One of the most gratifying aspects about the State of Israel is the sweeping support it engenders across so many varied Jewish communities. It is reassuring that despite the myriad differences which divide us, our beloved State so deeply unites us. It is equally frustrating to encounter Jews so severely disaffected and alienated by the State of Israel. That they dispute or debate particular policies is legitimate and valuable; however their vocal disagreements with Israel and its policies sometimes transforms into public and hostile opposition to Israel as well as ghastly political cooperation with enemies of the state of Israel. Processing this resistance in Jews can be very puzzling and even infuriating.
It is simple-minded to just dismiss these opponents as self-loathing or self-hating Jews: “what type of proud Jew could possibly be opposed to the Jewish state?”. To be sure, there are Jews who revile their Jewish identity and despise any Jewish symbols. However, in all honesty, many opponents of Israel are proud Jews who struggle to reconcile their Jewish identity with how they perceive Israel and its policies. It is crucial to try to understand their narrative in an effort to both reduce the friction, but also to better sharpen our own basic Jewish values.
Any proud Jew senses a unique moral and historical calling: to showcase important values and ideals to an international audience. Furthermore, at the core of the Jewish message are the values of morality, ethics and social justice. To some, the Zionist ethos greatly imperils this agenda. How can Jews exhibit morality when our State doesn’t appear to offer equality to its inhabitants? How can we stand for justice and compassion when our State is being restored upon disputed lands? How can we provide universal messages when our religious and spiritual ambitions for our State challenge democratic norms? These contradictions sometimes create tension between Jewish identity and the State of Israel.
Where and How do WE differ? Don’t we also believe in morality, ethics and social justice. Given our belief in these core values how can we so fervently support a State which appears to compromise these values? In truth we differ in at least three crucial issues: our sense of a Divinely-crafted mission, a messianic view of history, and our views of anti-Semitism.
Indeed, Jews possess a historical mission and indeed that mission includes the spread of moral values. However, our mission is Divinely-crafted and delivered, not one which merely evolved over the passage of history. The ultimate barometer of morality is Divine will and not popular opinion or current moral trends. Often, we must uphold values or pursue agendas which differ from common moral convention but are based upon absolute and eternal Divine will.
Moreover, we are committed to morality because we believe G-d is moral and we seek to shape our world in His image. To fully enhance shape this world we also study His Torah and obey His commands. If we merely showcase morality without attention to Torah and ritual, we haven’t represented Him accurately or fully in this world. We may be echoing a moral voice, but it has become severed from its Divine origin. Our message of morality must be coupled with ritual-based attempts to amplify His presence in our world.
Finally, part of that Divine-crafted mission, isn’t just ideological but geographical. We are meant to disseminate these important moral messages from our national platform in Israel; our moral voice isn’t meant to ricochet in a historical vacuum. An absence from Israel for close to 2000 years severed our sense of mission from the Divinely-designed platform. Without efforts to return to Israel, our agenda of disseminating moral guidance is, at best, limited.
It is frustrating to live in a world which doesn’t recognize our broader religious mission and, even worse, is extremely antagonistic to our efforts to resettle Israel. We are routinely depicted as an imperialist regime imposing an iron-fisted occupation upon innocent victims. How can an ‘apartheid’ state opposed by so many, possibly contribute to a historical agenda of morality and compassion?
It all depends on how you view history. If history is evolutionary and open-ended, current voices and opinions condemning Israel are convincing and compelling. Current historical conditions, casts our return to Israel as immoral and if current views are definitive settling Israel against opposition is immoral and antithetical to our Jewish mission.
However, religious Jews are Messianists who view history differently – as predetermined and cyclical – careening back to an earlier time and a different set of conditions. Our current historical reality – though impressive- is fundamentally “broken”. We currently inhabit a world in which our efforts to re-establish Jewish nationhood and reassert our moral voice appears hypocritical and imperialistic but one day these perspectives will change. One day the world be Divinely re-aligned and even our fiercest enemies will thank us for the values we stand for and the G-d we continue to represent in this very hostile world. Messianism should never serve as an “escape hatch” to flee from basic moral norms and practical measures of this world. However, this world is still imperfect and the prevailing opinions do not represent absolute moral virtue. Sadly many who view the State of Israel as an immoral enterprise, lead lives trapped in our current historical reality with little or limited Messianic horizons of potential historical shifts.
As a West Bank “settler” I struggle with this dualism on a daily basis – I believe in overarching Messianic historical recalibration and I take active measures to advance that reality. However, while living under the current situation, I attempt- to the best of my capabilities and without surrendering my historical vision- to be respectful and to operate within legal, moral, and practical means.
History and Anti-Semitism
To many, the overwhelming disapproval of the State of Israel is further indication that we have veered off course: “If The State of Israel acted morally, all opposition would vanish”. To many hatred of Israel in the modern world has no justifiable root other than the “despised policies” of an aggressive nationalistic State.
By contrast, we believe that anti-Semitism is deeply woven into the fabric of history. If we are despised, it is because we challenge the world to higher moral and religious ground, and no one likes a whistle blower. Without question, we should absolutely take every effort to curb anti-Semitism and assert all the forces of modern democracy to protect our legitimate rights. Likewise, we should embrace a modern world that has – by and large- offered Jews equality ad security. However, anti-Semitism is rooted in the very narrative of history and will only fully disappear when history itself concludes. The stiff opposition to the State of Israel isn’t just a product of unpopular Israeli policies but more often a manifestation of a story as old as time itself. This opposition cannot serve as a moral yardstick; wholesale and disproportionate rejections of Israel’s morality or even national legitimacy is driven by the same imbalanced hatred which has underwritten anti-Semitism for thousands of years.
It is important to assess anti-Israel sentiment among deeply proud Jews that are unable to reconcile their sense of Jewish mission with the current struggle to resettle our land. By understanding their qualms we can better appreciate our differences and better reinforce our own values.
By M Taragin