Sunday, January 11, 2009

Supporting Israel's War Against Terror

Despite the snow and ice that covered the greater New York area on Sunday morning, thousands of people flocked to a rally in support of Israel and its fight against Hamas outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan. Under the leadership of Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation of New York, dozens of organizations were listed as co-sponsors. Those of us who participated represented a range of backgrounds and ideologies, but were unified by a deep understanding of the need for Israel to act in defense of its citizens who have been under attack in the southern part of the country.

In one way, the support for Israel's military action is indicative of a milestone in the history of the Jewish people: an acceptance of a Jewish state - and ultimately, a Jewish people - with power. For 2,000 years, the Jewish people were state-less and powerless. Although the birth of the State of Israel ended the state-less status, Israel remained, at least until 1967, a young David among nations who appeared to be Goliaths.

Since 1967, Israel and Israel's supporters have wrestled with a new reality; that of Israel not as an underdog, but an Israel that was now recognized as a powerful country. Over the last 40 years, Israel has proven itself militarily, has continued to develop one of the strongest economies of the Middle East, and has established itself as a leader is science, technology, agriculture and more.
The question for the Jewish people has been: Are we prepared to accept the reality of a powerful Jewish state and Jewish people? And the question for Israel has become: Is Israel prepared to exercise power wisely and strategically, and to carry the burdens and responsibilities of power?

For me, the rally was an opportunity to accept an Israel with power and the right to use it in defense of its citizens.
Some interesting points:
  • The realities that Israel faces in Gaza were powerfully described in a cover story in Sunday's New York Times (yes, the same New York Times that some Israel activists believe is biased against Israel in its coverage). The article stated that:

Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital...

  • The rally was clear in its support for Israel, however some participants conveyed messages that were unclear, if not disturbing. One speaker blurred the distinction between Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. While there is a degree of interrelatedness, it ignored the differences and the complexities in lumping them together. One placard confused the matter even further, adding Al Queda to the mix. There was a disturbing sign in the crowd that equated Islam, without any qualification, with terror and violence. These messages indicate to me that there is a need to educate our own people and Israel's advocates as to the complexities of the situation.

At this point in Israel's history, Jewish leaders and educators have a particularly heavy responsibility as they pursue their work. Some resources that can be of particular use are:

  1. Ethics of Jewish Power - by Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg. This essay, originally written for CLAL, was also been published in Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality by Elliot Dorff and Louis Newman [To my knowledge, the essay is not available in full online]. Written 17 years ago, it gives a useful framework for exploring Israel's use of power and its ethical implications.
  2. Joel Lurie Grishaver's recent blog about "Teaching Israel when Israel is at War" gives us an important reminder: In Jewish education today, the issue isn't indoctrinating students as to whether Israel's policies are right or wrong. The issue is establishing and strengthening students' (and families' and communities') connections with Israel. http://joelgrishaver.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/teaching-israel-when-israel-is-at-war/
  3. Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz and her colleagues at Jewish Education Center of Cleveland have once again provided an extensive "Response Curriculum", this time for teaching Israel in light of the events in Gaza. Consistent with other work of the Center, it reminds us that we have to connect our learners to Israel through head, heart and hands. http://www.jecc.org/Curriculum/IsraelHeadsHandsHeartsGaza.pdf

May Israel and her citizens be safe, and may the actions that Israel has taken lead to a time in which a peaceful Palestinian people will choose to live alongside Israel. As one placard at the rally quoted the words of Golda Meir, of blessed memory,

Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.