By DONNIEL HARTMAN
The tragic connection between Memorial Day for our Fallen Soldiers and Israel’s Independence Day, forever linked together in the Jewish-Israeli calendar, bear witness to a story which unfortunately has accompanied too much of Jewish history – a story of sacrifice and pain, a story in which even our successes were always attained at so heavy a price.
Every generation of Jews faces its challenges, the wars it must fight, and where it must marshal its resources. As a people we have been well trained to unite in combating our outside enemies. This year, as I get ready again to accompany my sister and her children to her husband’s grave, I find myself thinking about tomorrow’s battlefield. The Middle East is a dangerous place, and I am fearful that my children may be called upon again to sacrifice, so that we can be free. However, this year I find my mind shifting to a different arena of conflict, a different battlefield which threatens our existence. We have met the enemy and alas, all too often, it is also us.
A culture is becoming entrenched within our community of political fanaticism and judgmentalism. On both sides of the political map, there are increasing numbers of individuals who cloak themselves in the mantle of certainty and anoint themselves as judges over who is in and who is out, who is loyal and who a traitor.
The juxtaposition between Memorial Day and Independence Day forces us to reflect about our existence, about who we are and who we ought to be, akin to the High Holiday period. In that spirit it is time for all of us to declare, "hattanu," we have sinned.
I am tired of reading and participating in discourses over whether J Street and the New Israel Fund are enemies of Israel. Shame on us. I am tired of hearing those who question the commitment of AIPAC or the Israeli government to peace and morality. Shame on us.
We are a community deeply divided about how to help and support Israel. J Street criticizes Israel publicly and called on President Obama to refrain from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements in order to force Israel to end an occupation they believe is deeply harmful to the future of Israeli society. I think J Street was wrong in doing so, but does that place it and its thousands of supporters beyond the pale? The New Israel Fund, amongst the myriad of Israeli social justice causes it supports, also funds a number of organizations that shine a critical spotlight on Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Some of these groups arouse the ire of many Israelis, as their actions are one-sided and seem to ignore what most Israelis believe to be the country’s legitimate security needs. I personally would not support some of them. But does that place the New Israel Fund, with its decades of commitment to Israel and to building a just, pluralistic and Jewishly democratic society here, beyond the pale?
AIPAC, with its official policy of supporting the agenda of the democratically elected government of the State of Israel, now finds itself defending Israel’s current policies on settlements and negotiations. While supporting a two-state solution, it pushes the argument that the cause for stagnation in the peace negotiations is to be found not in Israel’s settlement policies but in the refusal of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to make the compromises necessary to ensure Israel’s legitimacy and security. In doing so, AIPAC serves to entrench the current status quo and occupation, and is seen to limit the public debate in the community around these issues. While I believe that a diverse and even at times critical conversation in the Jewish community regarding Israel is necessary for the country’s well-being and that the settlements and continued occupation are detrimental to Israel’s interests, it does not mean that AIPAC, which has been at the frontlines of securing Israel’s safety through its lobbying efforts, is morally corrupt and thus beyond the pale.
If a line has been crossed, it is not by these organizations, but by the judgmental and arrogant culture advocated by many of their supporters. There are times when it is necessary to set forth very clear lines between the insider and the outsider, between friend and foe. This is not such a time. In the battle being waged within our community, we are losing not to our outside enemies but to the disease of indifference which is afflicting our family.
In the battle against this disease we need to arm ourselves in a new way. We have no need for weapons which inflict casualties on ourselves. We need tools of thought, innovation, compassion, and tolerance which inspire and enable ever greater numbers to move from the camp of indifference to the community of the committed. We cannot afford the casualty list which the self-righteous seek to inflict upon us.
It is time for us all to sit together again at one table and to recognize that we are all necessary if we are going to prevail over indifference. We must all contract our egos and stop believing that our ideology or organization has somehow been endowed with the sole truth, the message, and the way.
This year, when I stand at my brother-in-law’s grave and Israelis and Jews around the world commemorate Memorial Day and celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, let us all say in silence, "hattanu." Let’s remember those who died and honor their memory through reaching out in an act of "senseless love" to those in the so-called opposite camp. Let us honor them by building a new unity which does not need the glue of an external enemy but which is fueled by our commitment to be a united people, a people whose greatest strength lays in our loyalty toward each other. We owe that to them. We owe that to ourselves. We owe that to our future.