Friday, May 27, 2011

Rabbi Daniel Gordis takes on J-Street

You know, I've been posting quite a bit about Israel these past few days. No big surprise - I'm just back from a compelling trip, and there's a whole lot going on there! I'm trying as hard as I can to remain open-minded and centrist - I always think that's the best way to learn things. But, it occurs to me that, based only on the blogging and e-mailing I've been doing, I may be coming across as extremely left-wing. Now, in general, I am very left wing - no surprise there to anyone who knows me. But, when it comes to Israel, my views tend to be what most would consider (I think) to be just to the right of center*. I support the creation of a Palestinian State. But, I also think that it's utterly ridiculous to expect Israel to make peace with an organization (Hamas) which is openly and explicitly dedicated to its total annihilation. I think that the majority of the struggles of the Palestinian people are the result of (most likely purposeful) decisions made by their leaders; I think Israel should get very little blame, on whole. And, although I've never questioned their sincerity or motivation, I've never liked or supported J-Street.

If you don't know J-Street, it's a left-leaning lobbying group which was created to offer a more liberal voice in Zionist/American politics. Essentially, they felt that AIPAC, the long-standing voice of American Political Zionism, was too far to the right, and too monolithic, so they wanted to create an alternative. I've always thought that their motivations and high-level ideology were laudable. But, I think that the actual implementation of their ideas is terribly, terribly flawed.

* I usually hate it when someone says something like, "I don't even know what those labels mean" It's usually a pretentious way of trying not to apply an obvious label to yourself. But, in this case, I really don't. I THINK I'm just to the right of center, but I'm not really sure. And, I guess it depends on which society/sub-group I'm in. It gets awfully confusing.

One of my favorite writers about Israel is Rabbi Daniel Gordis. He's a Conservative, American-born Rabbi who lives in Israel, and he also writes from the right-of-center. But, he does so without hatred or vitriol, and always with extreme thoughtfulness and clarity. And, his latest posting is about an encounter which he had with J-Street. He is also no fan of theirs, to say the least, but he eagerly agreed to speak with a delegation from J-Street, and he offered strong words to them. Again, partially I love it because it's clear that he really, really doesn't like their views or their approach. But, he refuses to question their Zionism or their character. We could probably use more of that. But, he does question their positions, and their statements:

“Obviously,” you say, “reconciliation reduces the obstacle [to a peace treaty].”  But I would caution you against ever using the word “obviously” when it comes to the Middle East.  Nothing here is obvious.  If you think that something is obvious, then you simply haven’t thought enough.  Why is it obvious that Fatah’s signing a deal with Hamas, which rejects Israel’s very right to exist, reduces obstacles to peace?  Isn’t it just as plausible that it makes peace impossible, or that signing a deal and returning large swathes of land to a group still sworn on our destruction would be suicidal?  I suppose that reasonable minds could debate this matter, but how is it “obvious” that this is good news for peace?

And then you go on to say that “skeptics of a two-state agreement have immediately stepped forward to say that a deal is impossible with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.”  There you go again, telling us that if we don’t agree with you, then we’re not serious or honest.  If we think that the Fatah-Hamas deal is terrible news for peace, then we’re just “skeptics of a two-state agreement.” In your worldview, there’s no possibility that we’re just a bit more nervous than you are, that we do not want to make a mistake that will turn our own homes into Sederot, that we are frightened of restoring the horror of 2000-2004 to our streets, buses and restaurants.  No, that possibility doesn’t exist, because anyone who doesn’t agree with you is by definition a “skeptic of the two-state agreement.”  I’d suggest that if you want to convince those of us still deciding whether you’re part of the big tent that you are “in,” that you drop this sort of condescension.  It’s arrogant and intellectually shallow; it doesn’t serve you well.

I am pro-peace. Deeply so. If it were up to me, then tomorrow there would be a Palestinian State. Not (I've said this before) just because it's good for Israel, but because it's the right thing to do. But, all of us who yearn for peace, all of us who want Obama to help negotiate a peace, all of us who get frustrated with Netanyahu's often strident intransigence and the far-right's insistance on clinging to dreams of "Greater Israel" have to remember some very basic facts.

Hamas wants us dead. All of us. All Jews, that is. Certainly all Jews in Israel.

In the past few decades, Israel has pulled out of two areas, without first establishing a durable peace: Lebanon and Gaza. Both have become breeding grounds for terrorists and launching pads for rockets. Rockets which are usually aimed at Israeli cities, with the intent of killing civilians. 

The current situation - Israel as long-term occupier, several neighbors working for her destruction - is terrible. Truly, truly terrible.

Making a peace with someone who is only making that peace as a tactic in a war of annihilation? That's worse.

I hope that Obama keeps working with Israel to find a way to make a just, lasting and true peace with the Palestinians, and with all of the Arab nations. But, I hope that Obama also remembers that, here in the US, we didn't try to make peace with Al Qaeda. Israel can't, either.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.


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