Marc J. Rosenstein

Memo to Prime Minister Netanyahu

I have found it frustrating trying to find a way out of the depressing reality portrayed in the newsfeed of these times. After all, who am I, just an ordinary citizen looking on helplessly at what seems a downward spiral? But then I thought of something helpful I could do: I offer, herewith, a proposed text for a speech for you to deliver, about a month from now, addressing the nation in honor of the beginning of the season of Passover and the ensuing “national high holy days” of Israel. You are of course free to edit, and are welcome to add a paragraph or two apologizing for any unfortunate decisions in recent years.

I don’t ask for credit. It’s the least I can do. Best wishes.

On this first day of Nissan, the beginning, as our tradition has it, of the season of our liberation, I want to share with you my thoughts on transitions and on liberation.

It feels to me appropriate that on this day I announce my decision – not an easy one, to be sure – to retire from national leadership and political life, and to hand the reins to a new generation of leaders. This is not the time to review my contributions to Israel’s development and security; I’ll leave that to historians and biographers (and my own memoir, forthcoming). It is a record of which I am proud, and I will of course miss the feeling of responsibility and excitement that characterized these years of my national leadership. However, I believe that it is time for a new beginning – a new phase in my life and in that of the nation and the region.

As I step aside, even as the war effort I have so resolutely led continues in Gaza, I offer some principles to guide ending the war and building the future. These are understandings I have gained from these years of often difficult and even painful experience, that I hope will be helpful to those who come after me. Some of these thoughts may surprise you; in politics, one cannot always express – or implement – what one believes or discovers. But as of today, I am released from that restriction, and can express myself freely. These are abstract concepts, but I have come to realize that we need to articulate and agree on our guiding principles in order to formulate successful tactics and to engage constructively with the world around us:

The Jewish nation: Our Torah speaks of “a great nation” and “a holy people.” These two are not always easy to reconcile. The demands of physical power – needed for survival and thriving – sometimes are in tension with spiritual, moral power. But it is our unique honor – and burden – to constantly strive for this reconciliation. In any case, we are a nation with deep roots and a glorious tradition and culture – and a right to life and self-determination as a distinct nation in our ancestral homeland. That right is neither inferior – nor superior – to that of any other nation in the family of nations.

The Land of Israel: There is no question that the Land of Israel is indeed our ancestral homeland where we have long prayed to be granted restored sovereignty. But the “Land of Israel,” which we took to calling “Palestine” in the years before 1948, has not ever had clearly demarcated borders, and when the United Nations granted our request to declare a state, we accepted the principle that the borders of our state would have to be determined by agreement with our neighbors.

The Palestinian nation: Though there has never been a state called “Palestine,” and while Palestinian national identity is not rooted in ancient sources like Jewish identity, nevertheless, there is a Palestinian nation today, and it is to be accorded the same right to life and self-determination as any other nation. The Palestinians, like the Jews, have a claim to roots in the “Land of Israel/Palestine.” That claim, like the Jewish claim, must be respected, and both nations must be found a framework for national self-determination in that territory, by sharing or partitioning it in a mutually agreed-upon way.

The historical moment: As always, we may or may not be living in messianic times. We have no way to know. Our history has taught us that we have no insight into the process of redemption, and that we must live our lives and make our decisions and set our policies as if that redemption is not imminent – only a faint light on the horizon drawing us forward to utopia. This means that we must govern our state, and relate to our neighbors, friends, and enemies in the context of values, costs, and benefits determined by mundane, real-time, human criteria. We strive to be better than other nations, morally; but we can make no claim to exceptionalism, divinely ordained or otherwise.

The historical process: Both we and the Palestinians have spilled a lot of blood, and caused and experienced untold suffering over the past century as we refused to accept the above principles. We have both built an identity on victimhood, claiming the monopoly on suffering and thus the high moral ground. It is time for us to end that stalemate; it is time for both sides to take responsibility for the past – and for the future – and relinquish visions of “total victory.” Either we will find a way to live here together (or side-by-side), or soon this will be a place where no one can live at all.

Freedom: Our tradition places a very high value on the concept of teshuvah. We believe that human beings – both individuals and nations – can change, that they are not predestined to particular patterns of thought or behavior. They can be educated, convinced, enlightened. They are not born righteous, or merciful – nor are they born terrorists. They can change their views, they can repent, they can apologize, and they can forgive. All people and all peoples. If we lose sight of this principle, we and our children and our children’s children are doomed to an endless cycle of resentment, revenge, and suffering.

The hope of redemption: Together, we can win.

Thank you very much. Am Yisrael Hai!

About the Author
Marc Rosenstein grew up in Chicago, was ordained a Reform rabbi, and received his PhD in modern Jewish history from The Hebrew University. He made aliyah with his family in 1990, to Moshav Shorashim in the Galilee. He served for 20 years as executive director of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education, and for six as director of the Israel rabbinic program of HUC in Jerusalem. Most recent books: Turnng Points in Jewish History (JPS 2018); Contested Utopia: Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities (JPS 2021).
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