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Some Reflections in the Wake of the Israeli Elections

Rabbi David for 2014 classby Rabbi David J. Cooper

I write this the morning after the Israeli elections. Some part of me felt that, to some degree, it wouldn’t make much of a difference whether Herzog and Livni won, or whether Netanyahu won (except for the schadenfreude I hoped to experience on Netanyahu’s defeat). But now in the wake of his expected ability to form a coalition of the right and his clearest rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state, I think that this may be a significant turn for the worse, or perhaps, the natural consequence of the accumulated decisions of the past.

And these thoughts about Israel and Kehilla come to me as I have been reading the responses to the survey that our Middle East Peace Committee circulated a few months ago to get an assessment of our congregants’ relationship to some of the issues involved. Hopefully, next month, we’ll report here some of the number-crunching from that survey.

In the meantime, I can say this: that we have a great deal of consensus about several issues, and a spectrum of feelings on others. About having the synagogue to be a place of open discussion, there is a consensus. About Kehilla being in alignment with traditional values of empathy and responsibility for the other, there is a consensus. But about what we as Kehilla or as individuals should or could do to respond to the Israel/Palestine conflict, that is where we have a spectrum.

Even if we all believed that both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis should have equal human and civil rights, the arena for the exercise of those rights can differ substantially. Two states could be the context in which there is a Jewish majority in one and a Palestinian majority in the other. One state could also be the context, but it would not be a state that, for better or worse, would have a Jewish majority for long. At least, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog were wrestling with the issue of an agreement that would recognize or affirm these rights. (Whether they could actually bring themselves to make the compromises necessary is questionable.) But Netanyahu has announced that there is no future for civil and human rights for the Palestinians and no prospect for their national aspirations between the Jordan River and the sea.

If this is indeed a majority position in the Israeli Jewish public, it isn’t for the majority in the American Jewish public according to recent and less recent polls. So if Kehilla’s membership is out of step with Netanyahu’s world-view, we are nevertheless in some alignment with the majority of American Jewry.

But there is a dispute about dispute among American Jews. Largely as a result of purse-string manipulation, there is a censuring and exclusion of positions that are more critical of Israeli policy or advocate more militant non-violent strategies against the Occupation. But the exclusion of both discussion topics as well as the discussants themselves from communal participation does not, I believe, create cohesiveness, but quite the opposite.

Perhaps Kehilla’s greatest contribution in all of this may be to demonstrate and model how, as the situation in Israel/Palestine becomes even more dire, a community can still embrace its total spectrum and encourage compassionate listening and open discussion in the safety of a synagogue of mutual care and support.

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