When Israel is in crisis and violence flares, like many of you, my inbox is filled with messages from various organizations. I also hear a lot of questions from you about various organizations’ statements, including our own — Why does this one focus on this aspect of the violence? Why does that one only address A but not B? Why did you choose to mention X but not Y?
My sense is that the elusive “perfect statement” is like the hunt for the great white whale; to effectively address every nuance, represent every concern of all members of our community, and say everything that should be said to every audience would require a massive novel every day. That’s not plausible and so, inevitably, no statement or comment is ever perfect.
What I’ve come to perceive is that we – the organized mainstream of the Jewish community - have a great deal of unity regarding our condemnation of the terrifying outbreak of violence against the Israeli people. However, we find it far more challenging to speak with one voice about the larger atmosphere in which the current crisis unfolds.
We have clarity about our solidarity with the Israeli people, our denunciation of acts of violence targeting civilians – and those who incite it, and our frustration with media bias.
We struggle however with the larger complexity — do we talk about how to manage this particular moment or do we speak about how to prevent future outbreaks of violence? We don’t agree amongst ourselves about what aspects of the larger environment are important to the narrative — continued Israeli control of Palestinians? Settlements (and which ones)? Arab rejection of a Jewish state, Jewish peoplehood, and even denial of any historical Jewish connection to the land? – to name just a few.
We are united in our resolve to ensure the future of a secure, democratic and Jewish state of Israel. This is an integral piece of our shared vision of the Jewish people. When Israelis are under the threat of violence, we make our voice heard so that they do not experience this fear alone. Israel cannot be left isolated in the world.
As difficult and painful as this chapter is, the reality is that it is not an existential threat to the future of the Jewish state. Israel will, once again, find a way to protect its citizens, with or without international support.
The far more serious threat to the future of Israel is isolation.
It is infuriating that we need to wage this struggle against the isolation of Israel. I don’t need to reiterate for you the efforts of some, particularly but not limited to the global BDS movement, to demonize Israel. But I will say that as violence flares and Israel grapples with dilemmas of response, what I worry about is that moment when people stop believing this: that the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own in our homeland is compatible with the right of the Palestinian people to their own national self-determination.
These two national rights are and must remain compatible, if not necessarily easily achieved or even – for many of us – plausible in the near-term, given the current conditions. If we and, more importantly, others who are influential in this nation stop believing this to be true; if we and they begin to believe that Jewish and Palestinian rights are irreconcilable and incompatible, then Israel will truly be in a crisis as challenges to her legitimacy take root in more mainstream audiences.
So in moments like this, we will keep speaking with clarity about the immediate events, their proximate causes, and the justness of Israel’s response. But with equal urgency, we must keep engaging people with the larger complexity. We will continue to raise up the larger issues, the possibility of a better future, our belief in its necessity and our commitment to achieving it. Without that, we will fail in our responsibility to the Israel we all love and care for.