Measuring Distance Between Us

Two Approaches to Israel Make Dialogue Difficult

By Leonard Fein

Published December 25, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

As soon as these two narratives are seen as mutually exclusive, communal conversation becomes difficult if not impossible. Those who see Israel as besieged become defensive, often unable to abide any form of criticism of Israel; those who focus on Israel’s errors find themselves assaulted by the others. Some of them turn hostile to Israel, some distance themselves, find ways to be and do Jewish that end-run Israel altogether. The irony is that there is no need to choose between the two; they are powerfully linked to each other. Begin with either, and after just a few steps, you are led logically to the other.

Consider the case of Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who is widely regarded on the Jewish left as a right-winger, largely on account of his frequent essays in praise of Jewish particularism, his assaults on J Street and his emphasis, in his writings and speeches, on the external threats Israel faces, on “the siege.” Yet this same Daniel Gordis wrote, last January, that “At a moment in which the world…seems ever more inclined to decide that the State of Israel is morally corrupt and thus fundamentally illegitimate, elements of our society seem determined to provide them all the evidence that they need. We allow the world to draw the conclusion that we have no interest in moving some semblance of a peace process forward, and internally we allow a revolting ugliness to endanger our democracy, corrupt those of our children who are still decent and poison the world’s assessment of us precisely when we are most vulnerable.” [Emphasis added.] “Our emasculated political leadership — ossified by the unmanageable coalition it created — is endangering the very survival of the values and hope that have long led the Jewish people to live in — or rally around — this country.”

Open a Gordis column, and you do not know which Gordis you will there encounter: the one who warns against all the external threats Israel faces, or the one who is deeply concerned about problems of Israel’s own making. The twain do not meet.

Ah, but if the two perspectives are, in fact, logically linked, if a nation besieged is likely to become illiberal and an illiberal nation is likely to see itself as besieged, then perhaps that linkage offers some guidance on moving to a brighter time. An Israeli government willing to take more decisive steps against Jewish terrorists, able to resist the urge to displace Jerusalem’s Arabs with Jews, willing to begin the redemption of its promise of equality for its Palestinian citizens, might find the siege gradually relaxed; an Israel more proactive in the pursuit of peace, the harsh internal divisions of its people notwithstanding, might gradually invigorate Israel’s moderate majority.

Hope? Think of Leonard Cohen’s gift to us: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


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!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • 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.