/ articles for review

Talking About Israel: Goldstone, J-Street, AIPAC, and the Space in Between

We are a people who believe that criticism is an act of love and loyalty. We are also a people who believe that there is a criticism out of love, and a criticism which is not. Locating the difference is one of the central challenges of our time

The survival of all social structures, the Jewish community being one of them, is dependent on a delicate balance between tolerance of diversity on the one hand, and the setting of boundaries and limits on the other. When a social structure defines its shared cultural and ideological space in too narrow a manner, it does not allow room for the diversity inherent within the human condition to express itself, thus forcing all those who won’t toe the line to belong elsewhere.
A healthy society, if it allows freedom of thought and conscience, will invariably have to allow as well multiple expressions and understandings of its ideals, values, and identity. At the same time, however, no social structure can survive if its tolerance of diversity is limitless. Without boundaries demarcating some core cultural and ideological commitment, there is no "there there," and identification and belonging become meaningless and impossible.
One of the central rules of boundary placing is that a social structure cannot locate its boundary in a place that excludes a large segment of its society. If it does so, then it is using boundaries to bifurcate its society and not unite it. One of the more problematic manifestations of the ideological debates permeating contemporary Jewish life is the erection of boundaries which allow one denomination’s perspective of Judaism to monopolize the Jewish ideological space which must encompass all Jews. This move is particularly evident in some segments of the Orthodox community, which define the essence of Judaism in such a way that most Jews find themselves outside the discussion.
We are witnessing a similar failing and lack of wisdom in many segments of the Jewish community when it comes to defining what constitutes a legitimate relationship with the State of Israel. Many liberal and secular Jews, for whom religious pluralism is self evident in issues of faith and practice, behave like extreme ultra-Orthodox when it comes to the State of Israel. They want to monopolize what is allowed and permitted and willingly define large segments of the Jewish community as beyond the pale and outside.
If we are going to have a viable community in which a love of Israel is an integral part of our shared cultural space, we need to be far more sophisticated and delicate with both the extent of the tolerance of diversity we allow and the location of the boundaries we set. Such sophistication has clearly been absent in many of the most important forums of contemporary Jewish life, whether it be the Israeli Knesset or many leading North American Jewish organizations. Goldstone, Machsom Watch, B’tselem, J Street, and New Israel Fund, and their supporters, to name but a few, have all been bundled together as enemies of Israel and as outside the boundaries of what is acceptable in the Jewish community.
Regardless of one’s position regarding any or all of the above, it is clear that our community is facing a structural problem. Too many members of our people both affiliate with and relate to Israel through their involvement in one of these organizations. A standard of loyalty to Israel which excludes all of them is akin to a definition of love of Torah that demands nothing less than full adherence to all of its traditional facets. As is the case with Judaism, when it comes to Israel, at issue is not the measure of one’s agreement with other opinions, but whether one is willing to recognize that both love of Torah and love of Israel can and need to be expressed in multiple, diverse, and contradictory ways.
A result of our community’s lack of thought and sophistication on the issue of boundaries has led to a polarized and untenable reality in which some believe that anything less than full and complete support for the policies of the government of Israel is unacceptable, while others believe that there are no limits or boundaries to loyalty, and any expression or act is legitimate, regardless of its consequences. Thus, for both sides, there is no difference amongst Goldstone, J Street, and New Israel Fund; everything is either equally acceptable or equally condemnable.
One cannot build a community in this manner, and the place of Israel in this environment is in profound danger. We need a boundary, which on the one hand respects the diversity so prevalent in Jewish life on these issues, and at the same time sets limits as to what is acceptable, and what is not. I would suggest that such a boundary may be found from within our tradition.
The central boundary universally adopted throughout the ages was affiliation and loyalty to the Jewish people. Our tradition was able to tolerate many extreme positions and practices, as long as the person in question still felt and acted in such a way that they were a part of the Jewish people. One of the more well known expressions of this boundary is the Passover Haggada’s definition of the evil child as one who has separated himself from the community. The Haggada even goes so far as to define such a position as heresy and a rejection of the essence of Judaism.
Any position, whether complimentary or critical of Israel and its policies, which is done within the context of a commitment to Israel and a desire to see it grow and fulfill its potential must be designated as within the confines of the acceptable and legitimate. We must stop once and for all the intellectual and political witch hunt which is permeating Jewish life in which both the Left and the Right too easily exclude people from the conversation and thus from the community. "These and these are the words of the living God." If no single belief or ideology can exhaust the word of God, so too can no one be allowed to monopolize the category of lover of Israel.
At the same time, criticism or actions which represent a decision to disengage from Israel and which form alliances with those who unequivocally mean it harm must be designated as outside the legitimate conversation within our community.
Let’s take Judge Goldstone as an example. The belief that Israel committed war crimes in Operation Cast Lead, which I and apparently even Judge Goldstone now believe to be factually incorrect, is not unto itself beyond the pale. The problem with the opinions presented in the Goldstone Report was not with the positions taken, but where Judge Goldstone chose to position his opinions, i.e., within the United Nations Human Rights Council, which for decades has been trying to undermine the legitimacy and viability of the State of Israel.
Judge Goldstone has now done tshuva. It is time for other organizations, including J Street, to do the same. It is time for us to recognize that there are many ways to love Israel. When one calls, however, for the boycotting or international sanctioning of Israel or the forcing of its government to adopt policies which are counter to the expressed will of its democratically elected government, even if one believes that one is doing so for the good of Israel, one is locating oneself on the side of our foes, a side that friends need to be wary of.
If our community will be wise enough to expand the inner tent to make room for a wide spectrum of opinions, debate, criticism, and acts of protest and condemnation, there will be no need for members of our community to find their allies elsewhere, and ones who do so, will be therefore declaring where their allegiance truly lies.
We are a people who believe that criticism is an act of love and loyalty. We are also a people who believe that there is a criticism out of love, and a criticism which is not. Locating the difference is one of the central challenges of our time.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Add a comment
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics