Opposed Outlooks, Shared Fears

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published July 22, 2009, issue of July 31, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In recent months I’ve heard more and more reports of rabbis who say they no longer know how to talk with their congregants about Israel. They feel — correctly, as far as I can tell — that our community is deeply divided, and that the divisions extend to the communities within the whole: to wit, the congregations.

How does one address an audience, a portion of which regards “Beware, it is 1938 again!” as an applause line, while the other portion is outraged by what it sees as Israel’s persistent provocations? Or perhaps it is into three parts that we are divided — the “Who are we to criticize Israel?” crowd, the “How can we refrain from rebuke when rebuke is warranted?” crowd and a growing number who want the whole matter of Israel to be pushed off-stage, who find it too confounding or too painful to tangle with.

Two parts or three, not necessarily of equal size or equal volume, their public intensity marked and disturbing not only to the rabbis but also to all who call themselves friends of Israel. Who are these others, those who boo while I cheer, those who cheer while I boo? They cannot be the enemy, but they are too blind to be counted as allies, or even as friends.

Relax. There really is a way, after all, to talk to all (or almost all) of us, and that means there is a way for all of us to listen, to comprehend that we are family. That way begins with acknowledgment of the fears we share. It accepts that the vehemence of our public views may well coexist with private pricks of doubt we cannot overcome.

Here’s an example, quite personal: I have written and spoken for many years now, since long before the idea had become a mantra for so many, in favor of a two-state solution. In my view, any other conceivable solution spells death to the Jewish state.

But though that is as deep a conviction as I have, I do not think that a two-state solution, even if achieved, will be a picnic. It is riddled with hazards, both in conception and in execution: Where shall the borders of those states be? Shall Jerusalem be divided by an international boundary, or shall anyone who enters it from the new Palestine be able to exit it into Israel? How, if at all, will Palestine’s eastern border, its long border with Jordan, be controlled? And how shall the limited water supply be shared between Israel and Palestine? Above all, how shall both the Jewish state and the Palestinian state deal with their own extremists, those who claim that their nation’s leaders have stabbed them in the back and those who persist in denying the other’s legitimacy?

One can go on, and on, and those whose task it will one day be to negotiate the terms of a solution to the conflict will have to go on, and on, detail by cumbersome and contentious detail. And their agreed-upon responses to those “details” will leave many on both sides dissatisfied, suspicious.

It grieves me to say all that; I wish it were not so. But it is so, and because it is, I cannot scorn those who feel trapped by the details and who therefore conclude that a two-state solution is folly. I am as outraged as they by Palestinian extremism and incitement (though I wish they were as outraged as I by Israeli extremism and incitement), and I share their doubts that a comprehensive peace treaty will put an end to the excesses.

Yet I continue, not out of stubbornness but out of Zionist fidelity, to believe that a Jewish state is ours by right. (That does not make the Palestinians wrong. One definition of tragedy: when two rights collide.) And the only way to preserve and defend that Jewish state is to embrace the independence of a new and viable neighbor: Palestine.

Some say the two-state idea is simply not realistic. But if I am right in my claim that only with two states can there be a Jewish state, those who say that the two-state idea is not realistic are defeatists. Some say the two-state idea is too problematic. Theirs is a three-letter error; scratch the word “too,” and they are not wrong.

And then, in any case, there is work to be done now, for the house is truly burning. The escalating conflict between state and religion in Israel is a gathering menace to both. The continuing discrimination against Israel’s own Palestinians citizens is an unacceptable affront to Israel’s stated ideals and commitments. Can we speak of such things? Or is the Israel we love and cherish all milk, honey, falafel and high-tech entrepreneurs?

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.