After all, in teaching the world that each person is created in God’s image, Jews were the first to affirm the dignity of every human and the subsequent notion of inalienable rights.
American Jews, you have to choose sides on Israel,” declared Thomas Friedman (3/7/23) in the New York Times for all the world to read. He adds, “Israel is facing its biggest internal clash since its founding, and for every rabbi and every Jewish leader in America to stay silent about this fight is to become irrelevant.” While I agree with the opinion writer that Jewish leaders must speak against the government’s efforts to undermine the judiciary, we must also ensure that the “side” on which all of us fall is on the side of the success of the Jewish State of Israel.
Friedman calls Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to limit the role of the judiciary a “putsch.” Israeli scholar Yuval Noah Harari calls it “an antidemocratic coup” (Washington Post, 2/23/23). In fact, many of Israel’s leading thinkers are marching in protest alongside hundreds of thousands of others. Most recently, in an unprecedented act of resistance, Israeli reservist Air Force pilots are refusing their call to service if the Netanyahu government continues its assault on the Supreme Court.
Personally speaking, many of my Israeli teachers and friends — Torah scholars and dedicated citizens — are outspoken in their condemnation of the proposed changes that would, in effect, eliminate, impugn, or threaten the rights of Israeli citizens and especially its minorities. After all, in teaching the world that each person is created in God’s image, Jews were the first to affirm the dignity of every human and the subsequent notion of inalienable rights. What Israelis are also protesting are the coalition politics that empowered extremists to gain significant ministry positions and influence the policies of a nation-state whose majority voted against them. I share my teachers’ and friends’ fears and thus their objections, and I believe similarly that we should condemn extremist behavior and rhetoric whenever and wherever we see it.
Friedman demands that we choose sides, but it’s unclear between which two sides he is demanding we choose. Though I might disagree with policy decisions of the current coalition and express those concerns to my fellow Jews, I will continue to travel to the Jewish State for my own learning and spirituality, and I will continue to bring children, teens and adults there to benefit from the powerful mark Israel leaves on the souls of all who open themselves. What does it mean to “choose sides” when I believe that a positive relationship with Israel is vital to Jewish life and that Judaism demands we perpetuate the well-being of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years?
Moreover, someone once said that to be a Jew is to live with your passport at the ready. Jew-hatred is rising dramatically in the U.S. While we hope that America is different and while the post-World War II era offered American Jews incredible blessings, I am not so naïve as to believe this will always be the case. If, Heaven forbid, I need to follow the path of my grandparents and great-grandparents in fleeing my place of birth to protect my family, I want a secure and prosperous Jewish State to which I can go. Just as Judaism requires the Jewish State for our spiritual sustenance, Jews who are threatened around the world require a Jewish State for survival. For my children’s sake and for the sake of Jewish children everywhere, I must work to bring about Israel’s success, not to try to weaken it from afar.
Rabbi David Hartman taught that Israel’s existence offers “the possibility of integrating the moral seriousness of the prophet with the realism and political judgment of the statesman (Auschwitz or Sinai? 2/1/13).” As such, when the prophetic call fails to find fulfillment in the statesman’s efforts, we are required to identify leaders’ failings and to demand change.
In this way, I join the voices proclaiming the moral turpitude of the coalition’s judicial reform efforts, but because Judaism demands that we support Israel and because my own future well-being and those of our brothers and sisters around the world may depend on the existence of Israel, I will not cease my support of Israel and its right to exist as a secure, democratic Jewish State.
If Friedman is suggesting that the two sides from which I am forced to choose are between supporting Israel and distancing myself from Israel, I choose the side of Israel. I choose the side of Judaism and of the Jewish People.
Rabbi Aaron Starr is a spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Zedek of Southfield.