The American Jewish community not only has the right but the mandate to critique our Israeli brothers and sisters. by the Forward

Love Israel? Oppose annexation.

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This is one of many pieces The Forward is running on annexation. Read another point of view here and here.

In both my professional and personal life, there has never been a time when I have not proudly been a Zionist. My relationship to Israel has been defined by an abiding understanding that to be a Jew is to live in connection to our historical homeland and the modern political state that has emerged in its place.

As president of Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, I insisted that students stay in Israel for a full year of study during the Second Intifada as a testament to the fact that we as American Jews — and that the future of American Jewish leadership — could not abandon Israel when circumstances were difficult. I was convinced then and remain convinced now that the formation of Diasporan Jewish religious, educational, and communal leaders requires an intimate familiarity that physical residence in the reborn Jewish State Israel grants our students.

Opinion | Love Israel? Oppose annexation.

Further, as a father, I had each of my five children spend extended amounts of time in Israel studying, working, and creating lives for themselves. As for myself, as I consider Israel’s history, I recognize that my soul has been entwined with the state since my own birth seventy-two years ago — the same year that the state was born.

For all these reasons, I am deeply pained by the intention of Prime Minister Netanyahu to imminently and unilaterally annex extended portions of the West Bank that Israel has occupied since its exhilarating victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and feel that I must join the chorus of voices opposing this impending move. Israel intends to extend its sovereignty to swaths of the Jordan Valley in contravention of international law and contrary to sweeping international consensus.

I am disappointed by this move and agree with those in both Israel and the Diaspora who are urging the Israeli government not to carry out this annexation. In the words of the Union for Reform Judaism, I recognize that these opponents of Israeli annexation of the West Bank do so “out of a concern for Israel’s safety and security, for the preservation of Israel’s democratic character, and for the place of Israel among the nations of the world.”

This pending annexation poses a special challenge to the American Jewish community’s leadership to balance a host of considerations — fidelity to Israel and a simultaneously principled commitment to an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic — that are difficult if not impossible to reconcile. In a recent piece in The Times of Israel, Jason Isaacson of the American Jewish Committee, wrote, “If the new Israeli government, despite nearly universal objections from governments near and far and the warnings of many of Israel’s supporters in the Diaspora, follows the path promised by Prime Minister Netanyahu and in the coming weeks applies Israeli sovereignty unilaterally to a portion of the West Bank, AJC will do what it has always done: explain Israel to the wider world.” Moreover, he maintained, “It is not for the ardent friends and supporters of Israel, comfortable in our homes thousands of miles away, to tell the democratically elected Israeli government what to do.”

Opinion | Love Israel? Oppose annexation.

There is certainly some wisdom in this. Those who live abroad can never fully understand what daily reality looks like on the ground in Israel. However, I and many other members and leaders of the American Jewish community have spent many of our formative and adult years in Israel as students, rabbis, academics, soldiers, and more and look to it as the place where Jewish values can find expression under Jewish political sovereignty.

Furthermore, we believe in the unity of the Jewish people and the unbreakable links that tie the State of Israel to the Jews of the Diaspora. Therefore, the American Jewish community not only has the right but the mandate to critique our Israeli brothers and sisters when they are acting in a way that ensures that Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state as promised in the Israeli Declaration of Independence and in the Basic Laws of the State.

I have no doubt as Isaacson states in his opinion piece that Palestinian recalcitrance is in no small measure responsible for the situation Israel currently confronts. Having said that, this recalcitrance in no way obviates the responsibility Israel has to affirm and not betray its dual character as a Jewish and democratic nation.

Opinion | Love Israel? Oppose annexation.

This annexation, should it go through, would surely justify those who fear that Israel might become an apartheid state where Palestinians in the annexed parts of the West Bank would not be citizens. Simply put, there is no way for there to be a democratic state when thousands of Palestinians would live de jure as non-citizens.

The horror of that possibility requires us as Zionists and as Jews to speak out against annexation and recognize that the Talmudic adage, “shetikah yafah mei-zahav — silence is golden,” does not apply here. All of us who fall in the Zionist camp have at this moment the responsibility to voice our opposition to annexation, not “to explain Israel to the wider world.”

Rabbi David Ellenson is Chancellor Emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and former Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Love Israel? Oppose annexation.

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