- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On August 23, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we approach Shabbat.
I try to imagine the atmosphere around the big rectangular wooden table next to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office. I was there once, allowed in with other Reform rabbis to argue for progressive rights and recognition. The conversation was tense then, but civil. This time, it could only be tense. Israel would be damned if it allowed the two US Congresswomen who are on the record and vocal about their support for BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) to enter Israel. BDS professes to support humanitarian efforts for Palestinians but is really a well-known subterfuge to ensure Israel’s destruction. The presence of these two US members of the House of Representatives in the country had the potential to paint a one-sided condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. And yet, wouldn’t Israel also be damned if they refused these members of Congress entrance and thus insult the relationship and respect for the United States and its duly elected congressional members regardless of their statements and attitudes? As the Times of Israel noted, Israel has welcomed its opponents and critics urging a “come and see attitude.” The idea had been that it is best for people to see what is happening in Israel in person and that it is also better to engage in dialogue, as opposed to the suppression of direct interaction. Israel is well-practiced in self-criticism: from its own citizens to challenges from supporters around the world. It could withstand comments and criticisms from members of Congress as well.
In past years, that attitude has begun to change in unproductive ways with laws passed about criticizing Israel. Peter Bienart was stopped at the Ben Gurion Airport, held and questioned as if he was an enemy of the state. He most certainly is not, but rather a highly regarded and thoughtful concerned lover of Israel. My own nephew-in-law (married to my brother’s daughter) had a similar experience being questioned regarding his humanitarian work with Palestinians when he arrived with my niece and their baby to visit with family in Israel.
We don’t know the full conversation in that room outside Netanyahu’s office and in the halls surrounding it, but we do know the damning result. Israel’s decision regarding Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, egged on by the partisan behavior of our own President, prompted condemnation and grave criticism.
The response to Netanyahu’s decision to prohibit entry by these two Congresswomen did not emerge out of a lack of concern for Israel’s welfare. To the contrary, the rapid fire of disapproval came in from all sides of the Jewish world. AIPAC weighed in, as did organizations like JStreet and others. The Jewish world and other allies do hold Israel to a higher standard than other countries, not because of unfair and unequal evaluation, but rather to ensure that values and ideals are foundational to Israel’s continued existence and ability to thrive.
Israel and Netanyahu’s short-term gain has resulted in a long-term injury. I fear that a certain kind of hubris dominated the conversation, with little consideration to the complicated and fragile democracy that has been able to endure during Israel’s 70 plus years.
And now, we are left in the breach. As the prophet Isaiah preached, repair is possible. It will take an honest and difficult conversation, accompanied by culpability and responsibility around that long table. I only hope that it won’t just be in my imagination.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of t’shuvah and returning to our best selves, can’t come soon enough.
Join together for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE. Torah study begins at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short service and Torah reading.
Connect with me HERE. How did you respond to the events of last week? I’m saving the issue of loyalty for another time!