The latest Hadassah magazine has an interesting letter from Gershom Gorenberg to an American progressive Jew urging him or her not to give up on Israel. The insight here is that Israel has now become the basis of American Jewish identity. And so if you Americans lose Israel, Gorenberg warns, there goes Jewish communal life.
As Peter Beinart, former New Republic editor, wrote last year, “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now…they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”
Beinart’s warning was correct, and belated. The danger is that young Jews will not only check their Zionism at the door, but their connection to all things Jewish. The existence of a Jewish country is too large a part of the 21st-century Jewish reality to be excised from Jewish communal life in America. But when students find Jewish campus organizations devoting their energy to refuting any criticism of Israeli policy (including criticisms voiced daily here in Israel), many stay away from campus Jewish life entirely.
Nor will Israel disappear from congregational life. If you allow the Israel conversation at your congregation to be dominated by the advocates of siege Zionism, you risk letting your community be shaped by the fearful mentality of “the world is against us” rather than by a universalist commitment to tikkun olam...
Gorenberg's latest book is incisive on the issue of the Israeli crisis, the domination of the society by intolerant voices. The problem with his thinking, as I have said often, is that he is ethnocentric: he believes that Jews can come up with answers to the Israeli crisis of legitimacy inside the Jewish community. When the truth is that if a government is only representing the interests of half the people it governs, it must consult with the entire population if it is going to find a way forward.
This contradiction is evident in Gorenberg's Rx for us Jews in the Diaspora:
Israel presents the opportunity for Jews to have power over their lives as a collective—to express our values not just as individuals but as the majority in a sovereign state. The critical contribution that diaspora Jews can make in engagement with Israel is to remind those of us here of the sharp experience of being the outsider, the stranger, so that we Israelis don’t forget where we came from.
But what if our contribution is true to our experience here-- Liberalism? Democracy that honors minority rights?
To understand Gorenberg's crisis, you should have a look at a second piece in Hadassah, this an interview with Danny Danon, a Likudnik who is the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. Danon says that Israel will reject pressure to give up the West Bank, because no political majority exists to do such a thing. Under these intolerant political circumstances, liberal Jews must imagine other political coalitions than ones of only Jews hanging on to the idea of a majority state. They must be imagining ways of establishing equal representation.
Q. You have both criticized and supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How did you feel after his speech on Capitol Hill earlier this year?
A. I sincerely applauded the prime minister’s effective and eloquent defense of the Jewish people’s historic ties to the Land of Israel. His speech was inspiring and rousing. His single most compelling duty was to reject President Obama’s pressure. When he returned home to Jerusalem, he realized there was no majority in Israel, and certainly not in his own Likud Party, to cede large portions of Judea and Samaria to Arab control, nor to relinquish our permanent presence in the Jordan Valley. We were elected to safeguard our historic homeland, not to abandon it. I try with all my heart and soul to remind him of these commitments, even when others seek to cloud his view. I am hopeful the visions that nurtured both [of us] will prevail and his policies will remain faithful to these commitments. No matter what, I will be nearby to remind him.