For many American Jewish baby-boomers -and especially those of us born to survivors of the Shoah, reading about and watching the young Jewish State of Israel blossom into a thriving, successful democracy during the 1950’s and 60’s was an incredible source of pride and inspiration. The 1967 Six Day War proved to many of us that in spite of being surrounded by mortal enemies, Israel was fulfilling our people’s longing for a viable safe, secure haven.
The early 20th leadership of the Zionist movement and the young State of Israel inspired us to believe that the Jewish State would be guided by Jewish values and ethics and serve as a “light onto the nations.” Theodore Herzl observed, “Those of us who are today prepared to hazard our lives for the cause would regret having raised a finger, if we were able to organize only a new social system and not a more righteous one.”
One need not be a scholar of sacred Jewish texts to identify the kind of values that sustained the Jewish people for centuries and made us the defacto moral conscience of humanity. E.G.
- B’ztlem Alokim: Remember that all people are created in the Divine Image
- Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, justice shall you purse
- In eight different places in the Torah, the Jewish people are reminded: You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
- Ancient Jewish mystics proposed that the role of humanity in general and of the Jewish people in particular was to perform acts of Tikkun Olam, deeds that helped heal and repair a broken world.
Many in Israel and in the world Jewish community have been dismayed that such Jewish values have been put on the proverbial back-burner by the leadership of Israel in recent decades. We can’t help but look at the plight of the Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinians living under military occupation on the West Bank for decades and wonder when did the country that was going to be a light unto the nations become guilty of the kind of oppression Israel was supposed to protect Jews from?
It is certainly no secret that the current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was never genuinely committed to the two-state solution that would have addressed the national yearnings of the Palestinian people. It is certainly no secret that a significant segment of the Israeli population have as a result of decades of war and terrorism turned away from noble Jewish values and allowed bigotry, racism, cynicism and anger to shape their behavior and attitudes towards their Palestinian neighbors.
The recent political partnership between the Republican Congressional leaders in the United States and the current Prime Minister of Israel was conceived in mutual disdain for the current President of the United States and mid-wifed by the finances of an Islamaphobic, desert boar who has made it clear that he has no use for democracy and would just as soon nuke-them. As we watched Bibi and his Republican handlers film a shameless campaign commercial on the floor of the American Congress, we were left to shake our heads and wonder, what happened to the Zionist dream? When did the Zionist dream of building a just, egalitarian Jewish homeland fall off the tracks and become a train wreck where the divide between rich and poor has left 1 in 4 Israelis in poverty and peace unattainable? When did Israelis stop electing men and women of conviction and values and replace them with demagogues who put their careers ahead of Jewish values and the needs of the nation?
Some of us had hoped that the recent Israeli elections would provide an opportunity for Israeli voters to choose a new direction. Would the reactionaries, bigots and the hawks finally be retired? Could the mantle of Israeli leadership once again be returned to people who subscribe the kind of humanistic values and genuine aspirations for peace that are taught by Jewish tradition?
Hindsight being 20/20, we should not be surprised by the despicable steps Netanyahu took to scare voters into supporting his cause in the hours before the election. This PM, who never met a policy statement he couldn’t revise, walk back or deny having ever enunciated, once again turned his back on people he doesn’t concern himself with -not to mention his own credibility. He threw 4 million Palestinians under the bus by insisting there would be no two state solution on his watch. If his appeals to anger and intolerance were not satisfied by that policy shift, Bibi threw caution and all decency to the wind by suggesting to die-hard nationalists voters that if they didn’t show up at the polls and vote for him, the Palestinian CITIZENS OF ISRAEL would have the final say on the country’s future.
The morning after the Israeli elections, I found myself despondent. If this was the will of the people of Israel, could I continue to love and support the Jewish state under Bibi’s rule? Can I support a Jewish homeland that denies citizenship to millions of people while claiming it is a democracy? Can I still love and take pride in a country that chooses such unscrupulous, reckless leaders?
That same morning, I came upon yet another video making the rounds on the net of a die-hard Obama hater at a red-state town hall meeting decrying the fact that Republicans in Congress had failed in their responsibilities as elected leaders by not removing that alien, socialist dictator sitting in the White House. I also came upon a blog penned by one of my Jewish sisters in Israel, Paula Stern.
Pondering her comments helped me out of my morose. My values and convictions are still worth fighting for and I’m not going to surrender them to proponents of values that are anathema to Judaism. Allow me to share a critical paragraph from Stern’s missive entitled, Israel’s Message to Obama that speaks to me in the same vitriolic, intolerant verbiage of American bigots and birthers:
“….even now, as they are counting the final votes, there are two very clear messages that have come out of this election: The first, by far, is a message to Obama – don’t mess with us; don’t mess with our democracy. By far, the loudest sound heard from Israel this morning is the sound of Israel spitting in Obama’s face and if that seems too crude, too graphic a message, I’ll remind you that this is what Obama has been doing to Israel for weeks as he mobilized dozens of campaign workers to fight Netanyahu for the will of the Israeli people. We answered. Good Lord, did we answer and for that alone, I am very proud this morning.”
Is Bibi Netanyahu the product of the Paula Sterns of Israel or is Paula Stern the product of the insidious, cynical, fear mongering rhetoric of her Prime Minister? There is a battle underway the world over. It is battle between people of hope and people suffering from the cancer of anger and intolerance. It is a battle between those who genuinely believe that tribalism and war are inevitable and those who believe humanity can do better. It is battle between people who believe war is as natural to the human condition as breathing and those who believe that reasonable, genuinely peace loving civilized people can and must find common ground for co-existence. It is a battle between people whose belief in the equality of every person on this Earth is not diminished by disagreements, tribal loyalties or religious beliefs and those who dehumanize those they deem as their enemies.
For decades now I have recited the Prayer for the State of Israel everyday. What I envisage when I recite that prayer is apparently not the same vision of a Jewish homeland as the bigots and tribalist on the Israeli right and those in the Jewish Diaspora who need to believe that Israel can do no wrong and anyone who questions or criticizes Israel is either an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. I’d like to think that my Prayer for the State of Israel extols the same values and ideals for Midnat Yisrael that made Herzel, Ben Gurion, Meir, Begin, Rabin and Peres the remarkable, accomplished leaders that they were.
Rock and Redeemer of the People Israel, Forgive us for too often allowing self-interest, fear and prejudice to guide our judgment.
Bless the State of Israel with its promise of redemption. We seek redemption from not only threats of war and hate but from the destructive anger we too often experience from being the victims of hate and violence.
Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. As we seek your forgiveness for our sins and short-comings as human beings, give us the capacity to show compassion and forgiveness to those with whom we have struggled for so long. Help both Jews and Arabs in Your Holy Land to recognize each others humanity and turn from being enemies into being neighbors of mutual respect and good will.
Guide its leaders and advisers with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Inspire the leadership of Israel to place the values you taught us in Torah above political self-interest and expediency. Help us to mentor and promote future leaders who will lead by inspiration and not fear, by courageous words from the heart and not the rhetoric of fear and cynicism.
Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land and crown their efforts with triumph. May we come to realize that the State of Israel needs both, a strong military to defend itself against those who seek its destruction and citizen soldiers and citizens who recognize that their own capacity for empathy, kindess and forgiveness will always be the most powerful resources the Jewish State and call upon to ultimately achieve peace.
Bless the Land with peace and inhabitants with joy. Help the people and leadership of the State of Israel to realize that peace will not come about by prayer or magic from above but by our adhering to those fundamental Torah values of justice and love that have nurtured and sustained the House of Israel for centuries.
And let us say: Amen