This was a very challenging week for those of us who are deeply invested in the future of the state of Israel. It is one of those weeks that, in real time, has been much discussed within the Jewish community and with our civic partners, and, I believe, one we will look back on and study.
For years we’ve been urging our leaders and elected officials to hold complexity when being critical of Israel’s government; to balance and temper their concerns with recognition that Israel has security challenges unlike those of most democratic countries and faces violent threats to its civilians that cannot be easily ignored. We’ve talked with partners about shared concerns and the belief that criticism between friends is best shared in the course of actual relationships and should not be litigated in statements and social media. This week, they observed and noted (at least in my conversations) a shift in the public statements of many ‘mainstream’ communal Jewish institutions.
Given the circumstances, it was necessary.
Most of us are hard pressed to recall an event like the horrific riot by Jewish extremists on Sunday, rampaging through Huwara, killing one Palestinian while injuring many more. It was vociferously condemned by many, such as the Orthodox Union. While this event doesn’t take away from our shared sense of mourning with the families of the fourteen Israelis who have already been killed this year, in terrorist attacks, it does reflect a horror we have over the actions of some of ‘our own’.
And when Israel’s minister of finance, Bezalel Smotrich, called for the town of Huwara to be “erased”, the condemnations from organizations such as AJC and from the CEO of the Conference of Presidents, calling the remarks of a senior government minister “reprehensible”, “repugnant” and “disgusting”, were – to my memory – unprecedented. They were also, to my mind 100% correct and necessary.
And to say that Smotrich’s remarks are indeed all these things does not take away from our shared mourning this week with the family of Elan Ganeles, a native of West Hartford, CT who was visiting Israel for a friend’s wedding and was murdered by terrorists on his way to the event. May his memory be for a blessing and may his family find comfort in his legacy.
Plainly put, this still-new government is unprecedented. You don’t have to actively oppose this government (and we should name explicitly that there are members of our American Jewish community who are enthusiastic supporters of it) to acknowledge that in the last eight weeks it has moved the Overton Window – bringing into the mainstream and the halls of power a body of rhetoric, views, and policies that were very, very recently considered extremist. And we, Jewish American leaders and organizations, are to some extent struggling to navigate this disruption of long held norms.
We are, broadly speaking, holding true to our values while also having difficult conversations about the increasingly explicit and unbridgeable gaps between our values and those of at least some members of the current government. I have empathy for colleagues around the country who are having uncomfortable conversations, much like the ones I’ve been having with our own Council of member organizations here in Boston where, as in the broader community, there are a diversity of views about this government – about what this disruptive moment requires of us, and whether and how to evaluate our long-held norms about what we say and where we say it.
Our friends and partners, as well as our community, are wondering what comes next. The messages above, this week, might have seemed unimaginable last year or even last week. I, for one, offer no magical foresight. But I do recognize that this isn’t so much as a disruptive ‘moment’ but more likely an extended ‘period’, that we need to navigate together. This week is one that, for many, opened a Pandoras Box of how we talk to and about Israel’s leaders.
And as always, I hope that we can navigate the answer to that question together.
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
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