Bintel Brief: Rabbi Irwin Kula on Israel and the Dilemmas of Jewish Power

Rabbi Kula

Hello Rabbi,

I am a convert to Judaism, or Jew-by-choice. Many elements contributed to my decision to join a synagogue and go to the mikveh.

Of course, my wife, her family, our children together and the rabbis I’ve learned from are significant drivers of my decision. Our commitment to family and community, our faith in the oneness of God, our value of learning and our pursuit of justice are Jewish values I embrace.

My decision to convert was also driven by the role played by the Jewish people in history. Since the destruction of Herod’s temple, Jews sought peace with our neighbors and had not resorted to violence or oppression to validate the existence of our culture and people. Not until today.

I am struggling with my confidence in my ability to balance the Jewish teachings of the value of all human life and the requirement to treat the stranger equally because we were slaves in Egypt with reports of the cruel treatment of Palestinian people by Israeli soldiers and settlers. How can a people free from the ghetto and concentration camp resort to creating similar institutions for people whose crime is they occupy land needed for the security of Greater Israel?

I do not hold the Palestinians as blameless. They are guilty of crimes of violence and terror, but the Israeli response is seen as an overreaction by many reasonable people. It is reported that Israel pursues economic strategies that keep Palestinians from developing an economic environment that would reduce their willingness to pursue violent liberation.

My reading indicates that it is very easy to place blame on all sides of this conflict. Victims are villains and vice versa, but why shouldn’t I expect the Jewish state to pull itself out of this cycle of revenge and show itself to be the light the Torah expects?

Because of the Shoah, a safe Jewish homeland must exist. But can it continue to exist with this perception of violent oppressor and injustice?

Simply put, can one be opposed to Israeli policies and be Jewish or philosemitic?


Rabbi Irwin Kula replies:

Rabbi Irwin Kula is president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is the author, most recently, of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” (Hyperion, 2006) and was featured in the public television special “The Hidden Wisdom of Our Yearnings,” which was based on his book.

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Bintel Brief: Rabbi Irwin Kula on Israel and the Dilemmas of Jewish Power

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