of this country as it deals with its enemies and helps the needy.

  7. Ah yes, public pressure not to be racist war mongers actually makes it HARDER to accomplish the task. If only the pressure would stop! Surely then the laws would stop distinguishing between Jew and Arab, Palestinians would have a state, the settlements would finally be dismantled and Reform converts could get married.
    By the same token, those outside agitators in the South actually DELAYED civil rights by making it harder for whites to get the job done….

  8. I think a key difference between generations’ views of Israel is actually the previous generation’s lower expectations for Israel. Their relationship is really an anomaly, the result of fresh gult from Holocaust and its perceived redux in the Six Day War. The generation before them and the generation after them need not swallow the exceptional events of those years as Israel’s place in the world forever.
    While I recognize the truth of feeling behind the last generation’s feelings, I also believe truthfully that there will never be an issue that *isn’t* existential to their wounded eyes.

  9. @Yosef The lesson of the spies is that we must not given in to fear, but to have the courage and faith to acknowledge the reality of how things are and how they could be.
    The issue is not how the writers (and many of their generation) feel, it is how this outlook is dealt with by the older generation. The real issue is not that young Jews feel differently, it is that the older generation refuses to acknowledge that their children have a legitimate viewpoint of their own.
    Abraham smashed Terach’s idols and his father is furious. Does Abraham deserve rebuke? Perhaps for disrespecting his father, but not for listening to his own heart.
    Zionism is ahistorical, a deviation from the Jewish narrative. A positive one in my view, but it was always intended to be a break with the past, a negation of the diaspora and of Jewish religion.
    That young Jews want to be Jews and not ONLY Zionists should not be either a surprise or a bad thing. Without Judaism, Zionism and Israel hold little meaning anyways.

  10. “We have no choice but to view ourselves as responsible for Israel’s achievements and behavior.”
    Excuse me? Who or what, in Heaven or on Earth, has granted you responsibility for Israel’s achievements and behavior? Beyond the incredibly haughty concept that you, as a rabbi or an educator, can claim responsibility for your congregants’ achievements, please allow me to point out the obvious: Israel is not one of “your congregants.” It is an independent country, with a complicated past, an extremely varied population, and every-day, real-life dilemmas that most American rabbinical students are too young and inexperienced to understand.
    Israel may be “part of your classrooms and part of your lives,” but this piece only emphasizes how, for you, Israel remains primarily a conceptual idea to be discussed and debated from afar. A majority of American rabbinical students do not become Israeli citizens and do not even take the responsibility of voting here, paying taxes, or committing themselves to living, working, and raising their families here. How can they possibly feel it is their right to take reponsibility for Israel’s achievements? Some would call that chutzpah, others, patronizing ignorance.

  11. (Sorry for the length of this comment. Once I get going…)
    I agree a lot with the Jonah and Kelly — I think they express a genuinely Jewish outlook as well as a genuinely Zionist outlook. They bring a sense of positive vision to Israel in a public conversation that is almost always dominated by negative visions of fear and warning.
    But I also think that being a true leader of the Jewish people in the Diaspora requires a lot more than pointing the (righteous) finger at Israel’s flaws, regardless of how lovingly that’s done.
    I also agree to an extent with Yosef — no matter how bad some things are about there is certainly a lot to be proud of. And Sydney in some way raises a corollary concern — how do we educate our children to connect to Israel in the same way the writers do when any feelings of pride whatsoever are squashed by our criticisms. BTW I agree with Sydney about the deeper connection to the Jewish people, and to see Israel as a project of the Jewish people, but it’s pretty clear to me (and it seems like to Jonah and Kelly as well) that it’s the central project of the Jewish people. Too often I find that even my most committed Jewish friends allow their current criticism of Israel to blind them to that, and leave them as non-Zionists at best. Of course that’s in large part a response to discourse from the right, but come on people let’s be responsible for our own worldviews.
    And to be honest, KFJ, I think our generations difficulty feeling pride as well as recognizing the hugeness of the project of Israel isn’t only a response to the dirty reality or the mainstream discourse. I think it’s also a response to guilt — guilt that is most directly a product of the dirty reality but guilt that I would argue is not that simple or pure and is possibly also quite connected to the Holocaust.
    So leading a generation of progressive young Jews to really commit to “fixing the brokenness” is gonna be super hard. And there does have to be some discussion “about us” in order to figure out how to do it.
    Like, what are we (we who don’t work for NIF) doing to help Israel improve? What can we really do? Do we really believe it’s our responsibility to fix the brokenness? Is it even our right to try and do so?
    I for one think that if you’re really committed to the future of the Jewish people then it is your responsibility, but I don’t think it’s as easy as saying it or even as easy as going to a J Street conference or donating money. It would obviously take more than a lifetime’s commitment to really live up to that responsibility, and it would include basic things like learning the language of the country — how many of us even work much on that? And we also would need to do the hard work of understanding the viewpoints like Doron’s without just belittling or psychoanalyzing them away. I think we’d have to honestly recognize that Israel exists in a precarious geopolitical position in a broader world that really does find it way to easy to castigate and hate it. Forget criticizing from a “place of love,” how about criticizing from a place of working really hard, a place of commitment?
    Here’s hoping the writers (and everyone on jewschool) will be part of the leaders of that kind of work.

  12. I take great pride in reading Kelly and Jonah’s words. Anyone who does not feel the intense love and joy they have in Israel is working hard to avoid experiencing it out of fear perhaps of recognizing the depth of truth spoken here as well. They are refocusing the conversation not only back on Israel, but also away from the one sided conversations wherein the critique of Israel is “only” about Palestine – they are open and honest that liberal Jews with passion for Israel must also refocus their conversations and be open about the pain of being turned away from the naive Israel we are taught in the USA to love – the Israel who does not recognize our rabbis, our teachers or our community as Jews but will always recognize our dollars.
    It is so much more difficult to speak truth, be it passively behind closed doors or openly in mixed company.
    I am so proud of their eloquent ability to state clearly both their love and their concerns in a constructive and helpful fashion for any educator, Rabbi or friend of Israel who is interested in listening and partnering with them.

  13. Vic Rosenthal’s response (“Jonah and Kelly’s moral autism, “http://fresnozionism.org/2011/06/jonah-and-kellys-moral-autism/) is what brought your piece to my attention. It’s devastating. Your assertions about Israeli attitudes, the IDF and the security situation speak volumes about the comfortable, sheltered lives you’ve had the good fortune to live thus far.
    Vic rebuts some of your specific points and, more importantly, addresses your column’s shallow, self-centered, ignorant, narrow-minded and sanctimonious complaints far more eloquently than I can. He’s absolutely right about the youthful arrogance that pervades the piece, and I concur with him about your manifest unsuitability for your chosen professions. Here are the three final paragraphs:
    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.

  14. Doron L, One of the best videos that captures the situation is a quiet and short youtube clip entitled, ‘Video Israel does not want you to see’ – it is a Canadian news clip, but it is primarily comprised of footage shot by Israeli media itself. It is the type of Israeli media footage that is usually self-censored. This is footage that was not censored. Over 3.5 million views to-date. I recommend it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW1-_JmXQt0&list=PLD83E042F3E0F2E56

  15. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If the problem is that Israel does not live up to your (American) standard of liberal values, it is probably because all of the righteous, open-minded, liberal folks choose to stay in the US. You can’t change the reality on the ground by writing about it from thousands of miles away, no matter how much you love Israel. It’s a simple equation. Move here. To Israel. Be part of the change you want to see happen.

  16. Some of the responses to my comments are indicative. For example Jew Guevera comment
    “If only the pressure would stop! Surely then the laws would stop distinguishing between Jew and Arab, Palestinians would have a state, the settlements would finally be dismantled and Reform converts could get married.”
    Fill me in – what laws in Israel distinguish between Jew and Arabs?
    Palestinians could have a State. Most Israeli’s want it. Its the detail that are stopping it.Pay attention – when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Aza the Palestinians came in and rockets started to fall.
    Now concerning the “settlements Just some information. Before the war in 1948 Jews lived in what now is called occupied territory. The lived in East Jerusalem, Hebron, the Gush etc. At the end of the war these Jews were either killed (as in Hebron and Gush Etzion or thrown out.What remained was Israel – with a 20% population of Arabs and the West Bank – or Jordan – free of Jews. So what the new Palestinian State wants is a country free of Jews. With this they can join all the other Arab countries that rid themselves of their Jews.
    Finally – The issue of Reform conversion is a serious one. I would be happy to address it but it is not connected to these other issues.
    Once again I urge the readers to look clearly at the Land and the picture before jumping to conclussions
    Yosef

  17. @Lainie
    Move here. To Israel. Be part of the change you want to see happen.
    psssst. It’s not worth pointing out this obvious hypocrisy. Trust me.

  18. when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Aza the Palestinians came in and rockets started to fall.
    The problem with this oft-heard argument is (1) rockets were falling before 2005 and (2) Israel didn’t really leave Aza.

  19. Dianne,
    I viewed the video that you suggested. It does represent what happens in Israel. But perhaps we see it differently.Israeli soldiers looking for hidden arms in Bethlehem exploded through a locked door and by accident seriously injured a women. They are also shown breaking through another wall to get to an adjacent house. The third element is that there appears to be a delay in calling for an ambulance.
    The army did not want the video shown but one of the news outlets showed it anyway. The army spokesman when interviewed said that these things happen, He said that their task is not easy and apologized for the fact that the death occurred. They also interviewed an Israeli soldier who questioned why they were there at all.
    Now compare this with other things going on in the Middle East and Israel. Suicide bombers in Israel who deliberately kill innocent civilians and are lauded as heroes. Bombs being dropped by NATO forces in Libya which have killed many civilians. Calls to drive the Jews to the sea. The training of children to be terrorists. All the killings in Syria. And the
    focus we want is on this accidental killing of a civilian in searching for hidden arms in which one of the soldiers asks why are we here and the army apologizes.
    Wow

  20. Thank you, Jonah and Kelly, for your brave stance in the fact of subtle efforts to silence you. Many of my own friends who are Rabbis and Rabbinical students share your feelings and more and more they are opening up to the necessity of speaking these truths loudly. It truly is a generational shift and it will continue as long as Israel chooses to follow a path of expansionism, occupation, and hafradah.

  21. @Itamar Thanks for a gentle, thoughtful comment.
    Many Jewschool contributors, including myself, are more in agreement with you than not, seeing themselves as leaders of our generation of the Jewish people.
    Even if Medinat Yisrael is the central project of the Jewish people right now, other needs in the diaspora also demand our leadership. What’s so wrong with being a non-Zionist or a Diasporist?

  22. @ Yosef:
    Fill me in – what laws in Israel distinguish between Jew and Arabs?
    I’m glad I didn’t use the word racism, but instead kept myself close the factual….
    -The law of return distinguishes between Arab and Jew.
    – The state funded quangos (quasi NGO’s) like the JNF, Jewish Agency and others (which admittedly are also funded by Jews from abroad) allocate funds to advance the Jewish population. State owned land, transferred to the JNF, is forbidden to be sold or leased to Arabs – though permitted for Jews.
    – Family unification laws specify that Palestinians who marry other Palestinians from outside of Israel shall be subject to a different set of rules than Jews who marry non-Israeli Jews.
    – Children of Palestinian parents are not automatically considered Israeli citizens if there parents have Israeli citizenship. This is the opposite of the rule of Jewish citizens.
    That said, you are right to poke at the word ‘law.’ The vast majority of official discrimination happens in the realm of budget distribution and unofficial policy, as opposed to laws passed in the Knesset. Still, there’s a reason why Israel has no constitution pledging equality for all regardless of religion or ethnic background. It would invalidate all of the above.
    @Itamar: how do we participate in the fixing of Israel? By seeing the Palestinians as ‘the Jews of the Middle East’ and treating their struggle for liberation as though our own liberation (and the coming of the messiah) were contingent upon Palestinian acceptance and our reconciliation with them. By taking action with the same force and vigor that our Jewish leaders failed to do in WWII but wish they had. By making the loud and public choice of choosing abstract religious values over the tangible ‘value’ of the Land.

  23. @Adam, thanks. I think there’s nothing wrong with being a non-Zionist, American who is also of Jewish heritage. But if that’s the case then I don’t think that puts you in a good place to make high-minded moral claims against the State of Israel from a particularly Jewish perspective. If you want to make those claims from an American perspective that’s one thing but a lot of folks root the majority of their criticisms of Israel in “Jewish values.” And while I don’t disagree about the content of those Jewish values, I also don’t take them too seriously when they come from folks who aren’t really so committed to Jewishness. And if you are deeply committed to Jewishness then I wouldn’t begrudge you a soft non-Zionism, but I would seriously challenge a real Diasporist attitude. For the simple fact that building a Jewish society is a higher calling and a much harder challenge than being a minority with a strong moral conscience in a country that has been super welcoming to you (of late).
    @Jonathan1, I really don’t think it’s so obvious at all. People who say they are dedicated to making Israel a better place should go there, at least temporarily, and if they want it to be a central cause of their life then clearly they should really consider moving there. If you wanna see a segment of the American Jewish community that’s committed to changing Israel just look at the West Bank.
    @JewGuevara, So if as a whole, our young progressive Jewish world doesn’t step up to that then as a whole we don’t really show that much commitment. And if that’s the case then, ya I think we should probably back off the rhetoric a little bit.
    Listen, it’s clearly that Vic’s response is close-minded and highly rhetorical. But I have some sympathy for the notion that most progressive American Jews don’t even really try to sympathize with or understand the Israeli mentality. And I do think’s it’s pretty bogus to claim to really want to change something (i.e. and not just feel embarrassed by something) that you don’t even want to understand.

  24. Doron L writes:
    Maybe Jonah Geffen and Kelly Cohen should visit Israel’s neighbors – yes Egypt, Syria, and “moderate” Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
    If you have such a problem with Egypt, Syria, et al., then why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and move to those countries?

  25. If you wanna see a segment of the American Jewish community that’s committed to changing Israel just look at the West Bank.
    Agreed.

  26. The answer to a seemingly strained relationship between future Jewish leadership and the State of Israel is not avoidance, re-branding or unquestioning allegiance, but meeting Israel where it is and working to help it improve.
    Here’s a question: might those who are advocating avoidance, re-branding or unquestioning allegiance actually be ‘smart’, strategically? That is, if there really is an open discussion about the current realities of the Israeli state, perhaps many young American Jews might say: wait a minute, this idea of an ‘ethnocracy’ doesn’t seem like such a good idea in the first place.
    That is, if you ask a lot of American Jews, “Would you like it if the US were set up similarly to the State of Israel (e.g. as a ‘Christian State’, such that Jews had second-class citizenship, i.e. if the US were not structured as ‘a state of all its citizens’?”, I think most American Jews would say: no, I wouldn’t like in such a political structure! And then they might start asking themselves: hey, so maybe its not so good to organize a state in this way, even (or especially) if it happens to be Jews who are the ones ‘on top.’
    So perhaps true open discussion could easily alienate American Jews from the idea of a ‘Jewish State.’ In that case, the ‘avoidance’ approach might actually be a better strategy by those who want to retain Jewish allegiance to such a state, even if it means bluntly and wrongly silencing young rabbinical voices and consciences. It seems that some ideas can flourish better when exposed to open light, while others, if exposed to open light, might be seen as even more ugly than they currently appear in the half-light.

  27. “We have no choice but to view ourselves as responsible for Israel’s achievement and behavior. If we see that either of these are not living up to the highest ideals of our tradition, then it is on us to do everything that we are able to help it to improve.”
    You accept responsibility for achievement you have not made and for behavior you can only criticize as outsiders, not as accountable participants. If you truly see how we Israelis fail to live up to the highest ideals of our tradition, then the very least you are able to do to help us improve is to join us by making aliya. Don’t carp at the problems–be a part of the solution. Unless, of course, you’re incapable of putting your bodies where your mouths are.

  28. Unless, of course, you’re incapable of putting your bodies where your mouths are.
    America already gave you $3 billion in aid and an ongoing veto at the UN Security Council. Now you want my body too? I would suggest that you can’t have both.

  29. America already gave you $3 billion in aid and an ongoing veto at the UN Security Council. Now you want my body too? I would suggest that you can’t have both.
    Take back the $3 billion in aid that you personally contribute KFJ, and that veto too. And you don’t even have to come live here either.
    That goes for everybody with this attitude. It will save us from having to listen to this patronizing tone . . . and they’ll get some integrity back along with it.

  30. I think I like the sentiment expressed here and much of the details of kelly and Jonah’s piece. A question remains for me however. As Rabbis and Jewish educators (I am a Rabb student and a graduate of a Jerusalem based Jewish education program. I also know both Jonah and Kelly) at what point do we bring this kind of philosophy to bear on Israel education? On the teen tour? Bar/Bat mitzvah classes? Kindergarten? It seems to me that this kind of philosophy of Israel education and engagement with Israel is only possible once you believe in the existence and continued thriving of the Jewish state and recognize the unique place in history that the State of Israel and its creation occupy. Without that grounding in that ‘national myth’ if you will, the more complex and nuanced conversations about contemporary Israeli society as it pertains to internal Jewish issues and to issues with Arabs and Palestinians will be an invitation for young Jews to reject Israel because of the very complexity that those issues bring up.
    Jonah and Kelly lament the fact that they were sold a bill of goods that turned out not to be totally true or to which there were caveats, but it is that very same faulty bill of goods that has led them, in part, to devote their careers to the Jewish people.
    One more point –
    “The debate has been devoted strictly to the students, their teachers and the methods by which they are chosen and taught. We believe this discourse to be fundamentally flawed. We note with dismay that this conversation about Diaspora Jews and our relationship to Israel has left out Israel, its choices and actions.”
    It sounds to me like these are two different conversations. One about Diaspora Jews, especially Rabbinic students, and their attitudes towards Israel and the other is about Israel her {its} choices and actions. These are not the same conversation nor should they be. Rabbinical schools and Diaspora Jewish communities need to seriously examine their Israel education policies and think about their goals and objectives AND there should also be a vibrant conversation about the way Israel behaves. They are not mutually exclusive and are certainly not the same thing.
    Jonah and Kelly – Kol Hakavod for putting words down on paper (so to speak) and expressing your point of view. I am proud you are my friends and colleagues. Yashar Koach.

  31. Amen Jonathan1. As soon as the State of Israel liberates us from having our tax dollars pay for occupation and endless war, we’ll happily dial back our criticism AS AMERICANS. But as Jews, alas, all it takes for us to work up a full throated gevalt! is that we think of you as brothers.
    Since I’m Israeli, I’m free even from that. Settlers are NOT my brothers. I’m fighting for equal rights for my best friend Saleh, who lives in Ramleh. Until he’s equal 100%, the lefty whinging goes on.

  32. As soon as the State of Israel liberates us from having our tax dollars pay for occupation and endless war, we’ll happily dial back our criticism AS AMERICANS. But as Jews, alas, all it takes for us to work up a full throated gevalt! is that we think of you as brothers.
    Woa. Wait a second. Americans, Jews, American Jews, Jewish Americans, Italians, Portugese, Brazilians, citizens of Grenada, have the right to criticize Israel as much as they want. I agree with that completely.
    But money or criticism is not the choice. KFJ has presented the offer that is presented often from the “save Israelis from themselves in NYC crowd:” money or me.
    (Let’s leave aside that the $3 billion results much more from the Evangelical community’s strength and the fact that the 2 countries’ military-industrial complexes have become enormously intertwined.)
    That aid comes from AIPAC’s work and the opinions of the extremely small number of Jews who contribute huge amounts to the Democratic Party.
    @jg. Unless you are very active in AIPAC or are making hundred-thousand donations to the DNC then you don’t fall into that category.
    But, you still do give Israel a handful of cents/dollars (depending on your tax bracket every year.) That’s not in doubt.
    And, I’m saying: take back your dollars. Stop the $3 billion.
    You can still criticize Israel as much as you want, from your home, which btw is IN AMERICA. (Just because you can conjugate your verbs perfectly doesn’t mean that you reside in Israel. Who are you trying to kid?) But, then it will save a lot of New York Jews the indignity of pretending that they are working to save Israelis from themselves, while living in NYC.
    I’m fighting for equal rights for my best friend Saleh, who lives in Ramleh.
    What does this have to do with American Jews who pretend that their stake in Israel is the same as those who actually live in Israel?
    Maybe you mean that the happenings in Ramleh effect you just as much as they effect Saleh? Please explain.
    Until he’s equal 100%, the lefty whinging goes on.
    It’s not a Left-Right issue!
    It’s an Israel-Diaspora issue. Maybe you didn’t have a problem with Morton Klein’s behavior during the Oslo years. I certainly did. Maybe we just see things differently.
    @jg Maybe because some of us are Israeli and you are American we just understand American power differently?

  33. @jg.
    Unless you left Israel because of the Situation, and you want to return but won’t because of the Situation. In that sense what goes on in Israel effects you the way that it effects people who live there. So, if that is the case, you are correct.
    But it still doesn’t apply to those who aren’t moving to Israel in any event.

  34. Strange. the same folks who think that we, as Jews, should be protesting policies towards Israel of various countries around the world, think that we as Jews, should shut up about Israel’s policies unless we live in Israel. Similarly, those same folks who say that we as American Jews have a responsibility that American money continues to pour into Israel, and think that American Jewish responsibility towards our brothers and sisters in Israel is in allowing them to continue with practices that are guaranteed to eventually destroy Israel, and indeed also increase anti-semitism around the world, thus putting Jews pretty much everywhere other than the USA in danger (yes, there’s anti-semitism in the USA, but it’s so rare and mild as to be pretty much negligible, despite the millions of dollars poured into Jewish institutional security. Ah well, at least it creates jobs for ex-convicts), claim we’re checked out self-haters.
    Well, I do think that this is nonsense. The only point here I see worth addressing is @Uri’s: how do we foster a love for Israel that allows us to criticize from a place of love -even tough love?
    It’s a good question, but I don’t think that it’s the myth of Zionist Israel that gives us love for Israel – if anything, it’s the Jewish values of kol yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh, and the deep roots we have in the land through the Torah. Let young Jews study Yeshayahu Liebowitz’s commentary on the Torah (go ahead, call him a self-hater, I dare you) in which he points out, over and over, that the Torah is very clear that without righteousness, the land will vomit us out. To foster a love of Israel, we actually need to focus on significantly better Jewish education for most Jews. A two-week tour of Israel on the love bus won’t do it, because at that point, it’s pretty much too late.
    In fact, yes, let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier to be a dig-your-heels-in-Israel uber-alles-zionist than it is to actually live according to Judaism, keep kosher, keep shabbat, know something about Torah, live as part of a Jewish community, obey requirements about how to treat one’s employees (and I bet that’s the most difficult for some of those big Israel donors, maybe only second to staying away from those non-Jewish, high-status second or third wives). Yes, no-holds-barred, no criticism allowed, zionism is a good substitute for Judaism -on a short-term basis. On a long term basis, it will actually destroy the thing is proposes to save.
    that is the point that

  35. “It’s a good question, but I don’t think that it’s the myth of Zionist Israel that gives us love for Israel – if anything, it’s the Jewish values of kol yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh, and the deep roots we have in the land through the Torah.”
    @KRG – When I said “Zionist myth” I meant that to refer to the broadest sort of mainstream ideas about Israel that are commonly tossed around in every Jewish arena – the ones you mention are certainly well within that boundary.

  36. @Itamar
    For the record, I don’t make high-minded moral claims against the State of Israel from a particularly Jewish perspective, or at all, and when I do make claims, its about the clumsiness with which certain governments or officials dispatch their duties.
    Whether or not most American Jews who voice questions or concerns about Israeli policy do so so from a Jewish framework is questionable. I think many simply do so softly as concerned western liberal democrats. If they do so Jewishly, it may be they are psychologically closer to Israel in their own minds that we or even they might grant.
    Nevertheless you may be correct in your assessment of their committment to Judaism. The truth is most of them have fairly limited Judaic knowledge to even try to make such claims. And the role of Israel plays here too.
    It important to remember that unlike the guest posters, most American Jews’ identity as such is not rooted in study of text, ritual and worship, but deeply tied to Israel’s role in modern Jewish life as spoonfed to them in our communal institutions.
    Thus, part of the problem lies in the vicious circle of sacrificing Jewish education on the alter of a simplistic Israel education which among some is, in time, questioned for its veracity and gives rise to the sort of half-knowledgable, former-donors to AIPAC who now regret their choices.
    As such, I dont have a problem with either their criticism or their support, but more with the education system that gave rise to this dichotomy.
    “building a Jewish society is a higher calling and a much harder challenge than being a minority with a strong moral conscience in a country that has been super welcoming to you (of late).”
    Ouch, and agreed, but nevertheless, everyone know that Diaspora life is far more complex than that.

  37. Really? If you don’t live in Israel you’re now not allowed to express an opinion on Israel’s actions (apparently unless you agree with the Likud)? Why is it that I’ve never heard anyone say to an American Jew espousing a “traditional” AIPAC/ ZOA point of view that their opinions are not valid unless they make Aliya? Totally unfair double standard, and clearly just a rhetorical device being used here to de-legitimize those with opposing points of view.

  38. @ayajewhuasca
    Why is it that I’ve never heard anyone say to an American Jew espousing a “traditional” AIPAC/ ZOA point of view that their opinions are not valid unless they make Aliya?
    Ironically, you probably read me write this above:
    It’s an Israel-Diaspora issue. Maybe you didn’t have a problem with Morton Klein’s behavior during the Oslo years. I certainly did
    In any case, your views are as valid as mine, or as anybody else’s who lives in Israel. Just have a bit of integrity about it, and admit that your life is nowhere near as invested in Israel as are the lives of those who actually live in Israel. Not even close.

  39. . . . and if changing Israel were that important to you then you would at least try to live in Israel.
    I promise you that if 200,000 ayajewhuasca’s and KRG’s moved to Israel during the next decade, it would be a much, much, better Israel.
    But that’s never going to happen.

  40. @Jonathan1 – Actually I missed your Klein reference, thanks for pointing it out. I commend you for making that point (that you had a problem with him during the Oslo years). Having said that, I think you’d agree that despite the occasional exception to the rule (you), generally speaking, my point is more than valid.
    Look, like many here, I have very solid American Zionist bona fides (not going to lay them out here), and while my current life does not revolve around Israel, I think on balance, I’m more than entitled to express my opinions (as is anyone as far as I am concerned). But you know what? I have no problem whatsoever saying what you want me to say: my life is nowhere near as invested in Israel as are the lives of those that actually live in Israel. That’s a given and should be non-controversial.
    My only point is that the same thing is true of Mort Klein. I simply don’t hear the people who are demanding that the authors of this piece move to Israel before they can be taken seriously demanding the same thing of Klein (and those like him). If and when they do begin to hold him (or whomever) to the same standard, then I’ll take what they have to say more seriously.
    Similarly, when you say “if changing Israel were that important to you then you would at least try to live in Israel”, that’s fine, as long as you are telling the AIPAC crowd the same thing. Otherwise you are simply favoring one ideological perspective over another and using the aliya issue as a weapon against the side with which you disagree.

  41. that’s fine, as long as you are telling the AIPAC crowd the same thing
    I absolutely am. And you are correct that this type of criticism usually gets thrown from “Right” to “Left,” as it were. But, IMO, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not the same hypocrisy.

  42. @Jonathan1, I’m not sure what you are saying is hypocritical. If you are saying it’s hypocritical to demand one side (either one) take a particular action in order to be validated when not demanding the same of the other side, then we are in agreement. But, if you are saying that regardless of ideology it’s hypocritical to express a POV about Israel unless you live there, then I respectfully disagree, while acknowledging that those who live in Israel should be the ultimate deciders of their collective fate (for good or for bad).

  43. No. Not at all. What I keep saying is that it’s hypocritical to pretend that one’s just as concerned/involved with the happenings in Israel as are the people who actually live in Israel.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s Morton Klein running around Capitol Hill, to try to convince Congress to stop Rabin; or if it’s J-Street leaders imploring President Obama to help “save Israelis from themselves” (sorry) there is just a lack of integrity, IMO.
    Everybody is entitled to their opinions, or to call up their Congressman and ask to cut aid to Israel, or to give sermons criticizing Netanyahu and Lieberman, or to say they are against Zionism, etc., etc.
    All of this got started by the way when somebody above wrote:
    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If the problem is that Israel does not live up to your (American) standard of liberal values, it is probably because all of the righteous, open-minded, liberal folks choose to stay in the US. You can’t change the reality on the ground by writing about it from thousands of miles away, no matter how much you love Israel. It’s a simple equation. Move here. To Israel. Be part of the change you want to see happen
    Those words just resonate with me . . . in a way that maybe doesn’t resonate with others here.

  44. I hear you, I really do, but on the other hand, if that’s the way it is, would it not be hypocritical for Israel/is to ask for, or accept, financial or political aid from American Jews? Someone made this point above (more or less). You seem to be saying that if you’re not willing to move to Israel there’s no point in trying to effect change in Israel. If that is the case you should necessarily be advocating for the dismantling of all manifestations (“right” or “left”) of diaspora-based fundraising and lobbying for Israel. Am I wrong?

  45. You seem to be saying that if you’re not willing to move to Israel there’s no point in trying to effect change in Israel.
    I’m saying that you have the right to try to effect change in Israel, from America–but have the humility to do so as an American citizen, or as an American Jew. Don’t do so as a Jew who is so upset about how Israelis are ruining their country that you have the duty to help save them from themselves.
    If that is the case you should necessarily be advocating for the dismantling of all manifestations (”right” or “left”) of diaspora-based fundraising and lobbying for Israel.
    see above: And, I’m saying: take back your dollars. Stop the $3 billion
    I am not advocating that the aid HAS to stop. I like that Israel gets the aid. But I couldn’t give you one good reason why the US has a moral obligation to give Israel a penny, or why American Jews should lobby for aid. If that stopped, I wouldn’t begrudge them.
    On the practical level, I think we might as well admit to ourselves that the aid presently has much more to do with the Evangelical community and with the relationship between the two countries’ military industries than it does with American Jews. What’s more, people don’t want to hear this, but Israel almost always listens to exactly what the US government says, with few exceptions. If it weren’t for that aid do we think that Barak wouldn’t have sold those planes to China in 2000, or Sharon would have waited until March 2002 for Defensive Shield or would have evacuated the Gaza settlements? Do we think that Netanyahu would hesitate to build new settlements in the West Bank if Israel had stronger relationships with China and Russia, instead of the US? The money works both ways.

  46. I find that for the amazing level of difference in theology accepted in American liberal Judaism, there is not much room for discussion via Israel. The conversation is kept in an ideological box, and if you fall outside it, you will be recited a litany of hasbara talking points about cherry tomatoes and cell phones and how Palestinians don’t love their kids. It’s not just that there isn’t room for anti-Zionism–there isn’t even room for non-statist Zionism! There’s a general consensus that the State of Israel is the tachlis of the Jewish people, and I find that notion incredibly troubling. The vast American support for a Jewish state came about out of concern for security. However, we must ask: Do the policies of the State of Israel make Jews safer? I submit that many times, especially in regards to the occupation of Judea and Samaria, they do not, not for Israelis nor the Diaspora Jews.

  47. Let us recall that the impetus for the Geffen/Cohen post was the series of pieces authored by Rabbi Daniel Gordis.
    In a blog, and later in a longer Commentary essay, he seriously questions the commitment to Zionism and love of Israel by Rabbinical students in the non-Orthodox movements.
    In a third piece he questions whether J Street supporters are within the Zionist tent.
    Anyone who looks at the list of Israeli J Street advisory board members will immediately realize just how silly his notion is.
    It is not only the loyalty of the students that is being questioned. Even the incoming head of the Reform Movement has been smeared for his affiliation with J Street, NIF, and having attended a Sheikh Jerakh demonstration.
    It is disgusting and sickening that so many see Mort Klein, and those of his ilk, as the true Zionists while see those with a vision to the Left (note I differentiate between those on the Left and those who self identify as anti-Zionist)as people who do not love Israel every bit as much.
    I do have one disagreement with Geffen/Cohen. I am not convinced that the differences are generational (though surveys show that is a factor). I recall the days when those who supported The New Jewish Agenda and Briera were also shoved outside the tent. That is, of course, until much of the Jewish world joined them.

  48. Why is everyone assuming that Geffen and Cohen have not lived in Israel or do not live there currently? I can assure you that assumption is false.

  49. Jonah and Kelly said, “Yet, after living here we can say without question that many Jews and Palestinians say that they want peace, but the peace they describe is a a far cry from the shalom for which we pray. 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.”
    ——————————————-
    Jews have every reason to have a deep fear of “Palestinians”, since “Palestinians” do not exist and were only a recent invention of the mind of Yassir Arafat in the 1960s. The “Palestinians” were invented expressly FOR the purpose of the murder of every last Jew in Israel and the destruction of the State of Israel. Don’t you even have the SMALLEST grasp on history, Jonah and Kelly?
    Here, try this. The answers to the following questions are known about every indigenous people anywhere in the world, including the Jews. However, there are no answers whatsoever to these questions for the “Palestinians”. And of course you are aware that Palestine was a Roman territory and then a territory of subsequent invaders, right? Palestine was never an independent country of its own. In fact, by the time the Roman General Hadrian during the 2nd Roman invasion around 136 CE decided to rename Israel to Palestine, the land had already been Israel for over a thousand years. Before that it was the land of Canaan, NOT Palestine. And the Canaanites did two things when the Jews came in, they left or they intermarried with the Jews. There are no Canaanites today nor any of their descendents except for what runs through JEWISH blood.
    After the Roman conquest in which Israel was renamed Palestine, it was the JEWS who were referred to as Palestinians. Not the Arabs. Even on old passports you will see “Palestinian Jew” for the Jewish passports and simply “Arab” for the Arabs. Not “Palestinian Arab”. The Arabs never claimed to be Palestinians until Yassir Arafat told them to in the 1960s as a way to create a false people with a false sad story that would rally the world against Israel.
    And it has worked remarkably well, in part thanks to the Israeli Govt that insists on acting like the “Palestinians” exist and even negotiating with them over land that never belonged to “Palestinians” any more than it belonged to the Tooth Fairy.
    But now, on to the questions. Please, Kelly and Jonah, answer just one of these questions and perhaps we will all learn that there actually was an indigenous people to the land of Israel who were called Palestinians.
    1. Where did the Palestinians come from?
    2. What were the parameters of their country?
    3. What type of Government did they have? Was it a monarchy? A Democratic type of Govt?
    4. What are the names of some of their Kings or Presidents?
    5. What sort of court system did they have in place for crime and punishment, or to be sure that the widowed and orphaned were cared for?
    6. What were some of the names of Palestinian towns and where were they located?
    7. What Deities did the Palestinians worship? Were they Monotheistic, were they Polytheistic, were they God/Goddess based, or were they worshippers of the planetary bodies, or none of the above?
    8. Where were their places of worship? Did they have Temples, or did they have outside areas where they worshipped and if so, where are these areas located?
    9. What were some of the cultural aspects of the ancient Palestinians? How did the men dress? How did the women dress?
    10. What was their language?
    11. What were some of their practices or ceremonies regarding lifecyle milestones such as coming of age, marriage, births, death and funerals? Did they have different ceremonies for boys than girls and if so what were the differences?
    12. Were they a peaceful people or did they go out conquering other lands and peoples? If they did, what lands and what other peoples did they conquer?
    That’s just a few questions to start you on your journey of discovery. Please, actually do try to answer these questions, before you ever write something as ignorant as you wrote here. Seriously.
    And by the way, the ancient Philistines were not the ancient Palestinians, this has already been proven through archealogy and even genetically. Did you know that “Philistine” is Plishtim and means “Foreigner”? Yes thats right, the Philistines weren’t from the Land either.
    Please, do yourselves a favor and educate yourselves because you are sitting ducks for extermination otherwise. And that’s not even close to being an exaggeration.
    I’ll help you a little bit with a quote from one of Yassir Arafat’s right hand men. On March 31, 1977, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Zahir Muhsein. Here’s what he said:
    “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.
    For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
    Arafat himself made a very definitive and unequivocal statement along these lines as late as 1993. It demonstrates conclusively that the Palestinian nationhood argument is the real strategic deception – one geared to set up the destruction of Israel.
    On the same day Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn in 1993, he explained his actions on Jordan TV. Here’s what he said: “Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish a sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel.”
    Good luck with your education, Kelly and Jonah. You’re going to need it because I’m very sure that you do not want to unwittingly lend a hand to the slaughter of your fellow Jews and the destruction of Israel. Do you?

    1. SarahRachel writes:
      Jews have every reason to have a deep fear of “Palestinians”, since “Palestinians” do not exist
      So if I understand you correctly, we should fear them BECAUSE they don’t exist? Should we fear the Easter Bunny even more?

  50. This is what we are contending with, people:
    I’d like to know what, if anything, our liberal denominations are doing to confront the threat of this kind of ignorant extremism? Or is everyone working on ‘deligitimization’ these days?
    “Jews have every reason to have a deep fear of “Palestinians”, since “Palestinians” do not exist and were only a recent invention of the mind of Yassir Arafat in the 1960s. The “Palestinians” were invented expressly FOR the purpose of the murder of every last Jew in Israel and the destruction of the State of Israel. Don’t you even have the SMALLEST grasp on history, Jonah and Kelly?”

  51. On the same day Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn in 1993, he explained his actions on Jordan TV. Here’s what he said: “Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish a sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel.”
    That was a chilling moment.
    But, thank God, Arafat has left this world. So maybe there is still a chance to cut a deal with those who might actually want to cut a deal: Abbas; Fayyaad; Barghouti, et.
    If not, what are we left with, Hamas? (I know, I know, Hamas’s leadership is jumping at a chance to sign a treaty with Israel, and it’s only my AIPAC brainwashing that has led me to think otherwise.)
    Still, we still have a chance with many Fatah people; let’s not blow it.

  52. The “Palestinians” were invented expressly FOR the purpose of the murder of every last Jew in Israel and the destruction of the State of Israel.
    Do you know how crazy you sound?
    Read up on some basic scholarship on nationalism, like Hobsbawm and Anderson, then we can talk about who has what kind of grasp on history, or who even understand how the discipline of history works.

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