It must be nice to be part of a people that take so many things as gospel. As Jews, we are taught to question everything – even established rabbinical law – until we understand why things are a certain way, why specific customs and behaviors are necessary. Because, for us – regardless of whether or not we find the relevance – we are expected to perform the customs that have been part of our heritage for thousands of years. Our faith is a constant paradox of, “Okay, following that commandment is supposed to be relevant, and I’m supposed to accept that – but why is it relevant?”
Such is the challenge for the liberal American Jew as regards supporting Israel and her government. It creates yet another struggle for an angst ridden and purposeful people, for whom tikkun olam, repairing the world, is an utmost priority. But so is the survival of the Jewish people.
The answer to what we, as Jews in the Diaspora, can do to change the often disconcerting words and actions with which the Israeli government responds to its historical regional adversity is, therefor, not an easy one, especially for an American liberal raised in a very, VERY pro-Israel home.
There is a movement in the liberal wing of the American Jewish community known as BDS, for boycott, divest and sanction, meaning, use those tools to let Israel know we do not approve of some of her government’s attitudes and actions in the region. I’m not a fan of this tack. More on that later.
First, let me say, I am not one of those who would call other
members of the tribe by epithets that challenge the veracity of their faith or their identification as Jews, just because they want to challenge the authority of Israel’s government. Leave that to people like the famous attorney Alan Dershowitz. Dersh, as he is called, recently referred to a group rabbis who sent a letter of support to Judge Richard Goldstone (the Jewish jurist – and strong supporter of Israel – who issued a UN commission report last September critical of Israel’s actions during the 2008/2009 Gaza incursion) as “bigoted…rabbis for Hamas,” and accused them of “blood libel” for saying in the letter that they believe that Israel has been in engaging in “a pattern of continuous and systematic assault against Palestinian people and land that has very little to do with Israel’s claim of security.”
Too much righteous indignation on all sides there. In my opinion, the rabbis letter goes a little too far in taking a rhetorical stand on the report, which they say “affirms” accusations that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in “the intentional targeting of civilian infrastructures such as hospitals, schools, agricultural properties, water and sewage treatment centers and civilians themselves with deadly weapons that are illegal when used in civilian centers.”
The folks who advocate BDS are extremely well meaning. Their intentions, I believe, are to show – as dramatically as possible – that Jews who live in the Diaspora will not hesitate to let Israel know that we do not hold a blind allegiance to Israeli government policy. The thought is that a “bad” action by Israel reflects badly on all the world’s Jews. That is a good argument.
To me, though, BDS is a BS approach for Jews, liberal or otherwise, to take regarding Israel. I’ll admit, on its face, it seems pretty cut-and-dried. When there is a government – anywhere on the planet – whose policies we find uncivil, or even dangerous, BDS is the kind of global response that brings changes. Sometimes, as with the Apartheid regime in twentieth century South Africa, it can bring down an entire regime. It is because of precisely that, though, I do not support the BDS approach when it comes to changing the situation in Israel.
Bringing down the Israeli government would be as bad for Jews as bringing down Lhasa was for Tibetan Buddhists. Those who do not have our best interests in mind would run the country, and, like the Dalai Lama, we would once again be a people in exile.
BDS punishes all the world’s Jews – not just Israel. On the other hand, we cannot let only Israelis decide the fate of Israel, something in which all the world’s Jews have a stake.
My belief is an old one, from sixties activism – if you want to make a difference change the organization from the inside. Find the smaller political parties in Israel that take a “broader” view of the security situation, and do what you can to support them. Send your local Consul General an email with your plain, civilly expressed opinions.
If you want your opinions to matter to Israel, make your opinions matter in Israel. Instead of BDS it should be BTC – be the change you want Israel to be. If you can’t do it from here, you can always move there.
In a way, it’s a shame we can’t vote in Israeli elections the same way exiled Iraqis got to vote in theirs, but then again, we are exiles by choice.