By DONNIEL HARTMAN
Newt Gingrich, a true friend of Israel, attempted to prove his friendship by denying the existence of a Palestinian people. This and other similarly “friendly” statements by Republican presidential candidates over the last few weeks is evidence of a perception not merely of friendship but of what these candidates believe the Jewish people want to hear.
What do we want to hear? What is a conversation about Israel that will reflect our values and sensibilities? It seems to me that this is a question which too many in the Jewish community have stopped asking. We covet signs of friendship and declarations of support and seem to have forgotten issues of substance, policy, and values, principally our values as Jews.
I have no desire to enter into the fray of the debate, nor do I feel I know who is better for Israel, Democrats or Republicans, and whether President Obama is a friend of Israel or not. What is clear is that the principal cause for Jewish disenchantment with the President cannot be found in his foreign and military policies toward Israel, or in his administration’s voting record in the United Nations, but rather in the fact that he and his administration have been deficient in the realm of signs of friendship. He visited Cairo but never Jerusalem and seems to be cold and calculated in his support for Israel and not warm and fuzzy. Into this void charged the Republican candidates with multiple signs, hugs, and declarations, making us feel loved and feeling that Israel’s security is guaranteed.
Given the dangers that Israel regularly faces and the significance of the United States as a friend and ally in enabling us to overcome these dangers, our yearning for comfort and friendship is understandable. However, this need cannot blind us to the importance of asking ourselves: Who do we want to be, what future do we want for Israel, and from these, to derive the answer to the question, what do we want to hear.
As a Jew, I know that my national identity is integral to my faith and that my national homeland is in the Land of Israel. I believe that Israel, as the homeland of the Jewish people, is a representation of my national rights. As a democracy, Israel must protect the rights of all of its citizens, including other national minorities. These minorities have a right to full equality, a right, however, which does not entail the ability to redefine the national identity of the State itself. My commitment to a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel grows precisely out of my desire both to enable Palestinians to express their national aspirations and my commitment to ensure my ability to maintain Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
As a Jew, I know that there is a Palestinian people. I say, “as a Jew,” because beyond the fact that today there are millions of people who define themselves as such, the playing of the historical card to deny present reality is one that we Jews suffered from over and again. In fact, the essence of the current efforts to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state is grounded in the so-called historical “fact” that Judaism is a religion and not a national identity. As a Jew, I am obligated to live by Hillel’s doctrine – What is hateful unto you, do not do unto others – and to view this doctrine as enjoined by Hillel, as the essence of Torah.
As a Jew, I am obligated to strive for peace and to sanctify all life as created in the image of God. For me, one of the meanings of Israel as a Jewish state is that it is a country whose policies constantly strive to create a world in which these values can be realized. Such an aspiration takes precedence, I believe, over the holiness of the land, the rights of Jews to settle in our ancient homeland, and even requires, as all values do, the taking of risks. In the real world, one’s commitments to one’s values are measured precisely by the sacrifices one is willing to make for them. Peace and the dignity of all humankind is not simply a word for an ideal awaiting a messianic era but a value which obligates us as Jews.
As a Jew, I know I am obligated by the primacy of human life and that this commitment to the sanctity of life starts first and foremost with one’s own. I am commanded to love my neighbor as myself, a commandment which presupposes the value of my life. As a result, issues of security and the right of self-defense are moral duties. While moral responsibility must include a measure of altruism, it cannot come at the expense of a healthy sense of self. Israel’s ability to defend itself and protect its citizens, and to live not merely within secure borders but with neighbors who can be trusted to commit to long-term treaties, are self-evident rights and Jewish values.
These are the things I know, the four principles that I have learned from my tradition and the values on which a Jewish state is founded. While I do want to know that I am not alone and that I have real friends, what I want from my friends is more than a hug. What I hope for from my political allies in the United States, be they Republican or Democrat, is to show whether their policies share the above values and how they may help me fulfill them.
We are a strong people, and Israel is a strong country. Our strength is measured in our ability to defend ourselves, in the friends who stand by our side, and in the value and justice of both our aspirations and our policies. To our friends in the American political leadership I ask that you both recognize this and speak with me about this. This is what I really want to hear from you. This is what gives me and my nation hope for a better future.