Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Israel: No Need for a GA Makeover

The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of America, to be held this coming week in Israel, has created a bit of a ruckus here in Israel. For one thing, the Tel Aviv venue is thought to betray an agenda. Important gatherings like this should be held in Jerusalem, in order to underscore the idea that the Holy City is the capital of the Jewish State. There’s a feeling that the choice of Tel Aviv over Jerusalem is meant to be “in your face” to President Trump, who moved the United States embassy in the opposite direction, something much desired by both Israeli and American Jewry up until now. Writer Caroline Glick believes the entire event is meant as an anti-Trump protest.

But there are other concerns. The GA has billed the event as “Israel and the Diaspora: We need to talk,” going on to describe what the organizers apparently see as a rift between Israeli Jews and American Jews. This rift, as they define it, seems to be about the liberal views of American Jews versus the conservative beliefs of most Israelis; the religious pluralism of American Jewry versus the Orthodox status quo in Israel; and finally, the desire of American Jewry for a two-state solution, something both Israelis and Arabs have rejected.

Do these issues really need discussion? If American Jews are liberal, believe in religious pluralism, and tolerance, why should there be any rift at all between the two communities? In a tolerant, liberal culture, is there not room for other beliefs, conservative or otherwise? And if not, is it really a tolerant, liberal culture that shuts out all other viewpoints?

If one believes in religious pluralism, shouldn’t that person believe that Israelis have a right to choose how they wish to run their religious affairs? If the shul that Israelis do not attend is Orthodox, is this something that liberal American Jews are unable to tolerate? Israel provided an egalitarian prayer space at American Jewry’s request/demand. The space is almost always empty of people. But the regular Western Wall Plaza, with its separate spaces for men and women, is packed, day and night, with prayerful Israeli Jews.

Would the organizers of the GA have us believe there is something wrong with Jews coming to the Wall in throngs, and praying according to Orthodox custom? We aren’t stopping them from praying as they wish. So why are they so bothered by our pervasive orthodoxy by choice? Do they wish us to be more religiously diverse? If so, is this not a form of coercion? Are we incapable of making our own religious choices that we need to be Big Brothered by American Jewry?

As for the two-state solution, none of the actors in the region want this. It’s an unworkable idea. Yet American Jews keep telling us we need to do this, as though we are incapable of formulating our own ideas about the things that directly affect our quality of life and security. It’s paternalistic. And simplistic. Because they are unable to even adequately explain why they demand we do this thing, since it makes no sense. Adherents of the two-state solution would seem to be ignorant of the fact that no one in the region wants this “solution.” And they just continue to repeat the idea wherever they are presented with a platform.

Why can’t the Federation come to Israel and appreciate that we have our own society and say vive la difference and live and let live? Are we not a sovereign nation to which they have pledged their support? And speaking of support, my personal bugaboo with the Federation is its refusal to fund projects in areas over the Green Line that Israel won in a defensive war in 1967.

Judea and Samaria are indigenous Jewish territory. Judea, where I live, takes its name from the Jewish people. The territories are our ancestral heritage. How can a major Jewish organization take the stance that Jews have no right to settle in their indigenous territory? It’s not only an affront to history and our biblical narrative, it’s the complete opposite of what it means to be a liberal.

Liberals are supposed to fight for indigenous land rights, are they not? Instead, liberals tell Israeli Jews they are somehow in the wrong for building homes in these areas. They tell them that the area must remain Jew-free, because settling the area is a provocation to Arabs, or unhelpful to a nonexistent peace process with a declared enemy.

How does it conform to the liberal standards to tell any group of people that it is wrong for them to live in this place or that? Would you tell Baptists they have no right to live in Ohio? Or blacks that they have no right to live in Boro Park? These directives would be deemed politically incorrect, intolerant, illiberal. Yet the Federation has no trouble telling Jews that they have no right to live in Judea. That it is somehow evil for them to build homes and lives on land that belonged to their ancestors.

The truth is, there is no rift, and nothing to talk about. American Jews must realize that in order to be true to their liberal ideals, they must support Israel not just with money, but for its views in all spheres, especially those that are at variance with their own. This is the truest expression of liberal values: to appreciate that at 70 years old, Israel is quite capable of deciding its societal norms and beliefs.

We’ve grown up. And we’ve earned the right to live our truth.

Come to Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem if you must. But note that Israel is in no need of a makeover. We ask you instead, to open your (liberal) hearts and minds to the reality and beauty that is Israel, and like us just the way we are.