Join the Umpire Movement

The world is becoming more simplistic every day.  Every morning we wake to learn new circumstances that call for more nuance and less generalities. In a Twitter centered, staccato statement, elevator pitch world, this proves to be challenging.

To combat this, I suggest that we all rid ourselves of labels. No longer shall we be Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, Reform or Orthodox, right or left wing. We should create a new movement that I am calling The Umpire Movement: we call balls and strikes, as we see them.

The need for this movement rises to the surface because of the erratic behavior of many of our leaders and elected officials which cause us to calibrate and modulate in a manner we never have before.

How do we engage with an Israeli official that has no empathy for the plight of the Palestinians but is supportive of religious pluralism in Israel?

What do we do with an organization that employs people that are overtly denigrating towards women but, advocates for issues that are important for our shared future?

Where do we draw the line with political officials whose professional agenda is shared by our personal values but, their personal behavior is abhorrent to our personal standards?

How do we reconcile a leader who shoots from the hip with North Korea and engages in childish name calling through social media while appreciating his firm and swift response to the use of chemical weapons on innocents in Syria?

Do we applaud a President that pushes legislation that denies immigrants safety in America, that encourages police brutality and plays fast and loose with the Ku Klux Klan yet, supports Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel?

The Umpire Movement will not hesitate to call out egregious behavior, immoral actions and questionable moves, as seen through the lens of its membership, individually, not collectively! At the same time, The Umpire Movement will champion moral leadership, exemplary behavior and just and right moves, as seen through the lens of its membership, individually and not collectively!

With Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I was witness to countless people put in the precarious pickle of choosing to rejoice in this decision at the risk of supporting Trump (or appearing to), or being associated with supporters of Trump. I include myself among that group. Such was the catalyst for The Umpire Movement.

I want to laser in on the Jerusalem case.

Jerusalem has been the de-facto capital of Israel since 1948. Its Knesset (Parliament) is in Jerusalem, the President and Prime Minister of Israel reside in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court is in Jerusalem, along with all veins and arteries of the government. When heads of state – including all US Presidents to have visited Israel – Prime Ministers and religious dignitaries visit Israel, all meetings and lodging are located in Jerusalem. This is where the operations of the government emanate from and always have.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in no way denies the Palestinian people the right to claim East Jerusalem as its capital in their future state. Further, the International community has gone out of its way to distance Israel from claims to holy sites or other indigenous connections to Jerusalem, (see UNESCO decision on Holy sites that ignores connection to the Western Wall – vote on November, 2016).  Perhaps this decision will balance the scales and remind all involved of the multiple claimants to one sacred city.

Some worry that violence will erupt throughout Israel and Jewish blood will spill as a result of President Trump’s announcement. I do too. The difference of making this declaration as a reality television figure, versus an attentive political operative is tantamount to the difference between a butcher and a surgeon. Trump will need to be thoughtful, savvy and careful with every word and action. Lives are on the line.  That said, when does the threat of spilling Jewish blood inhibit us from moving forward with what we know to be right? When we exchanged Gilad Shalit for prisoners, most of whom were murderers and terrorists, the calculations included new Jewish blood that would run through the streets in order to save one life. When any peace talks had moved forward, uprisings have occurred and innocents have died. Is there a quantifiable number that allows us to sacrifice the loss of life for a cause we know to be morally and politically prudent? If we knew peace were achievable but 1,000, 2,000 or even 50,000 Jews (God forbid) would die as a result, is that pursuit worthwhile? How do we calculate? What if it is our loved one amongst those numbers? I do not pose this question to be snarky, rather to look philosophically and practically at real choices we might be forced to make, again.

For Palestinians and Palestinian sympathizers (a group that I sometimes link myself with) that are enraged by this decision, I encourage you to protest peacefully. Please make sure that after you march peacefully in Jerusalem, orient your demonstrations towards the Muqata in Ramallah and march there too.  There are many places to point blame for the failure of a Palestinian State. Legitimate blame falls on the shoulders of American and Israeli leaders over the past 50 years. Making those two parties culpable does not abrogate the lack of leadership, forward progress and compromise that has too often been lacking by the Palestinian officials and leadership.

I can appreciate Palestinian frustration and anger. At the same time, please embrace this recognition as a clear and undeniable marker that Israel is a Jewish State, Jerusalem is its capital, and the land and its people will exist. In no way, fashion or manner should that fact deny a Palestinian State and the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people.

These reasons are why I believe that President Trump, a person I did not vote for and someone who regularly goes against the grain of the moral and political interests I support, is doing the right thing in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As an Umpire, I can call this as I see it. And it does not mean that the previous or subsequent pitches by the President, to continue with the metaphor, will be pitches I concur with. I also cannot speak to the timing or motivation of the Jerusalem decision. Perhaps it is a deflection from other domestic issues or, maybe this is scheduled to overlap with the expiration of the six-month waiver on Jerusalem. That speculation makes great fodder for pundits of all stripes.

It is no coincidence that umpires and referees wear black and white. It is because they are often asked to call plays in one color or another, as they see them. There are some cases when we, members of the Umpire Movement, have to do the same. When pulling the lever in a voting booth for a candidate that has a strong track record on Israel but a domestic agenda that is not in sync with our viewpoint, for example, we put our interests on the scale and a choice has to be made. But, for the day to day, rough and tumble of life and the many directions it takes, I choose to align as an Umpire: calling balls and strikes as I see them and to add more color to a world that is becoming way too mono-chromatic.

That is why I support the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, even if the decision was made by a President that makes other claims I disagree with and behaves in ways that I despise.

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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