Jews In America And Israel

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 23 2011 @ 11:01am


"Of course, I do think we all have a responsibility to make the world better – but specifically Israel, because I am Jewish? No," – Alison Benedikt, whose essay has kicked up an online ruckus.

Jeffrey launched a punchy attack on this provocative but obviously heartfelt and over-sharing piece. Then he admirably posted Benedikt's full response to it here, while less admirably describing it as "anti-Israel"; and has followed up with an accusation that Benedikt's personalized version of the Seder service is "un-Jewish". Phil Weiss, who highlighted the sentence above, argues that the piece:

crystallizes the Jewish moment. Beautifully and sincerely written, with wrenching confessions about her family's blindness and the important influence of her non-Jewish husband (yes just as my mother-in-law who smuggled sheets into a Bethlehem hospital gave me a path on the issue), it signifies a crisis inside American Jewish consciousness that Peter Beinart and J Street and the New York Review of Books are going to have trouble catching up with.

This is not a fight I can engage with respect to who or what is authentically Jewish, although, like much of Jeffrey's work, it prompted me to educate myself better about the Seder (where I think I can see his point). But I can say that it should be possible for an adult to have a loss of innocence, without being decried as naive or jejune. What matters, it seems to me, is the underlying argument, not the "authority" or history of the person making it. Is Benedikt wrong that the occupation is destroying Israel's soul and its future? More to the point: isn't that what Jeffrey says he believes as well?

It also seems to me that the thoughtful rebuttal posted by Jeffrey from liberal rabbi Andy Bachman gets to the nub of the underlying matter here:

It may best be summed up by the rabbinic dictum, "All of Israel (read, "the Jewish people") are responsible for one another." How you respond to that idea from the Sages places you on one side or the other of the debate … A Jewish people without all its voices is not a people. It's an American denominationalist religion where land, history and language gather dust.

I stopped short at the dictum rendered thus by Bachman: "All of Israel (read, "the Jewish people) are responsible for one another". And not for those outside the faith, including those they may injure or oppress? Moreover, in a world of Diaspora Jews, can there really not be a distinction between being part of the Jewish people and being in favor of the policies of all Israeli governments? Or, more precisely, can there not be a distinction between being part of the Jewish people and being in favor of the policies of a Greater Israel government, an expansionist, occupying force, deliberately designed for the long-term annexation of neighboring territory, with all the attendant compromises of forcing an entire people into subjugation? At what point, in other words, is one expelled from the community because one's interpretation of a tradition leads one to oppose its current political manifestation?

Again, I cannot speak to this as a Jew, of course. But I can say that a tug between one's conscience and the current instantiation of a religion's authoritative institutions is very much not new to me.

I have struggled with it much of my life as a gay Catholic. Am I a "wicked son" for dissenting? Or an essential part of the sensus fidelium for the same reason? Is my position an expression of loyal dissent or am I un-Catholic or even anti-Catholic when I vent about sex abuse, the subjugation of women or the stigmatization of gays? The peril for a Jewish-American dissident seems even more parlous to me. I am not required to defend a sovereign state as part of my religion, and all its attendant moral compromises and evils. Defending a faith from an institution that became a global child-abuse ring was hard enough.

My own view is that the interests of the US require pressuring Israel to agree to a reasonable two-state solution soon. Maybe I'm wrong. But could a Jewish person convinced of the same argument remain a Jew in good standing? I suspect that's where the issue hinges. Is a commitment to Zionism in defense of Greater Israel a disqualifier from being part of the Jewish people? Benedikt notes that her position in the end is not that much different from Goldblog's stated position:

I bet I land, uncomfortably, about where you land: If the decision comes down to brutal occupation forever to maintain the Jewishness of the state or true democracy, which would mean no Jewish state, I would have to choose the latter–but there is nothing easy or wishful in me writing that, and I hope it never comes to that (though more and more it seems like it will).

She's right, isn't she? So why the outrage?