Monday, August 08, 2005

Engage, But Don't Endanger

by Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Aug 07, '05 / 2 Av 5765

Jews disengaging from the debate over what is best for Israel poses grave danger to Israel and Judaism. Once Jews withdraw from the discourse over the future of the Jewish state, the withering of the Jewish people will proceed apace.

Michael Freund despaired in a recent column that Jews in America have disengaged from the debate over removing Jews from the Gaza Strip and portions of Samaria. I have news for Freund: there are many American Jewish leaders who are telegraphing their positions on the "disengagement", but while Freund may be disappointed that virtually all support the plan, he will likely be profoundly depressed that most of them are also attacking, sometimes viciously, Diaspora Jews who oppose the withdrawal.

Let's be more specific. In the following (real) example, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent stands as the proxy for organized Jewish leadership supporting the withdrawal, and a local Zionist Organization of America District is the proxy for organized American Jewry opposing the plan. Two weeks ago, the local ZOA, of which I am president, gathered in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Armed with posters and flyers, we sought to educate American citizens and tourists that the impending withdrawal of Jews from parts of Israel will make it easier for terrorists to practice their craft.

Typical American tourists are not likely to concern themselves with what happens to Jews in Israel. We wanted them to understand that the withdrawal also poses a danger for Americans; that it will ineluctably lead to an increase in terrorism directed against America. Indiana Representative Dan Burton, who does not represent any district in the Middle East, gave a speech in the House chamber on June 20 making exactly this point.

But an editorial in the Exponent fulminated against ZOA-GPD's event, pronouncing it "distasteful" for Jews in the Diaspora to publicly disagree with the withdrawal policy. It insisted that once the government of Israel made a decision, that should be the end of the debate.

The Exponent lectured that Americans Jews "should provide... firm support for measures the [Israeli] government feels will preserve Israel's Jewish majority, and hopefully, also enhance its security."

One could have a fascinating debate about whether, and if so, when, it's appropriate for Jews in the Galut to disagree with the government of Israel. I would start with the most fundamental point: as Jews we're required to care about Israel, and to worry about Israel - remember, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem...."? - and that means we must have opinions about what's good for Israel. It doesn't mean we get to vote or to make decisions if we don't live there, but it does mean we have to care, and that means we have to think. For ourselves.

Second, let's set aside, for a moment, the element of the withdrawal. Employing its logic, if the government decides Israel should cede East Jerusalem, or should take out the word "Jew" from Hatikva, or should cease to be a Jewish state at all - all of which various members of this government's leadership have suggested - the Exponent would support those decisions and lecture its readers to do the same. I hope it wouldn't; I know I wouldn't.

In an award-winning combination of insult and inanity, the Exponent charged ZOA and any like-minded folks with providing "aid and comfort" to the enemies of Israel. It piously announced that critics of the Israeli government have the burden of proof to distinguish our actions "from those who sympathize with the terrorists and not their victims." But let's flip the test - ask instead whether those committed to the destruction of Israel agree with the actions we took and policies we support. Actually, the opposite is true. Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad enthusiastically support removing Jews from the Gaza Strip and elsewhere. No doubt those folks are thrilled the Exponent supports the withdrawal.

A laughable evidentiary point offered was that we wore orange; therefore, it was reasonable to assume - actually, to conclude - that we opposed the Israeli government. Indeed, we wore orange at our event, and have been wearing orange for the last several months, to show support and compassion for the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip; orange is not the symbol of opposition to the Israeli government. We wore orange and displayed pictures of the Jewish homes and businesses about to be torn from the land because false images need to be dispelled so that minds can be open to change.

But the Exponent stuffed its fingers in its ears, refusing to accept that there is a difference between condemning a particular policy and condemning the policymaker. To denounce the credibility of such a distinction is to give up on rational discourse. How can we explain the refusal of Jewish intellects to acknowledge nuances and distinctions in this arena? Is it merely that the color orange has the same effect on them that the color red has on bulls?

Those who support the withdrawal no doubt are convinced they are right - how else could they support the extraction and banishment of Jews from their land, their homes, their graves? If they are not absolutely certain their position is correct, G-d help us all. But suggesting that Jews anywhere should not question, engage and expound upon their own well-thought-out positions regarding Israel bespeaks a weakness in the withdrawal supporters' resolve. And it evidences an even more serious fissure in American Jewry.

The withdrawal will either result in more security or more terrorism. But consider: a plan premised on the need to do something - anything - to alleviate a horrific situation is not one built from strength. Physicians used to bleed patients when stumped for a cure for dangerous maladies; I fear the withdrawal is precisely that - bleeding the patient rather than fighting and beating, decisively, the disease. That's what I think, and I'm prepared to defend my position, just as should those who support the plan. But while having a strong opinion is admirable, ridiculing that of others is not.

The "disengagement" of Jews from parts of Israel seems likely. Let's hope the disengagement of Jews from concern about, or rational discourse about, Israel doesn't follow. Worse still will be if American Jewry continues feeding on itself in a desperate effort to be seen as "right" about something that only the future can reveal. Because when it's all over, regardless of which side predicted the results accurately, American Jewry will have lost.

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