Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Centrist Quandary: Iran Ennobler or Settlement Enabler?

Do I choose to be an Iran ennobler or a settlement enabler?  That, in the most simplistic sense, is the quandary that faces the centrist Jew, particularly the centrist American Jew.

In the face of the unprecedented public display of animosity between the Obama and Netanyahu leadership teams, we are going to be expected to choose sides.  Many already have.  But the majority of Jews, I suspect, wish a plague on both houses for their reckless abandonment of sanity at a time when the world screams for levelheadedness.

The sensible centrist wants to scream at the Administration for failing to have Israel’s – and the civilized world’s – back in apparently being willing to settle for a “bad deal” with Iran on the nuclear issue.  But the sensible centrist also wishes to scream at the Netanyahu cabinet for sacrificing needed world and American support on the Iranian issue at the altar of a settlement policy that is fast becoming seen by many of Israel’s staunchest supporters as an indefensible, reckless and, shall we say, (without the “fowl” language employed by Administration sources to Jeffrey Goldberg), short sighted.

The sensible centrist has defended Israel to the hilt in the face of withering world condemnation in the past, whenever the issue was security.  We spoke out passionately when the security fence was built, when rockets were fired, buses bombed and soldiers kidnapped. The sensible centrist marched in D.C and New York, rallied at the UN, wrote letters and signed petitions.

The sensible centrist understands the distinction between outlying settlements and those settlement blocs delineated as likely belonging to Israel following a negotiated two-state solution – but that such delineation no longer applies if the two state solution has been abandoned.  The centrist believes in Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, but does not think we should stick it in the faces of the residents of Shuafat and Silwan.  The centrist thinks that Price Tag perpetrators are terrorists too.

This sensible centrist rabbi spoke with tears in his eyes this past Rosh Hashanah, as I’m sure many others did, about Israel’s enduring Jewish values.  I said, in speaking about Max Steinberg, the American Jew who moved to Israel and died in battle in Gaza this past summer:

The love for the Jewish state is the love of a state that espouses the love of life – it values the preservation of innocence – THAT is the message of Israel.  THAT is the essential Jewish message – THAT is what Max Steinberg devoted his life to, and that is what he died for.

…I implore you not to give up on the dream that is Israel.  Not to give up on the dream that is the Jewish people. We’re supposed to struggle with it – that’s why it’s called Yisra-El.  So check off Israel in that “likes” column. Defend it from the withering coordinated attacks, whether online or on campus, in the workplace or anywhere.  Write that letter to the editor.  Sign that petition.  And go there.

This sensible centrist rabbi has paid his dues on the public relations front lines – and he’s just about had it.

He’ll never give up on Israel.  But neither can he continue to be an enabler of policies that are so dangerous and destructive.  Yet neither can he abandon Israel just at the point where the Iran situation is coming to a head and when so many threats are crouched just outside the door.

There is no place for the sensible centrist to go.  Jewish organizations either turn a blind eye to settlement policies, thereby losing much integrity in the eyes of sensible centrists, or they focus exclusively on the evils of settlements, thereby demonstrating a lack of understanding of Israel’s real security needs.  In this sensible centrist’s opinion, both the ennoblers and the enablers are fueling this runaway train.

There is no Jewish organization championing the cause of the middle path.   American Jews were excited when Ari Shavit spoke to our concerns.  And as a result, his appearances in America have become rock-star happenings, including one at my synagogue this fall that drew more than 600 people.  But he doesn’t live here.  Somehow it’s considered kosher for an Israeli to go out on a limb – simply by being willing to stand right in the center of the branch.

Few American Jews have done this publicly – though a growing number of rabbis have tried to. Many of my colleagues support organizations on both sides of the divide, as if somehow by doing so we can become the living synthesis.  I do too.  But none of those organizations have articulated a message as to how it is possible to be hawkish on security while at the same time condemning what is increasingly looking to the world like ideologically inspired messianic colonialism. No organization has convinced us that nuanced views will be tolerated. None have convinced us that we won’t be condemned as Israel haters for daring to discuss unspoken truths.

So, the sensible centrist throws up his hands.  Do we fight the settlements as if there is no Iran and Iran as if there are no settlements?

Whether ’tis nobler to enable or ennoble?

That is the question.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307