Israeli writer Amos Oz offered some remarks at the J Street conference in Washington DC which I believe need to be addressed. Oz stated in reference to a suggestion that American Jews should be united in support of Israel that:
Let us all be united, but why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist manner of AIPAC? … There is more than just one way to be a good Jew. There is more than just one way to be a good Zionist.
Let’s look at these three points. First, is AIPAC “militant, hawkish, and extremist?” I know that many on the left believe that it is. As someone who has participated annually in its policy conferences for eight years, I know that AIPAC is neither militant, hawkish, or extremist, though some on the right would like it to be more so. The recent conference was about avoiding war with Iran, not promoting it.
AIPAC is in fact a non-partisan consensus-seeking organization. It’s proposals to Congress are generally so non-controversial that they pass overwhelmingly, usually with greater than 90% approval of members of Congress from both parties. AIPAC seeks to maintain that support precisely by not advocating for “militant, hawkish, or extremist” options.
Is there more than just one way to “be a good Jew?” Absolutely. As a Reform rabbi, I obviously agree with that statement. The same is true with Oz’s third statement and its corresponding question: Is there more than just one way to be a good Zionist? My answer, again, is “absolutely.”
Those are not the appropriate questions, however. Does Oz’s correct assertion negate the negative alternatives? I do not think so.
Is it possible to be a bad Jew?
I think the answer to that question is “Yes.” A Jew who promotes hatred or contempt of most Jews in the eyes of others, possibly leading to harm coming to other Jews, is not a “good Jew.” Those who observe the ritual mitzvot but commit heinous crimes against others are not “good Jews.” One can be a bad Jew in a whole host of ways.
What of the last point made by Amoz Oz, that there is “more than one way be a good Zionist?” Let us ask that question in a different way:
Is it possible to be a bad Zionist?
I think the answer here is, once again, “Yes.” One can believe in the need for a Jewish state to exist while acting in a way that does it harm. One can be “pro-Israel” while doing harm to Israel and one can be “pro-peace” while acting in ways that make peace more difficult to achieve. One can be a bad Zionist.
Rabbi David Kaufman’s website has a page titled “Where Our Advocacy Differs” that details harmful actions sometimes taken by pro-peace and pro-Israel advocates.