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Medinat Yisrael and the Contemporary Jewish Identity

Denise Eger: I think there is room in the American Jewish community, just as there is within Israel, to oppose the policies of any particular prime minister and his or her cabinet


In their conversation, Yehuda Kurtzer and Prof. Suzanne Stone discuss whether or not anti-Israel Jews can be part of the Jewish community. As Prof. Stone notes, there have always been Jews who oppose Israel on both the right and left of the political and religious divide.
The real question we must ask now is, “What do we mean when we say a Jew is anti-Israel?” Does this mean opposing the ongoing Zionist project of Medinat Yisrael? Or does this mean opposing the policies of the present government of Israel?

I think there is room in the American Jewish community, just as there is within Israel, to oppose the policies of any particular prime minister and his or her cabinet. This is part of the vibrancy of the democratic process. One can oppose how Israel conducts itself in war and peace, or in business or religious matters. This doesn’t put one out of the community, nor should a person’s opposition be seen as questioning their loyalty to the Jewish people.

All too often in America, those who disagree with policies of the State of Israel are bullied and shamed by the American Jewish mainstream. Israel has many political parties, many different religious expressions, and many different ethnicities that make up the country. This diversity is a wonder to behold, and we should expect no less from our American Jewish community. And we shouldn’t be surprised that we hold a diversity of opinions.

But if by anti-Israel we mean, one who opposes the very existence of the State of Israel and actively seeks its destruction or encourages others to do so, I believe this is a different matter altogether. In our time, the establishment of the State of Israel and the flourishing of Medinat Yisrael as a Jewish, democratic entity is a miracle of revival. I believe that any Jew who calls for its destruction or actively works to weaken the State of Israel by aligning his or herself with the BDS movement or with terrorist groups who would destroy the State of Israel, by definition puts himself or herself outside the Jewish community.

The modern State of Israel plays a role in the formation of our Jewish identity outside of Israel. The truth is, Diaspora communities also ought to play a strong role in the formation of Israelis’ Jewish identity. Especially if we believe in the idea that Jews are still a family, a worldwide family, then we have much to learn from one another and much to strengthen in each other. All too often, however, Israeli Jews do not let Diaspora Jewish communities strengthen their own Jewish identities, not just their Israeli identities. And the two identities, Israeli and Jewish are not necessarily the same.

Seeking and searching together to strengthen our Jewish lives and Jewish culture no matter where we live is a challenge and a goal for all of us in the Jewish world, both inside and outside of Israel.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger, is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, California, and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Rabbi Eger will become President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in March, 2015

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