Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently demanded that the negotiators for the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the “Jewish State.”
David Ben-Gurion once wrote to John F. Kennedy that he, Ben-Gurion, was responsible for all of the Jewish people, and that they had the right to live as Jews everywhere.
In both instances, the two leaders were playing their political cards in serious negotiating discussions. Ironically, more and more young American Jews, and many of their elders who are engaged in the Israeli present situation, take those ideas seriously and have become concerned with the Jewish values that Israel does or does not display.
Contemporary Jewish authors and journalists have used the analogy that when good friends are having alcoholic issues their real friends offer constructive criticism and suggestions as well as support. One cannot help noticing lately that Israel has more serious problems to solve. The illnesses at times border on amnesia and delusions of grandeur, leading to the thinking that we are so much better than others and forgetting who we are and where we have been in the last century and much farther back in our past.
Recently, an Orthodox political leader was so disturbed at West Bank settlers who broke into a Palestinian village and screamed at its residents, “Get out Arabs,” that he recalled how mobs have screamed at us in the same way, “Get out Jews.”
Within the last year, after Israel had taken in Sudanese and Eritrean political refugees, one government official emphasized that the Torah gave us the obligation to do so. Israel also signed the Geneva Accord in 1952, since it gave all people of the world the right to seek political asylum.
However, we let those refugees languish without work permits in South Tel Aviv and then, when complaints about them arose in some neighborhoods, such as Kfar Shalem, racist Likud Knesset members arrived there to foment a damaging riot against them. Israel recently has been jailing those refugees and attempting to force them to accept “voluntary deportation.”
Israel is passing a bill called the Begin Prawer Law to transport Bedouin on buses against their will from the 5.4 percent of the Negev Desert land that they have lived on to a Pale of Settlement full of shanty towns despite the fact that they are loyal Israeli citizens who volunteer to do dangerous scouting missions for the Israel Defense Forces. Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, which has members from all the denominations, has been advocating here and in Israel against such “transportations.”
A thousand Israeli officers and soldiers who have served in the West Bank have given testimony to an organization of soldiers called Breaking the Silence, whose members also served in the occupied territories, that many of their own actions were cruel and not necessary to be used against Palestinian citizens, including the elderly and little children.
More and more, involved Jewish Americans are learning about these acts, and they have been critical and hoping to see change, since such events, policies and acts are in opposition to their core Jewish values. One young female rabbi exclaimed at a conference that Israel needed to show her that it had the same Jewish values that she had so she could identify with it.
Although many groups and the vast majority of their membership support a two-state solution and those core Jewish values that we all recognize, Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman has taken upon himself as a professional leader and spokesman for the Jewish community to decide which groups are kosher and which are not. (Some that he pronounced as not kosher have officially stated their support for a two-state solution.) Shortly after the Pew report pointed out that a majority of American Jews did not believe Israel was seriously attempting to solve the Palestinian conflict and that the settlements were harming the opportunity for the negotiations to succeed — a fact recognized by even the majority of the total Knesset membership — Foxman reiterated that only his organization and like minded professionals were the ones who cared about Israel.
Ben-Gurion, Martin Buber, Berl Katznelson, and Achad Ha’Am (who said that he was worried more about the souls of the first settlers than about their settlements) constantly worked to build a democratic Jewish homeland based on prophetic values, with equal rights for all minorities to which the entire Jewish Diaspora could identify — and did.
Therefore, one has to wonder how such a professional leader such as Foxman can defame the more engaged Jewish Americans for clinging to those same Jewish values and suggesting that they be applied to the “Jewish State” that Netanyahu has suddenly demanded be the true identity of Israel.
(Ivan C. Frank, an author and educator, lives in Squirrel Hill.)