Boycott the Boycotts!

Rabbi Andrea London penned an article encouraging rabbis and others to boycott the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington next week. Her rationale is that AIPAC has invited the (democratically elected) prime minister of the State of Israel to speak at the conference. Since she finds his alliances and views reprehensible, the pro-Israel community should protest and not attend.

Shame! Rabbi London should know better.

First and foremost, AIPAC always invites the democratically elected prime minister of the State of Israel to its policy conference. Such was the case with Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, Yitzchak Shamir and…., I think you get the point. The organization invites the Prime Minister of the country, who is an individual, not necessarily the individual as an endorsement of all of their views nor of their particular party. To an educated reader it is an obvious nuance, but one that Rabbi London glosses over in an attempt to portray the pro-Israel organization as evil.

Rabbi London thinks boycotting is the answer to all things we disdain. Would that include Boycotting Israel? Divesting from Israel? Sanctioning Israel?

Rabbi London neglects to mention in her BY line that she is an executive member of the clergy board of J Street. That organization endorsed the slanted Goldstone Report that unfairly condemns Israel for protecting its borders, (amongst other things). The report was since reversed and Goldstone himself said he made a mistake yet , J Street never retracted its position. Does she encourage the boycotting of J Street conferences for hosting Goldstone and supporting the flawed report amongst congressional leaders? What about boycotting organizations that host PLO and PA members that are in favor of providing US funds to terrorists and their families, contravening American law and Jewish values? Do we celebrate these Palestinians and say they have a right to spend their money as they choose or say, this value and misuse of funds is not for me?!

What Rabbi London should know better as a congregational rabbi is simple: Community inherently holds within it, cooperation. By being a part of a community, one does not necessarily have to endorse all of its views. One can even disagree with views without abandoning the community.

For example, as a registered Democrat, I loathe Representative Ilhan Omar’s views on Israel and the Jewish people and am saddened at the weak response by other leaders in the party I affiliate with. I am not boycotting the Democratic Party nor am I leaving for another party.

I am an American citizen. I did not vote for Donald Trump yet, he won the electoral college. What President Trump has said and done in a host of environs before and after his election is reprehensible to me on many fronts. Still, I am not relinquishing my US citizenship.

My synagogue follows a certain practice that the majority of our congregation appreciates but does not feel spiritually fulfilling to me. I am choosing to pray at my Temple and am not cancelling my membership.

I have been married for 20 years. I am blessed with two children. Not every day in our lives as a family is sunshine and roses. Nevertheless, I am not seeking divorce from my spouse and I am not abandoning my parental obligations.

The conditionality that Rabbi London places on her relationship with Israel, and encourages us to follow suit, is dangerous. What she is saying is, that unless you think exactly like I do, and do exactly like I do, you do not belong in the circle. The flaw with that thinking is that no two people think the same. The circle she creates has room for only one person, which goes against the grain of our history and principles. A throng of circles with little to no concentric part amongst them does not make for community. It makes a community of one, and a lot of noise.

Rabbi London’s approach leaves no room for discourse, differing views, the sweet sounds of respectful debate and give-and-take that penned the lines of our ancient books and reverberates throughout Washington during AIPAC’s Policy Conference. By attending AIPAC, one does not endorse Trump, more so than Obama. One does not celebrate Bibi more than Gantz (both of whom are slated as featured, plenary speakers). Rather, by attending AIPAC we commit to a strong relationship between the United States and Israel, regardless of who the democratically elected leader of each country might be and which party they represent. Being at AIPAC allows us to rejoice in the diversity of the pro-Israel community. Being at AIPAC allows us an opportunity to listen to Meretz and Bayit Yehudi leaders and speakers. Being at AIPAC encourages us to learn more about the nation state of the Jewish people and the colorful people that make it come to life each day. Being at AIPAC allows me to surround myself with people of all political, religious and personal backgrounds and beliefs in a safe and welcoming forum for diverse dialogue. My attendance at AIPAC is in no way an endorsement of any particular view. To think all 15,000 people who attend the Policy Conference are robotic thinkers with no nuance and difference in opinion, is naïve.

AIPAC and its Policy Conference underscores the very nature of pluralism which creates a symphony of sounds that Rabbi London wants to squelch, just so she can toot her own horn and play one instrument that only makes noise.

Next week, Washington will be filled with different people, a mixture of opinions and a readiness to learn more. I cannot wait to take to Capitol Hill as privilege of this great country, and to lobby all members of Congress about ways to continue to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. I will be at AIPAC next week. It is a shame Rabbi London will not!

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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