A few days ago, on the heels of AG Mandelblit’s announcement of the indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Prime Minister’s description of this as an “attempted coup”, a friend of mine, Rabbi Uri Pilichowski, wrote a courageous post on social media. He is a settler, an oleh, a religious Zionist Jew, an educator, and an advocate for Israel with whom I have had the privilege to walk the halls of the US Capitol and the White House in pursuit of the interests of Israel and the Jewish people.
He thanked the Prime Minister for his service to the Jewish people, his leadership in challenging times, his positive influence on Israel’s economy at a crucial time, and his laser focus on the threat presented by Iran. With a heavy heart, though, he was deeply critical of Netanyahu’s assault on the legitimate instruments of the state, its judiciary, and its police, without laying out the evidence for these allegations as he so expertly has done at the UN and elsewhere about threats to Israel.
Uri felt that this attack on the country’s institutions demonstrated that until he is exonerated, it would be in the interests of Israel for the Prime Minister to step aside. When the PM subsequently called upon his supporters to respect the police, he praised this retreat, but the criticism remained.
While several of his interlocutors praised this courageous stand, more of them expressed outrage, disbelief that he could betray Israel’s hero, and a certainty that Israel’s justice system is a hotbed of corrupt left wing conspirators bent on destroying Israel’s Zionist dream. This last, as bereft of evidence as the Prime Minister’s public accusations.
The vehemence of these rebukes struck me as driven by emotion and fear more than by fact or logic. My friend Uri fervently believes in the Land of Israel, its People in the entirety of the land, guided by the Torah. No one could mistake him for a “leftist”. He is an educator and an accomplished advocate, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Israel’s history and current environment. No one could mistake him for a “tool”. Yet so many were so quick to castigate him, accuse him of betrayal, and blithely dismiss his reasoned and measured argument.
What has become of us?
Why are so many prepared to ignore logic, expertise, even-handedness and equanimity in the pursuit of the political goals of the right or the left, or the personal agenda of a heroic, charismatic, unique yet now flawed and weakened leader?
I don’t know if Gantz, Lapid, Yaalon and Ashkenazi would be the best leadership for Israel. Perhaps, perhaps not. But the argument that they are unqualified leftists through and through is absurd. Moshe Yaalon? And his fellow former chiefs of staff, Gantz and Ashkenazi? unqualified?
The judicial structure that Israel’s democratic governments through more than seven decades have relied on to be the secular conscience and guide of a state which balances its national and religious responsibilities every day – now it is betraying the people?
I believe that too many of us have suspended our capacity for critical thought, for nuance and depth. Black and white is for cookies and piano keys, not for understanding politics. We have ignored the possibility that the “facts” conveyed on social media and even in the press are washed and shaped to suit the needs of individuals or ideologies, and these do not always march with the interests of Israel and the Jewish people. To me, these are and must continue to be paramount.
One of the first acts of recognition of the authority of state structures in Israel was that of Menachem Begin instructing his Irgun fighters not to return fire as the IDF/Palmach shelled the Altalena in 1948. It was painful, it was dangerous, and it felt like a betrayal, but it was essential. Begin recognized that. And though he maintained his political opposition in the wilderness for almost 30 years, he worked with Yitzchak Rabin, who commanded the shelling of the Altalena, and David Ben Gurion, who ordered it. He recognized that the legitimacy of the state and its institutions was at stake, and and he looked beyond himself. That is what my friend Uri called upon the Prime Minister to do. Look beyond himself.
This discussion has increasing relevance to those outside of Israel who find themselves as advocates for and against people and positions that seem to be important to our global Jewish community. But too much of what they share, or base their opinions on is a wedge for the right or the left. Too few of them question the sources or even the conclusions of the articles, essays or memes they publish.
So this is what I ask all of my friends who love Israel and the Jewish people to do. Be like Menachem Begin. Maintain your ideology and your beliefs. Build the capacity to democratically convince your peers and your friends of the righteousness of your perspective, and in the fullness of time believe enough in your own words that you won’t need to acquire or sustain power by delegitimizing those who don’t share your views. You can convince them with truth and the strength of your considered arguments.
Do you want to be effective? Work with those who share your love but don’t share your particular ideology. Israel will be stronger for it. The Jewish people will be stronger. And our adversaries will have fewer divisions to capitalize on. My friend Uri understands this. Do you?