No. 72: We Still Need to Talk About the Occupation

The following is a transcript of Episode 72 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda Kurtzer :

Hi everyone and welcome to Identity/Crisis: a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, president of Shalom Hartman Institute North America, and we’re recording on Wednesday, October 6th, 2021. And we spent a lot of time on the show in the late spring on the question of Israel for American Jews in light of – actually in the middle of – the May war between Israel and Hamas. And amidst a growing sense of bleakness by a lot of diaspora Jews about the long-term viability of any peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and what that would do for the relationship between American Jews and Israel between American Jews and this conflict between American Jews and each other about this conflict. And part of what a moment like this prompts is political rethinking, and there has been a significant political change in Israel over the past year as relates to some of these issues.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

But for a lot of us, it’s also a moment of ideological foment forcing us to ask, what do we believe about Israel? What do we believe about its future and how are those beliefs altered for better or worse? There are really complicated and sometimes dispiriting political realities. So to help unpack this, my colleague and teacher and friend, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute wrote a recent tour de force essay in our journal Sources entitled, “Liberal Zionism and the Troubled Committed.” It’s an important essay. We’re linking to it in the show notes for today. And I wanted to talk through with Donniel the question of what this all means for what it means to be a Jew and a Zionist in a moment like this and what it looks like to build up and not just kind of not just be on the defensive about an ideological position, but to actually sustain or to grow an ideological position of a complicated and yet deep and hopefully enduring a relationship was items in Israel. So first of all, Donniel, thanks for coming back on Identity/Crisis.

Donniel Hartman:

It’s a pleasure to be here. How are you, Yehuda?

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Good. So Donniel, your essay is rooted in – we’re not going to reiterate the main claims of the essay. It’s there for people to read. I really want to talk about the ideas. Your essay is rooted in pathos, in a sense of something tragic. You have a deep relationship with Israel. You are Israeli, of course. You have a deep relationship with American Jews who are attached to this project and this story. But there is quite a bit of what you described as a kind of tragedy associated with this story, something broken something wrong. Can you just start by unpacking what’s broken? Whether it’s about Israel or about your relationship with this story of what Israel is about for the Jewish people.

Donniel Hartman:

When the war started, I felt that I was in some form of a schizophrenic universe as an Israeli a vast majority of Israeli Jews – and by that I’m talking 95%. And when you have 95% of Israeli Jews agreeing on anything, you know, they don’t even agree that today is Wednesday – saw this war as self-evidently just. This was both a just war in both its cause and a just for in the way it was fought. There was a self-evident moral comfort and grounding. And then as I spoke with friends and colleagues in America, I recognized that what I thought was self-evident someone else didn’t think was self-evident. When you see something and someone else doesn’t see it, you become even more self-righteous. What’s the matter with you? What aren’t you seeing? And actually, because I live in both communities, it forced me to ask myself, well, these are serious people what’s going on here, what’s happening?

Donniel Hartman:

And is there something that we Israelis are forgetting and part of what happened in the war precisely because of my discourse with North American Jews, I realized a place that I and many Israelis have receded into, and that is having a conversation, which is exhausted by whether the war is just, and then really not talking enough about our moral expectations from ourselves. You know, when you live in Israel, you can lull yourself into moral complacency as a result of the danger that you live in. And this war I’ve – you know, you and I  – we’ve been talking and learning together for years, but this war hit home because I saw that moment where I was morally fine. And my moral colleagues were saying Donniel there’s something you’re not seeing. And because I was forced to see it through their eyes, their eyes are eyes that I don’t discount.

Donniel Hartman:

I can’t discount them. You’re my hevruta. I don’t – when you say something if I don’t agree, I go back and think about what I’m thinking. It doesn’t work that way. There was something happening. And this moment was a very – it wasn’t just a moment in which North American Jews are struggling. I, as an Israeli, began to realize that it’s not self-evident that the war started when Hamas fired its missiles. That’s my story, Hamas attacks. And I’m always in the defense. And when you are fighting a war of self-defense it’s by definition a just war, but by putting it in another context, it forced me to heshbon nefesh, a reflection about myself, about Israel, about Israelis in a deeper way, in a way that I’d been dating. I’ve been engaging in. You know, we talk about it, then we go on. You know, we talk about this and then we go on. Throughout our, iEngage project, we’re talking about more, but it’s not – you spoke about pathos. It didn’t unsettle me to the same degree. And I’m coming to this moment very unsettled. And I want Israelis to be more unsettled.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So in other words, your starting point, which is interesting is what bothered – the initial thing that you said bothered you was that you felt okay. You felt secure with what Israel is doing and a sense of alienation and distance from those people over there, ie us who are uncomfortable with what you’re doing. But it evolved into a sense of maybe there’s something that you see about us, that we’re not fully seeing about ourselves. So now, but I want you to unpack that what is it? Because the fullest critique, which really ultimately constitutes something of an anti-Israel critique is not, there are things you are doing wrong in a society. Every society can tolerate that. The deeper critique, is there is something fundamentally broken in your society. And I don’t think you’d be willing to say that – maybe you are. But what is that fuller critique that you now feel that you embrace as a Zionist and as an Israeli about what’s wrong with Israeli society as relates to the occupation?

Donniel Hartman:

I think something is broken, but I don’t believe it’s Humpty Dumpty. I’m not a fatalist in that sense. And as social critics, we have to confront when something is broken, but we don’t have to be determinists and believe that what’s broken will always be broken, is that it’s, it’s now who you are. I would say a parallel – I would go back to the morality of war, a distinction where there’s a distinction in just war theory between what constitutes a just war and fighting a just war justly. And as an Israeli, the two are always discussed, always. Most of our wars, even when they’re not, but we, we assume we are the Israel Defense Forces so our wars are just. And our army spends a tremendous amount of time training its soldiers – and we talk about how do we fight this war justly knowing fully well that the fact that it is a just war doesn’t mean that by definition, everything you do is going to be just? There are some people who argue that the only goal in a just war is to win. But that’s not the way Israel, certainly the Israeli army certainly, or any Western democratic army fights.

Donniel Hartman:

We all wonder how do you find a just war justly? The parallel would be what’s broken in Israeli society is that when it comes to occupation and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, we’re only talking about a just war. We’re not talking about how you fight a just war justly. We’re talking about Israel’s right to exist. We feel that we are confronting a people and terrorist organizations – they’re not the same – who have not accepted our right to be. We feel that we, at least in the past, made sincere efforts and neither the Palestinian leadership or a majority of the Palestinian people have accepted that core premise. So I could be a two statist, but I can’t be a two statist if the other side’s not interested. Now, we stopped there. That’s the conversation. What’s broken is that we’re not engaging in an ongoing basis with the moral injustices of the occupation. So maybe I can stop the occupation. Maybe I have to try harder, but if you don’t feel the moral stain, the moral cancer of the occupation, you’re not even going to be pushed to ending it either because that’s what the status quo is in Israel. The status quo is, is you forced us into this reality, and I don’t have to think about it anymore. That’s broken. There’s an absence of a moral conversation about our reality with the Palestinians that is not sustainable from a Zionist perspective. Does that make sense?

Yehuda Kurtzer:

It does, but I want to push on this. This is kind of key to the whole question, which is, if you take as axiomatic that Palestinian rejectionism that’s there, it always has been there. And in essence, we fear it’s always going to be there, right? You indicate in your article. I think if we vacated the West Bank, it would become a launching pad for Hamas and Iran and all sorts of other forces. And then suddenly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are Sderot and Ashkelon, right? That’s the telos of that process. You can take as axiomatic that ending the occupation, not might endanger Israel, but fundamentally endangers Israel. You create an automatic stopping point around which a conversation about ending occupation can actually take place. And the consequences – and this is the strongest moral critic criticism I hear on the left – the consequence is you’ve now used descriptive realities to elevate the question of Jewish human rights over Palestinian human rights. So, how do we actually grapple with that taking seriously the moral claims of other people’s human rights as part of our Judaism, as part of our Zionism?

Donniel Hartman:

I only claimed that ending the occupation unilaterally will create an existential crisis. I don’t believe that ending the occupation will create. It depends on what we do. When the conversation is unilateral withdrawal or no withdrawal, I’ll pick no withdrawal, but that’s exactly the point that I was trying to make beforehand. And which people, I don’t know if people want to hear. And I appreciate the fear that you’re speaking a moral language in order to enable a moral reality. And I appreciate that critique. And I think I have to – I accepted because I have to make sure that I don’t do that. Can I do that? Sure. I can. I even started this podcast by saying, yeah, I can get there too. I could lull myself into not even thinking about it. I feel Jewishly and Zionistically compelled to end the occupation.

Donniel Hartman:

I do not believe that the Jewish people, our claim to sovereignty if it comes at the expense of denying the rights of another people, I feel that our claim to national sovereignty is underlined. I believe that as we have come home, we have to embrace that there’s another people who are in this land. We didn’t come only back to our historical biblical homeland. We also came back to a land in which another people exist. And the inalienable rights that I claim for myself are the inalienable rights that I have to claim for other people. I have to pursue that. My problem is not that we did not engage in a further unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria like we did in Gaza. That’s not sustainable. My problem is is that we haven’t pursued it. We haven’t worked on it. We haven’t sweated. The fundamental line in Israel is we offered and they said, no.

Donniel Hartman:

And my response now is: so offer again! Who said, because you offered it and they said, no, you’re done for how long? For 15 years, we haven’t sweated the moral cancer of the occupation. That’s my problem. Now, if we – maybe I’m going to be a tragic figure, but I believe that the flaw of Israel is not the fact that the occupation is sustained. Here, I disagree with some of my critics. I don’t feel that’s – I don’t feel the flaw is that the reality is we still don’t have peace with the Palestinians. I feel the flaw is that Israelis have stopped pursuing. They stopped feeling the weight and the tragedy and the moral consequences of the occupation. And if you felt it, then you’d be working harder and it could be that you and I then would have a different conversation. What would happen if Israelis, for example, and there’s real things that we could do, we should want to stop settlement expansion.

Donniel Hartman:

That’s not a Palestinian interest. Like I, if I don’t want to occupy another people, why am I making it more difficult? I should be having that conversation. I should be having a conversation about moving settlers to the settlement blocks, which will remain in a future Palestinian state. I have to begin to lay the groundwork for ending an occupation at a time when there will be a Palestinian leadership and people in which I could do it in peace. The problem is I’m not even in that game. That’s the flaw. It’s the unilateral part. It’s the part which you know, you and I, we’ve spoken a lot about this over the years, we have this love, hate relationship with the term complexity. Complexify the situation, because you call it complexity. It’s when it is perceived as, okay, you just get out and that’s all that’s needed. I don’t buy that. I’m sorry. I don’t. I don’t buy it. And I don’t feel morally compelled to leave unilaterally, but I do feel morally compelled. And I feel that I am legitimately morally critiqued by the fact that I’m not pursuing every single option to bring it to an end.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Right. And you have this in your piece, you critique what you call the “untroubled committed,” which are those who argue that until the wolf will lie down with the lamb, be grateful to be the wolf. Most of Israelis might say, you know, proforma, of course, the occupation is bad, but they’re not really bothered by it. They’re not really. So let me, let’s make it more uncomfortable. Let’s say – I want to start on the Israel side and then we’ll come back to the question of what does it mean to be a diaspora Jew in relationship to this? Because fundamentally our roles in this are going to be really different. You’re a citizen and stakeholder of a society who might be able to make change there. And I’m working with the Jewish community that has to figure out what it means to be in some ways, powerless in relationship to that society that’s not changing as fast as it should.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

But let’s stay on Israel for a second. So to say, Israelis should be opposed to settlement expansion, if you don’t live in a settlement is a pretty easy thing to say. It doesn’t have a lot of social currency. It’s not like anybody’s really stopping, but like,let’s talk about some of the more complicated ones. And one of the most complicated is the question of the army. One of the strange things to watch from afar is that in Israel, in some ways different than a lot of other places, the social critics who criticize the army and the army’s actions, who don’t trust the army are viewed as being fundamentally disloyal. You even take, you took for granted in your – when you talked about fighting a just war justly – you take for granted that if the army tells you this is a risk that you believe them. And as a result, that creates a whole thing, the whole Breaking the Silence story of Israelis, who would outside of Israel criticize the decision of the army are viewed as being disloyal. Is there room in a real troubled, committed Zionist position to interrogate whether that has to be part of this story? That must Israelis take the word of the security and political and military establishment on its face?

Donniel Hartman:

Not at all. I agree with you. Nothing is off the table. If you’re really troubled by something nothing’s off the table. So now I’m not taking the army’s story. When why did you act this way on this mountain with this demonstration? I don’t take their – I’m thinking their account of what they’re trying to do to minimize casualties in Gaza. Yes, but I’ve also had external verification for it. Part of the story and it is biased. And that I think you’re right to question it. See it’s our kids. So if it’s my, even though it’s not my kid in the plane, that’s my kid in the tank. I know my kid and I know my kid wouldn’t do this. So that is part of the credit that the army gets. It’s not this foreign institution, it’s my kids. And Israeli society are the character witnesses of the soldiers. But my general problem in Israel as I find that the army engages in far more moral reflection about itself than the society is willing to engage in. That was the famous case of Elor Azaria. Maybe that’s again because as parents, we just want to protect our kids. And the army said I’m sorry. You are only allowed to use weapons to the degree of the danger that you face and only in self-defense. And he didn’t do so. The army doesn’t get a carte blanche. Everything has to be on the tape.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So let me give you an example. That’s breaking my heart right now, right? Which is the story of this – let’s call it for what it is – a pogrom that took place by the 60 or so settlers in south Hebron Hills. I think it was on what was diaspora’s Simchas Torah. It’s hard to look at. It’s hard to watch. It’s a little bit like it’s like a Zionist heart of darkness. We created this. Now, I don’t, as a Jew and as a Zionist, I don’t look at an incident of what other Jews do and say, the whole project gets thrown out. I look at it and say, we are capable of doing – our people’s capable like everybody else is doing terrible things. I don’t know whether it’s truly a condemnation of nationalism or its crime, but I kind of want to hear you. How do you see it? And how do you watch it? Because they, you know, they got arrested, but then they got released and it’s hard to know like, is the army really going to prosecute them? If it was Palestinian kids, throwing stones, are they going to get prosecuted and wind up in Israeli jail? Is there an – it looks from the outside, Donniel like the ultimate type of imbalance, which suggests that there’s something deeply rotten in this. That’s not just the settlers or the occupiers, but it’s the society itself and all of its institutions.

Donniel Hartman:

I agree. I think you’re 100% right. There is something deeply wrong in the society and its institutions. That’s why I wrote the article. And I think we have to talk that way. I think there’s something broken. As I said beforehand, once Palestinians, in general, are seen as a group of people who want to kill me, it’s very hard to advocate for their human rights, but we have to.When we go to war, even though someone’s trying to kill you, they also have rights. That’s in the Israeli code of ethics. That’s the way I was trained to fight. Even when you’re trying to kill me, it doesn’t mean you’re – in Israeli code of ethics they speak about that I am meeting a human being who has inalienable rights. That’s why the conversation of morality of war and morality in war is so critical. The problem in Israeli political life is that while the army engages in some of them in this dual move, Israeli society has stopped.

Donniel Hartman:

It’s a just war. And I don’t want to care about them, a plague on all your houses. And so you have groups of Hilltop Youth and they are – the vast majority of settlers. The vast majority of settlers would never even think about engaging in such. They don’t. You know, I always, I say this and I want to say it again because it’s interesting. You know, we all know the case of Baruch Goldstein, right? Who murdered how many Palestinians in Hebron? 27. Who is the next Baruch Goldstein? 20 something years there isn’t one. Now every single settlerr has an M16, every single settler has a family member or a friend who’s been attacked and endangered. There is a group of people who frankly are fascists in the guise of religion. And fascism is not the same as nationalism – there are. And the tragedy is that Israeli society is not critiquing them.

Donniel Hartman:

They critique them, but they excuse them because who are they fighting? They’re fighting someone who wants to kill me. We have a right to protect ourselves, but we don’t have a right to humiliate. We don’t have a right to kill. And frankly, we don’t have a right to do anything that’s not directly connected to the immediate threat that I faced. And the only thing that we can’t do is unilaterally withdraw. Other than that, we have to get to work. The fact that we’re not, that is broken and that’s, and you’re right. That’s not just a little oversight. It’s not, I saw this very deeply during the Elor Azaria when 70% of Israeli society said we shouldn’t even bring Elor Azaria to trial. And at the time the Minister of Defense is fired because he wants to. And the Chief of Staff is accused of being a trader to Israel because he insists on putting them on trial for manslaughter. Yehuda, something’s been broken for a while. Sheikh Jarrah. There’s different moments where we awaken again. And I think part of our challenge is not to fall back to sleep again. Because it’s broken. It’s not some cosmetic surface problem. And it’s one of the tragedies of Israeli society. The reality of living in this middle east and fighting this war has changed us. And we have to work very hard to change ourselves back.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

What does that look like for the Israeli social critic? There are people for whom who you will have lost already in the 20 minutes of this podcast who say: forget about it lost, right? When, as you said, the 70% want Elor Azaria to go free. When the closest that we’ve ever heard language of there’s something wrong here that has to fix is actually under Bennett. Who’s using our colleague Micah Goodman’s terminology of shrinking the occupation. Others have advanced this in the past, but he’s closest to Micah’s understanding of what that means. In fact, Micah’s critics on the left side, it doesn’t go far enough, but even Bennett starts that sentence with, but there will never be a Palestinian state on my watch, which means by definition, you foreclosed some of the more dramatic and serious things that have to happen. So what does this look like in practice? But we don’t want to wind up being that the liberal Zionist critics are the Yeshayahu Leibowitzes. It’s all you are, is a kind of prophetic voice in the background who people afterward say, we should have listened to that person.

Donniel Hartman:

I want to give Micah credit. And I think he’s pushing us. And you know, some people will critique him – fine. What happens when you have a moral dilemma that doesn’t have a great solution? What happens when you have leadership who could help you, but aren’t going to bring you into the promised land? So Bennett is limited. But if we have a society and this is what Micah is saying, we’re not even wanting to shrink the occupation. We’re at a place where we don’t even want to shrink it because we don’t feel that there’s a moral problem with it. And that’s the importance of the discussion that Micah’s putting forward. He’s trying to find a language to enable us to talk about it. Now for Bennett, he’s committed to talking about it. Do you know why? Because he believes that – I don’t know if he himself is troubled morally or not – I don’t want to speak this way or that I don’t know.

Donniel Hartman:

I haven’t spoken to him. It could be, it could be not. In his career, he hasn’t expressed or engaged in this moral conversation, but frankly, it’s not just him, anybody outside of the political party Meretz, there is not a single Zionist party in Israel which engages in this moral conversation. So he’s doing it because he recognizes that for strategic reasons, Israel needs to be a bipartisan issue in North America. So you were talking about the relationship with North America. He actually feels I need this. And Netanyahu did great harm to Israel and he wants to repair it. He’s a classical example, just like I said beforehand, of a critic from the outside, who he wants to talk to. Now, he’s not necessarily buying into their moral criticism. He does not have moral angst, but maybe he does.

Donniel Hartman:

And it could be that he’s trying to be politically more astute, but either way, whether you’re doing it for the good reasons or not, he’s finding a way to say, ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about what’s going on here. We haven’t talked about it. None of us, I get up and I alienate my Israeli audience. I say, what’s your plan for Gaza? Is this what you want to do? Are we just going to go round? What about Gazans? Do they make any claim on you?” Now, the problem is, is that the minute you start this conversation, someone says, well, do you want me to do unilateral withdrawal? You go back to just war theory. It’s a just war what do you want me to do? We have to start creating that space. And that’s where you and I, Yehuda, we’re in a different institution. We’re educators. Right now, political statements are going to activate this partisan divide. But as educators, we have a lot to do. What hundreds of thousands of Israelis learn on an ongoing basis comes out of our Torah. We have to start shaping and adding dimensions to our Torah. So if in the past we spoke in Israel about religious pluralism and we spoke about issues of state and religion. And we spoke also about issues of democracy.

Donniel Hartman:

I think we have to add to our Torah, a value policy regarding shrinking the occupation, not as politically expedient. What is the moral essence of what you stand for as a Zionist? Even though I don’t want to unilaterally withdraw from Judea and Samaria, I don’t feel that I – oh, I’m not on the defensive. My moral principles are that I have to do everything in my power to sustain the inalienable rights of all human beings, creating in the image of God. This is what Genesis one demands. This is what the rabbinic tradition demands of me when it says that in our tradition, nobody could say, “my father is greater than your father.” Nobody could say, or that you are obligated to treat others the way you would want to be treated. When Hillel says, “what’s hateful unto you do not do unto to others. That’s the whole Torah.”

Donniel Hartman:

This has to be the essential feature. These are our moral principles. Now in the real world, how close can you get without committing suicide? But because you’re in the war of self-defense doesn’t mean that I put this aside. That’s what has to change. And we need a conversation that is haunted and inspired by our moral challenges. And we have to add that to the content of our Torah. In that sense, we have to get more political, more political about not whether Abu Mazen wants peace or not, but more political about what are the core inalienable Jewish values that have to accompany our Zionism, our life in Israel.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So let’s flip now to the other side of the question, which is what it means for diaspora Jews to be in relationship to this project that you’re describing. And the language, it’s very telling, the language of “more political” is exactly where some of the rubber meets the road in the North American Jewish community, because you’re making the claim that you’re making as a fundamentally Zionist position. We are not honoring the legacy of our history, the legacy of the project that Zionism awakened, the possibility of the Jewish people actually having total agency over our future, on our story. And agency includes moral responsibility. I’m with you. And to tell you honestly, Donniel, throughout the war, the thing that kept me going was not the question of fundamentally believing that everything Israel was doing was right or wrong. That wasn’t going to be the thing that kept me going.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

The thing that kept me going was having friends and colleagues in Israel who were working for the betterment of social change in the name of Zionism. When you have Jewish Israeli citizens of Israel and Palestinian citizens of Israel who insist in the middle of conflict between their communities insist on caring for one another, insist on recognizing their shared humanity. Okay. I knew them. I was okay. Right?

Donniel Hartman:

They were your Israel.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

They were my Israel. So now, and you know, we are woefully under-resourcing as a Jewish community, our values as North American Jews. It’s insane, right? The amount of American Jews overwhelmingly care about liberal democratic values, both in America and in Israel, but the amount of energy, momentum, and money that actually goes towards the Israeli partners to move that forward, doesn’t come close to our value system. So you’re making a Zionist argument. That’s what it means to be a loyal Zionist is a passion for that project.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

And you even say in your article, as you make recommendations near the end, you say that we have to break open the tents in the American Jewish community, around criticism around Israel. And here’s where the rubber meets the road because many would argue that right now, because of Israel’s vulnerability in the world conversation because of the ways people are attacking Israel because of the enduring occupation that it’s vulnerable. And therefore to affirm the Zionist position is tamping down the discourse. I’m with you. I want a bigger tent on Israel because I actually think it brings more people into this conversation, but there is that risk that many people see that when Zionism is considered a fundamentally vulnerable position, that allowing more people in for that criticism is actually going to undermine Israel. So how do you square that? How do you see these two things connected?

Donniel Hartman:

I’m not sure. I have to tell you that my gut feeling you feel I have more agency than you. I don’t feel that I do. I feel you have as much agency as I do. I do. There’s a distinction that is made very often that on issues of security North American Jews should allow Israelis to decide, but on issues of state-religion, since it impacts them, then they could talk also. What we’re speaking about today is not about what Israel’s security needs are. It’s about the moral values that we embrace in the midst of these security needs. And I think North American Jews, if I want a Jewish people invested in Zionism, that is no less central to your connection to Israel, than the Kotel. Then whether reform or Conservative or Liberal Orthodox rabbis could perform conversions and marriages. I don’t want, and you would never do this, Yehuda, I don’t want you to tell me when my son should go to war and I don’t want you to tell me, oh, you know the missiles aren’t so bad, you would never do such a thing.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

It’s when some people assume, oh do a unilateral withdrawal end the occupation. Really? That from 6- 10,000, great, I’m really happy for you. But when you talk about what are the moral principles of the Homeland of the Jewish people, that’s not just about whether we have an egalitarian Kotel or whether we have religious pluralism. Part of what we’ve understood, but we’re understanding even more deeply is what are the core moral values of Zionism. And that’s on you just as much as it is on me. And there’s going to be times where I see things, and there’s gonna be times where you see things. It’s going to be times that precisely because we talk to each other, we’re going to learn from each other.

Donniel Hartman:

I don’t think that because you’re 6 to 10,000 miles away, you have moral enlightenment and I’m in the Middle East. I’m a moral barbarian. But at the same time, I do recognize that there are moments where I’m going to see things and there are moments you’re going to see things. And the beauty of the Jewish people is that if we talk to each other, we could learn from each other. The stake in moral Zionism, the moral high ground right now, who speaks morally? Those are the people who are the critics of Israel, not the critics of what Israel is doing. The critics of history. The ones who basically have solved the problem. The problem is Israel. Israel is broken. I don’t want to be staying by it. I’m walking away. They speak morally. And what’s the other side doing? Oh, we’re speaking about peoplehood.

Donniel Hartman:

We’re speaking about, oh, don’t say. You don’t win. You can’t reinforce your own identity when you’re in the defensive that way, let alone win a public relations campaign. Zionism at its core has to engage its moral impulses and its critics, not the critics who want to repair it. But those who have already resolved the problem it’s over. It’s over really. I’m not over. I’m not gone. I’m still here. There are 7 million Jews still in Israel. I’m not giving up. I have a responsibility. I don’t want to write a paper. You know, Donniel, you’re so morally righteous, wonderful. And I go home and I can feel great about myself. I don’t want to feel good about myself. I’m responsible for the Jewish people and to be responsible for the Jewish people is to be responsible for the moral standing of the state of Israel.

Donniel Hartman:

And so you are absolutely an agent and anybody who wants to undermine it is violating, I believe, the core principles of Judaism and the core principles of Zionism. To ask you to be a lover of Israel and to suspend your moral aspirations is to destroy Zionism. And North American Jews have to find a way just like I do to engage in moral aspirations and moral education and moral expectations to try to fix a reality that’s broken. You have to recognize it’s broken and we have to commit ourselves to repairing it. And you and North American Jews are as much a partner with me in this aspiration, as you are making sure that there is a Kotel for all the Jewish people and that every Jew in Israel could marry and be converted according to their religious conscience,

Yehuda Kurtzer:

No more than any other issue that we’ve tried to work on here at Hartman in North America over the last 10 years has been, how do you make sure that the Jewish people in North America don’t walk away from the Jews in the State of Israel and the State of Israel itself. And the corollary to that, not the same issue, but a corollary. How do we make sure that Jews in America don’t kill each other about the State of Israel? Right? So it’s not just pulling apart from them. It’s pulling apart from each other about quote-unquote them. You’re adding more teeth to that, right? You’re adding that the moral character of the State of Israel and the moral character of the Jewish people is part of it. That pure connectivity on the basis of Jewish peoplehood is, I agree with you, it’s never going to be that compelling and ultimately winds up, arguably papering over some of our big moral challenges as though it’s either ahavat yisrael or a Jewish people with moral integrity like that, those –

Yehuda Kurtzer:

We want them to be together. What you’re talking about, those also winning. I want to talk to like, how does, how do you, what is an idea, what does it mean to win an ideology? You said before, I’m not a politician, I’m an educator. I’m with you. Neither of us is running for office. And I don’t want to do that.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

That’s not that interesting, right? You win sure –

Donniel Hartman:

We’re not that good at it.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Not that good. Nobody’s voting press anyway, but you do want to win ideologically. And there are so much weight that the political realities create. You allude to this in your article, you say there are forces beyond our control and they include the political considerations in Israel, culture and language, the general political climate polarization, et cetera. But you want to – we want the Jewish people to believe it. We want them to remain stakeholders in this. What’s that look like? How does that actually happen?

Donniel Hartman:

I think part of what we’re going to have to do over the next number of years together is we’re going to have to be much clearer and the price is going to be, we’re going to lose some of our supporters. Because if we’re going to win by changing the Zionist discourse in Israel and North America, we can’t always give in to the partisan divides. We have to know that we’re not doing partisan politics. We have to know that we are not saying where the borders of Israel should be, one-state, two-state, cantons. We have to know that we’re not doing that. Everybody else is going to tell us that that’s what we’re doing. We’ve been quiet and haven’t been clear enough. And I think we’re going to have to take some more risks. We’re going to have to be much clearer about what’s at stake here, what our moral positions are, and what our political positions are not.

Donniel Hartman:

And some people are going to be angry. And the Hartman Institute, while I believe that we need a bigger tent, it’s going to be the fact that our tent might not be as big as it used to be because those who want North American Jews or those in Israel who want pro-Israel to basically suspend the moral conversation are going to be increasingly uncomfortable. And we’re going to have to find a space that’s counter-cultural that doesn’t just speak about shrinking the occupation a la Bennett because we needed to be bipartisan. But how do we talk about this Zionist project that embraces our ultimate goals. That’s what we’re going to have to do. And when you have a clear moral passion right now, what you and I yearn for doesn’t have the moral high ground. You don’t inherit. You have to earn it. You have to earn it by constantly engaging in a serious conversation about our moral expectations of ourselves, of power, of the people who’ve come home.

Donniel Hartman:

What are our moral expectations? And so at the time, we’ll always have to say yes, and we accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel. And yes, we have to be serious about our commitment to Israel’s survival, but we can’t let our commitment to Israel’s survival quiet the discourse around Zionism in Israel or in North America. When we do that, we’re going to lose. We’re either going to lose North American Jews, but we’re going to lose Zionism because something’s broken. So I want to win. And I think the way to win is through moral courage, moral clarity, and not giving up. Not giving up the way either one of the sides wants us to give up. And we’re, I think it’s going to be a difficult time for us, Yehuda, but I think neither you nor I went into this business for, we’re not looking for, we want to make a real difference. And I think in North America that we have to be at the vanguard of fighting for the moral high ground of liberal Zionism. That’s what this article is. And in Israel, we have to do the same thing and find evermore audiences who are willing to engage in that conversation.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Well, thank you for listening to our show and special, thanks to Donniel Hartman, our guest this week. Identity/Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Louis Gordon with assistance from Miri Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz and music provided by so-called. Donniel’s article titled, “Liberal Zionism and the Troubled Committed: Shifting North American Discourse” appears in the most recent issue of our Sources journal, which just came out. To read and subscribe in print or online, go to sourcesjournal.org. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs. To find them to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at shalomhartman.org. We’d love to know what you think about the show and you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people find the show. And you can write to us [email protected] You can subscribe to our show everywhere else podcasts are available. See you next week and thank you for listening.