Honest Disclosure and Bernie Sanders

Honest disclosure: I have never met Simone Zimmerman.

Second honest disclosure: Simone Zimmerman has never met the State of Israel.

I write this not as a screed against Simone, Bernie Sander’s recently named “Jewish Outreach Director” in advance of the New York Democratic party’s primary. Much more to the point, mine is a criticism of those who use words like “injustice” “occupation” “unlawful” and “racism” to describe Israel and Israeli society — yet have no idea of what it is to live, work, and raise a family Israel.

When Karl Marx wrote the essays providing the foundational thinking for Marxism and socialism, he did so from the heart of industrial London. Marx writes in the preface to Das Kapital that he had to live in England, the very heart of the Industrial Revolution (or as he writes, “its classic ground”) in order to properly criticize it.

Credible analysis requires knowledge, which itself requires presence and experience. Those who hurl criticisms at a state they know little about are not just wrong, but also of questionable moral integrity. The Rabbis of the Talmud justly warn “do not judge your fellow person until you are in their place”. In other words, experiential understanding of the “other” is indispensable to making judgements about them. How do you judge if you don’t know?

For the record, and specifically with regard to Simone Zimmerman, “family trips”, “youth group tours” and having some classmates who made aliyah hardly qualifies one as a credible analyst.

Such “analysts” make passing judgements on Israeli military tactics. They cite the Gaza embargo, Israel’s incursions in the West Bank, and its recent operation in Gaza in the summer of 2014 as “grossly disproportional” and a “violation of international law”. The likes of Simone Zimmerman have no military experience, yet are invariably ready to condemn the tactics and strategies of Israel’s military. On the contrary, following a months-long investigation into the 2014 Gaza conflict, a group of retired generals and defense officials from Germany, Colombia, India, Spain, Australia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Italy found that Israel not only abided by the laws of armed conflict, but far surpassed the normative requirements of warfare.

Before rendering judgment on difficult matters, wouldn’t you wisely first search out experts with actual experience? Real life, actual first hand experience, is the starting point of serious and credible thinking.

Just two months ago, Simone Zimmerman wrote in Haaretz that American Jews of her generation are “not disengaging from Israel, in fact we’re paying attention to what’s happening in Israel – and we are angry.”

I’m an American Jew. I’ve been a synagogue rabbi for more than two decades. I’ve lived in Israel. I say with respect: too many like Ms. Zimmerman who trumpet their “anger” about Israel have insufficient experience with and in Israel to render judgement. Go live in the Jewish nation; send your children to defend the ground on which you’ll live; endeavor to work and raise a family in Israel. Then, by all means, offer your judgements, and yes, even your anger too.

About the Author
Aaron Flanzraich is the Senior Rabbi at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto, Canada and the author of “The Small, Still Voice” an argument against Jewish fundamentalism.