Friday, June 21, 2013

A Different Conversation About Israel

Rabbi Daniel Gordis has a new column about Israel and, to me, it hits a very important mark. He argues that the peace process is dead. And, even though many (most?) blame that on Israel, that's patently unfair:
Even were there no Israeli resistance to the idea of the two-state solution, longstanding Palestinian incalcitrance would doom the project anyway. The world will take much more note of Bennett’s two-minute remarks than it will of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s longstanding refusal to negotiate. When US President Barack Obama pressured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into a building freeze that lasted for 10 months in 2010, Abbas refused to come to the table.
Personally, I wouldn't say that the peace process is dead. It's just (to be somewhat flip) "Mostly Dead." It's dead for now, but that doesn't mean it can't be revived later (although, it may take a miracle). But, the odds of seeing peace in the near future, or even the mid-term future, seem awfully close to nil right now.

But, Gordis argues, that means that we have a chance to stop arguing ad naseum about war, peace, Palestinians and Occupation and instead start to talk about something very different and, I'd argue, more fundamental about Israel:
Before us now lies an opportunity to have, at long last, a renewed conversation about why the Jews need a state and the values on which is ought to be based...What we can – and should – be speaking about is why the Jewish state matters in the first place.
If the only purpose of Israel is to survive, then there's really no purpose at all, right? There should be something that we can strive for, something we can accomplish, because we survive. Survival is necessary, but it's not the goal. We have to start talking, seriously and deeply, about what the purpose of Israel is. And, that means having difficult, honest conversations about how ancient Jewish ideals can be played in in a messy real world:
But what are those values? What does the Jewish tradition have to say about balancing our need to welcome refugees who are fleeing genocide with our obligation to protect the safety of our own citizens on the streets of Tel Aviv? How do we raise a generation of young Israelis who will remain willing to risk everything to defend the Jewish state, yet who do not hate Arabs, despite the fact that we are intermittently at war with the Arab world? How do we balance the need to let 1,000 Jewish flowers bloom, and let Jews pray where and how they wish to pray, and teach their children what they believe they need to know, and still maintain – or create – a sufficiently cohesive public square that makes Israel not an accident of different people sharing the cities, but a meaningful collective enterprise? Conversations such as these would get us to open both and Western books. They would invite the input of secular along with religious, of progressives along with conservatives, for Jewish ideas are not the sole province of any one segment of the Jewish world.
Of course, we don't need a failed peace process to have this conversation. At least, we don't in theory. But these more theoretical, far-sighted conversations seems to always take a backseat to the more immediate, political conversations. Whatever you think about the prospects for peace, and who's to blame for the ongoing conflict, one thing is clear. There are much deeper, more meaningful and, I'd add, more inspiring conversations to have about Israel. Let's have them.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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