These past months have been rife with political drama – here in the United States and in Israel. I am writing this in early February so don’t know what has happened in recent weeks, but I cannot imagine they have been any less drama-filled thanks to ongoing Democratic primaries, yet another Israeli election, and release of our administration’s latest “Israeli peace plan.”
The challenge of being Jewish at this time was well represented by the Chronicle’s December Point/Counterpoint as Lloyd Levin and Jim Beer presented opposing views on the impact of (the current administration/Trump’s presidency) on American Jewry. Or did they?
While I obviously agree that the uptick in antisemitic attacks is bad, the notion that support of a right-wing, maximalist view of Israel is “good for the Jews” is a myth. It also directly opposes a majority of the American Jewish community. According to a 2019 AJC poll, American Jews support a two-state solution, disapprove of the current administration’s actions regarding Israel, and believe that Israel should be willing to withdraw, at least partially, from the West Bank. This conflation of antisemitism with progressive politics around Israel is a weapon too often wielded against Jews for the sake of the Evangelical Christian community, which generally disagrees with a clear majority of Jews on domestic policy.
The added danger is that this weapon strikes a fissure within the Jewish community. As society has become more intense and fractured, it has become easy to use blunt black-and-white questions to determine who is acceptable in Jewish circles, primarily “Are you a Zionist?” and “Do you support BDS?” For many of us “Well, that depends. What do you mean by Zionism/BDS?” is the best answer. But, as in the broader culture right now, few people seem to have the patience or mindset for the conversation that ensues from the answer, “Well, that depends.”
Resistance to the expression of thoughtful, values-driven, concerns about Israel, or the admission that you avoid products made in settlements, pushes folks out of the middle, as in our national politics. The continuing decline of young people from the conventional Jewish fold is connected to this issue. Many in this cohort express their Jewish identity and live out their Jewish values through activism in support of the immigrant, the poor, and the marginalized. They are often joined by other progressive Jews, many of whom feel that they have no home within the Jewish community. The fault line drawn around the contemporary Eretz Yisrael/the State of Israel divides them from their ancestral B’nai Yisrael/Jewish people.
Sadly, Israel’s politics are as divisive as ours and are characterized by an increase of bigotry against minorities, immigrants, and people of color through legislation and rhetoric. While Jews in the US are on the losing side of that equation, in Israel most of us would be in the majority, exceptions being Jews of color and/or of non-European descent. At least in Israel there is effective gun control. It is painful to recognize that Israeli politics can be as ugly as our own, with Jews in charge. But there is a wide swath of Israelis who do not support these policies as well as many activist Israelis striving to bring more tzedek v’chesed to their land. Here too, many of us are guided by our Jewish values to fight for justice and goodness to our troubled country and city. Our voice is stronger if it is not divided.
Rabbi Michal Woll is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Hadash. Her opinions are her own and do not represent her congregation or any other organization.