By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
As we’re packing our bags for our summer sojourn in Toronto brings to my mind Amos Oz’s confession that he loves Israel even when he can’t stand it; I discern similar mixed feelings in Ari Shavit’s, A Promised Land.
Critics – “intellectuals” as described in a remarkable essay, published a few days ago both in the Hebrew and in the English Ha’aretz by the Israeli academic Eva Illouz – challenge us to speak the truth, irrespective of painful consequences, as long as it’s well argued and honest. Ardent supporters, on the other hand, tell us that solidarity with Israel, especially in view of what we went through before it was established, demands that we economize with criticism, even at the expense of intellectual honesty and moral integrity.
Those of us who refuse to compromise either with what we think about or what we feel for Israel may find ourselves in a state of schizophrenia. Readers of my reflections on Israel have had ample illustrations of this state of mind and heart.
Illouz only refers to it in passing, but those who like to see themselves as the disciples of the Biblical Prophets should not have too much difficulty in appreciating the inconsistency endemic to our tradition. The Prophets were radicals, wrote the late British bishop John Robinson, which – as the word “radical” suggests – means that they went to the root of things: they wept for Jerusalem even as they proclaimed its doom.
Committed Zionists who’re also critics of much of what’s going on today in the Zionist state, among whom I’d like to be counted, don’t claim prophetic insight or moral superiority; they/we may even have enough modesty not to identify with contemporary intellectuals. But we/they would maintain that it’s possible, nay imperative, to look at Israel from a wider perspective while at the same time believing that a flourishing Jewish State of Israel is essential for the preservation and continuity of Judaism everywhere.
This belief has little to do with geography. In fact, settler expansionism that has infested the governments of Israel since 1967 isn’t only an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians but also a potential threat to Israel as a Jewish state – not in spite of the seeming piety of many of the settlers, but because of it. Terrorism by settlers who call themselves religious is part of the evidence and an omen of worse things to come.
This belief has more to do with history. We know what it was like when Jews had nowhere to go in the world when persecuted. It is different now: as, for example, anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere in Europe is on the increase, so is immigration to Israel. And as the situation of the Jews in Ukraine is becoming more precarious, so are Jews there thinking of moving here.
In view of the unrest in the countries around Israel and little prospect of peace with the Palestinians, the Jewish state cannot guarantee total security but it does offer freedom and opportunity to every Jew and – we must insist – also for its non-Jewish citizens; the immigrants who came here from the former Soviet Union can testify to it.
Nothing of this should inhibit us from holding independent critical views, occasionally ending in despondency, as long as we remember that, without Israel, we may not be around as Jews for much longer. And that’s enough reason to be grateful and – at times, at least – even hopeful because Jews are assirey tikvah, prisoners of hope. Every Messiah may be a false Messiah, but the Messianic Age is for real.