The greens and browns of Israel's central valley, the Shfela, are passing by the window of our van, as I am reading an opinion column in Ha'aretz that seems to be addressed directly to me as a left-leaning American Jew. In his piece titled, "Will 2013 be the Year American Jews Secede from Israel?," Bradley Burston asks some questions that have not been far from my mind for the last two weeks.
Like many American Jews who love Israel and who have shown a commitment to Israel with their hearts, minds and dollars, I wonder about the direction of this country. I wonder where Israel is going with an out-of-control policy of expanding settlements and the denial of religious rights for non-Orthodox Jews.
As Burston puts it, "American Jews want to know what is being done in their name. In the name of Judaism. And if they think that it is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop." Amen.
Yet, I have to answer Burston's title question in the negative. No, American Jews are not seceding from Israel. The continuing injustice of Israel's settlement expansion policies and the government's stubborn resistance to negotiations seem designed to prevent the possibility of a peaceful resolution with the Palestinian Authority. It is infuriating.
While there are many American Jews who have become less interested in Israel because they are confused and troubled by these policies, by and large, they are not pushing for change in U.S. policy. Painfully—for me—they are just not engaged with Israel at all. That is a terrible loss, both to them and to Israel, but it will not make a bit of difference to the balance of political power. Whether Burston would wish for it or not, there is no mass secession in store that will change the political equation that assures U.S. support for Israel.
There is passion among many committed liberal Jews against the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious life in Israel. I know that I will always get a strong positive response to any sermon that extols the bravery of the Israel Religious Action Center or Women of the Wall against the Orthodox Rabbinate. But those who are most enraged by the insults Israel inflicts on liberal Jews are also among the strongest supporters that Israel has among American Jews. They are not seceding from anything.
I love this country in much the same way that an adult son loves a parent who does and says things that drive him crazy. I am willing to criticize. I will offer kind and loving chastisement. But I also respect Israel's right to make its own choices, even when I disagree with them, and I will never turn away from or reject Israel. For better and for worse, Israel is my spiritual home and I can no more secede from her than secede from my right hand.
So my message to Bradley Burston and my other brothers and sisters of Israel's peace camp is this: Don't count on pressure from a left-leaning American Jewish population to come to your rescue. Don't think that we will ever turn our back on Israel, even while it is enslaved by increasingly extremist settlers and the Orthodox Rabbinate.
Build your own case at home. Organize your people against the extremists who are taking Israel to the brink. Show Israelis how they have been seduced by a message about "strength" into a path that can only lead to misery. When you stand on the side of justice and peace, you stand on the side of Judaism's joyful return to its land. That is where I will stand with you.
Other Posts on This Topic:
A Victory for Freedom of Religion in Israel
Bat Mitzvah at the Southern Wall