I know well a philanthropic couple who built from scratch a beautiful facility for an organization doing amazing work to help youth from broken homes. They also have an adult child who has struggled for years with issues of mental health and addiction – and they have essentially no relationship with him. This is not a metaphor, nor is it a matter of irony. It is a stubborn truth: it is easier to build a building, to run an organization, and to do critical work to better society than it is to raise a recalcitrant or troubled child.
The State of Israel, in its current iteration, is a very troubled child.
It is not a spouse. You can leave a spouse, as the Torah would have it. Whether for good reasons or for bad, whether on pleasant terms or in acrimony, two adults who wed their lives together can choose to part company. They can become estranged; they may discover, along the way, irreconcilable differences; they might figure out that they married under false pretenses or assumptions, or that they didn’t understand at the time of matrimony the full implications of joining their lives together.
A long list of Jews across the world have concluded that they must divorce themselves from the State of Israel. Well before the latest government took the helm, some of the prominent ones – such as Peter Beinart in two separate pieces he wrote (here and here) – feel that they can no longer identify with or support the Zionist project as it has developed. Without going into the details of the terms of, or reasons for, the writs of divorce, I can and must point to a very fundamental problem with such a disavowal. The mistake is neither moral nor strategic. It is conceptual, for it rests under the errant supposition that divorce is a possible path to pursue.
When we realize that Israel is a child and not a spouse, we are struck – and likely overwhelmed – by the enormity of the responsibility cast upon our shoulders. For no matter what we do, or where we go, or the fervor or self-righteousness from which we distance ourselves from our child’s miserable, horrid, and unseemly behavior – we are inexorably bound to our child. Their behavior – even when in stark opposition to our own values, beliefs, and actions – is in some fashion a manifestation of something we brought into the world.
What does this mean in the current, painful moment?
No matter how deep, broad, unrelenting, or thoroughgoing your critique of Israel is – Israel exists, and the temptation to declare divorce is simply tantamount to the delusion of investing one’s energy and resources into building a shelter for disadvantaged youth when your own troubled child is still wandering the world, suffering and causing damage.
Every time I have thought Israel has hit bottom, the next day proved me wrong, as Israel sank even lower. When the current government was sworn in with racists, homophobes, and convicted criminals serving as ministers, I protested; a proposal for widescale judicial reform (at least in its current form) threatens the very foundations of Israeli democracy; and when vigilante Jewish settlers conduct crimes of revenge and hatred following a tragic and fatal terrorist attack – nothing short of a Jewish pogrom – one member of the coalition actually tweeted “likes” to calls for revenge, and Bezalel Smotrich, who serves as Finance Minister and as a minister in the Defense Ministry, uttered the unthinkable, that Israel should ‘wipe out’ the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara.
There are compelling reasons to be embarrassed and outraged by Israel’s actions. Regarding Israel’s future – despair is a dangerous temptation. But even more dangerous is the delusion that divorce is a possibility.
The Children of Israel are the parents of (the State of) Israel. And while there may be many ways to be a good parent, the mantle entails unending responsibility.