I try to balance my life between being principled and open minded. In most situations the two don’t contradict, but in today’s partisan world of identity politics, it can be challenging to allow yourself to move out of your camp and listen to other people and maybe even change one’s opinion. As a Rabbi and educator I try to be a rational learner, hearing different ideas from different people, adhering to Ben Zoma’s teaching in Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? He who learns from all people.”
Before moving to Israel I prided myself on my political activism on behalf of a strong US-Israel relationship. In addition to my own advocacy, I teach high school and college students how to advocate politically. One cardinal rule of advocacy I taught my students was never to prescribe policy or action to Israelis. Americans don’t have standing to tell Israelis what to do and how to run their country.
The role of American advocates is to support Israel, not tell it what to do. Most of all, public criticism of Israel was never acceptable. Public criticism of Israel ran counter to our goals of supporting Israel and presenting its best features to American elected officials. Focusing on the areas that Israel needed to improve made for interesting discussions, but never advanced our attempts to help Israel and her people. This was true of left, moderate and right wing political positions.
After moving to Israel my position on Americans prescribing action to Israel and publicly criticizing her only strengthened. As a new Israeli I was faced with heavy taxes. Income is highly taxed with socialized medicine, there are regional and municipal taxes on top of the federal income tax, and whatever little is left over for food and other essentials (luxuries? Forget it) faces an additional 17% VAT. Americans as tourists exempt from these taxes and it’s not their place to tell Israelis how to spend tax money or to criticise how they spend it.
I was released from army and national service, but my children aren’t. American parents spend their children’s senior year in high school choosing the best gap year program and universities for their children, a true privilege. Israeli parents prepare for a child to join the army putting them in harm’s way, protecting her people. How could an American, enjoying luxury and privilege, lecture Israelis about running their country? I live in danger of Palestinian Arab terror attacks and an Iranian nuclear program. To Americans these are tragic if not worrying headlines. For Israelis living here, these are stress and trauma inducing local events that interfere with daily life. It’s not proper to dictate how others should live while never suffering the consequences of your advice and criticism.
When publicizing my opinions on advice and criticism of Israel to my friends in America many were upset by my position. As lovers of Israel, they have invested their time, energy and resources in Israel. To give so much and be told that their opinion wasn’t valued was deeply hurtful. I understood their position but disagreed with it. Whether it was foreign affairs, Israel’s procedures regarding Palestinian Arabs and Judea and Samaria or religious policies like prayers at the Kotel, I didn’t want to hear my Americans friends’ suggestions.
I still maintain my position that Americans telling Israelis what to do is unacceptable, but I am interested in hearing why I might be incorrect. I don’t need to convince anyone of my position, but I am interested in hearing sound arguments that can demonstrate the errors of my opinion. If you have a convincing argument about American standing in Israeli affairs, please be in touch.