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Arthur Green
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To the leaders of American Jewry at the General Assembly

We US Jews allowed ourselves to be silenced on Israeli issues, but we were wrong: Israel needs our strong moral voice

Welcome to Israel! It is wonderful that you have come here now, during these turbulent times. You will have a chance to encounter faces of Israel you have never seen before — both good and bad — as I have witnessed them in the course of the past four months of my own visit here.

You will see the tremendous strength of Israel’s civil society and its treasuring of freedom and democratic values. Those are Jewish values at their best, as we American Jews understand them: fairness under the law, protection of minorities, identifying with the oppressed, freedom of speech and expression. You will see an Israeli populace awakened from the slumber of indifference, realizing for the first time in many years how deeply committed it is to all that’s best about this wonderful country and all it has accomplished.

But you may also be forced to look into the face of the worst of Israel: a growing distortion of Judaism that sees Jews as superior to others, as lone masters and overlords in a land in which others live as well, as entitled to privilege over non-Jewish citizens of the state.

Make no mistake. The campaign against the Israeli Supreme Court is being led by extremists in the Jewish/Palestinian conflict that has roiled this beautiful land for the past hundred years. Their goal is annex the West Bank while denying citizenship to its Arab population. Within Israel, it is only the Supreme Court, the great bastion of human rights, that stands in their way. The hope of the extreme right is to make the lives of Palestinians — first in the West Bank but then in Israel as well — so miserable that any who can will choose to depart, leaving a powerless and weakened minority. They need the Supreme Court out of the way in order to do this.

Let us American Jews not turn aside from our own responsibility in this matter. The settlement of the territories conquered in 1967 was a terrible moral and strategic mistake. Most of us understood that! Quiet murmurings against it were heard among rabbis and community leaders from the beginning. We knew that most of this territory should be kept to exchange for peace when the Palestinians were ready. But we allowed ourselves to be silenced.

“You don’t live here,” we were told. “Your children don’t fight in the army. So be quiet and just pay the bills. Your job is to be a cheering section for whatever the Israeli government decides.” We let ourselves be cowed. We needed to provide a moral voice, standing up against both foolish messianists and officials who went along with them. We were wrong! We failed in our duty.

Your arrival here in this moment of great awakening in Israel is an opportunity to help set things right. Ask tough questions of your Israeli interlocutors. Don’t accept easy answers. Let them know what we American Jews have learned about the importance of an independent judiciary and the protection of minority rights. Where would we be without these?

As one who has spent his life training future American Jewish leaders, I call on you to explain to the Israeli leadership how vital these values are to the current younger generations of American Jews. If we are to remain one Jewish people, it must be shared truths and values that hold us together, not just memories of a shared past and fear of our enemies.

The current Israeli leadership does not listen to rabbis or professors. But you, the assembled leadership of American Jewry, are a body whom it cannot easily ignore. It is time to take a stand. Israel needs you to do so!

About the Author
Rabbi Arthur Green is recently retired as founding dean of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, where he had served as rector since the program’s founding in 2004. He spends several months each year in Jerusalem.
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