The Israeli elections will take place this coming Tuesday, January 22. We don’t yet know the outcome. Political pendula have a way of shifting when we least expect them to do so. I don’t think we should find that surprising; such a trend is occurring all over the world. After all, we are living in uncertain times and in such times right-wing ideology and conservatism often rises.
As a progressive Jew, a Reform Jew, I would hope for a different outcome than the one that is expected. I am discomforted by the gnawing feeling that the next Israeli government may very well continue to work to diminish the notion of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I shudder when I hear Israeli politicians call for “virtual annexation followed by a potential exodus of dispirited Palestinians eastward into Jordan, where Palestinians are already a majority.” I worry that Israeli leaders may unilaterally decide to “take out” an Iranian atomic production facility. To state it bluntly, I fear the direction a right-wing Israeli government may take; such a government reflects a form of hubris that I believe could represent an existential threat to the Jewish State.
For me, the creation of the State of Israel is one of the greatest moments of Jewish history. Israel’s birth is a miracle of modern times. For the Jewish People, Israel’s existence represents a profound act of redemption – from the ashes of the Shoah, the Jewish People could once again be part of the destiny of humanity, Jewish values and ideals would have a place from which to be disseminated throughout the world. The Jewish State would not represent the Jewish People’s becoming “normal” among the nations; quite the contrary, the Jewish State would show the entire world how to carry out sacred living in a national entity without succumbing to the destructive forces that have plagued society throughout history. On the sacred land of Israel, Jewish life would thrive; and, from the sacred land of Israel, Jewish values and ideals would serve as a beacon of hope to all.
That is how I understand the meaning of the third Jewish commonwealth, from its birth and mine, to this very day. And for me, my love for Israel is unconditional; it reflects my commitment to a covenant between God and my ancestors, a covenant to which I believe that every generation of Jews is bound since Abraham first heard the Divine call. Neither a left nor right swing of Israel’s political pendulum will determine my commitment to the sacred land upon which my faith is nurtured and flourishes.
Some view Israel, its meaning, and its survival in ways far different than me. I suppose that is how it is among the Jewish people; we are known for having multiple understandings of meaning. And such differences are even reflected in the many political parties within Israel and the many disparate voices within the Jewish community throughout the world. If we didn’t care so much about the future of our People and the future of the Jewish homeland, none of this would matter. America has a great legacy of immigrants who care about lands of their birth. Jews in American come from lots of different lands, but we don’t occupy our thoughts and energy near the amount we do the United States and Israel.
As I look at the landscape of the American Jewish community I see all too many willing to abandon their commitment to Israel because they “don’t like Israel’s politics,” because they “disagree with Israel’s leaders,” because Israel makes them “uncomfortable.” I would encourage them to rethink such feelings and thoughts. There have been moments when America’s politics and actions have troubled us, yet so few of us have left America for other places or have given up our citizenship, or even stopped paying our taxes. We hold firmly to the belief that the essential goodness of America and its people will always bring about a restoration of its commitment to democratic values and justice. That is why in our American history we have only had one civil war; we know the devastation of its consequences, and we will always work to ensure that such destruction never again takes place.
To the American Jewish community I say, look at Israel with renewed and refreshed eyes. A democratic election in Israel is about to take place. You and I may or may not “like” who will be elected, but the citizens of Israel will freely go to the polls and choose their next leaders. Keep in mind that Israel is not a perfect place; it struggles every day with issues of the politicization of religion, with political graft, with poverty, and with security. But also remember that Israel thrives as no other country in that part of the world, that Israel is always the first responder to human tragedy wherever it may occur, that in Israel every day there are incredible discoveries in science and medicine, in agriculture and technology that benefit all of humankind, and that Israel remains the ingathering place of the Jewish people. I can’t even begin to imagine what Jewish life would be like today without the profound influence that Israel has had on the identity and integrity of Jews wherever we may live.
The forthcoming elections in Israel should be a time for Jews everywhere to reaffirm our commitment to the Jewish State. Now should be a time for us to renew our passion for an Israel that lives by Jewish values, for an Israel that strives for and thrives on a determination to be “a light unto the nations.” Our response to Israel’s election should be a deepening of our engagement with the land and its people, to a renewed sense of common destiny, and to a firm belief that the rest of the world is watching us. No matter the rhetoric of governments near and far, the world is watching us, the Jewish people. And for the world’s sake, I hope that the Jewish people respond with reaffirmation of our belief and commitment to the Jewish State, with a strengthening of our engagement with Israel and its people, and with a promise of fulfillment of the prophetic voice:
For from out of Zion will come the Torah, and the word of the Eternal from Jerusalem.