Supporting and Celebrating Israel at 68

Yesterday was Israel’s 68th birthday. But the calendar does not allow us to leap straight into celebration. Before we rejoice, we must remember. This past Tuesday evening we observed Yom HaZikaron (our community held its own service), the Day of Remembrance for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror. People lit yahrzeit candles in memory of friends and family who have died, sadly 23,477 in all. In Israel, the cemeteries were full as people visited the graves of loved ones. And at 11:00 am on Wednesday there were two minutes of silence as the country united in memory and grief.

Yom HaZikaron was followed by the celebration ofYom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Our community had a wonderful celebration Wednesday night at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center with over 850 people in attendance. It was both a joyous and pride-filled evening!

I celebrate Israel. I am passionate about Israel. I have visited there some 45 times in the past twenty years. It is a place that is at the center of my Jewish self.

Moreover, the Jewish Federation works to meet social service needs of the people of Israel. We also provide Israel speaker opportunities in Portland, fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel, educate students how to combat anti-Zionism on campus, and provide forums for Israel advocacy.

I recognize that we are in a time in which unconditional support of Israel is passionately debated. When I talk to people in our community and read articles from a variety of sources it seems we are presented with two apparently conflicting and opposing ideas about Israel: either justice, meaning an Israel that lives up to high moral standards, or security for a safer Israel threatened by neighbors that want to destroy her. So much of the Jewish community appears organized around these two choices. We are seemingly to choose one - justice or security. For some reason it has become an “either/or” question and not an “and.” Why must they be in conflict? I forever want both – and more.

We each have our own opinion about Israel. But how we communicate and what we communicate can oftentimes get in the way of a respectful conversation. We do not listen well to others, especially those with differing views.

A few thoughts:

When talking about Israel, words matter. As supporters of Israel, we do not need to agree with everything Israel does.  But, in disagreeing or criticizing what Israel is doing, one should choose words carefully.

As I learned, Maimonides said not only may we criticize a friend, but we are required to rebuke our friends if we see them doing something ill-advised or going on the wrong path. To say, therefore, that criticism of Israel is an automatic sign that one does not support Israel is not only inaccurate, it is dangerous. If you believe your friend is headed in the wrong direction and you don’t criticize them, you have transgressed! Criticism, however, must be made in a way that is intended not to hurt; to steer the other back to a better path.  

Secondly, It is unfair to solely judge and criticize Israel, without looking at others. It seems disingenuous to claim that you care about Israel so much that you save your indignation and criticism only for her. 

Israel is not perfect.  It is not possible to look at Israel seriously without recognizing its myriad of challenges.  For example, most would agree Palestinians living under Israeli control is not ideal. Reasonable people, however, can disagree on the solution to this situation. But what we cannot do is criticize Israel alone. Any concept of fairness requires that some of the responsibility be placed on the Palestinians for their refusal to negotiate, for their refusal to renounce violence, and for their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. While we may require more from ourselves (i.e. be a light unto the nations), we must hold others accountable as well.  

It is difficult to be considered a supporter of Israel when one combines his/her voice of criticism of Israel with voices of avowed enemies of Israel.

A rabbi once said to me that a supporter of Israel should not speak words that inflame, anger, and cause outrage to the larger Jewish Community.  As a result, a voice which attacks, words which polarize rather than unify, opinions that incite rather than search for consensus – no matter on which side of the issue one stands - should be relegated to outside the mainstream Jewish community.

I want to be clear - not every voice of dissent is considered illegitimate. However, there are limitsdefined by the larger organized Jewish community. The BDS movement and its supporters clearly operate beyond those limits.                                

As my old friend Michael Wegier, Chief Executive of United Jewish Israel Appeal, in the United Kingdom wrote, “Many people, including Jews, limit discussion of Israel to issues around the conflict with the Palestinians. We often find it hard to see Israel through any other lens. Of course, the peace process and conflict are major issues we cannot ignore. They dominate the current landscape, but our challenge and responsibility this Yom Ha’atzmaut is to reject this approach. Israel is so much more than the conflict. Its society, languages, multi-cultures, technological and medical advancements, and economy are rich wellsprings that nurture Israeli life and can also inspire the Diaspora.

I will continue to work for Israel. I will defend Israel. I will clamor for a more secure Israel. I will advocate for a more just Israel. Just as I do for the United States of America.

Together, we can all celebrate Israel and her miraculous achievements in 68 short years.

Shabbat shalom.



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