by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen
In 1939 the British issued the infamous White Paper which restricted Jewish immigration and the rights of Jews to buy land in Palestine. World War II had started. David Ben Gurion summarized mainstream Zionist policy saying: “We will assist the British in the war as if there were no White Paper and we must resist the White Paper as if there were no war.”
Then as now our Zionism insists that we be more pragmatic than ideological.
At 63, Israel is still a young democracy living under great pressure in an increasingly unsettled Middle East. She needs and deserves our whole-hearted support. At the same time, an increasing number of us have come to understand that it is vitally important that we work to build an ever more inclusive, democratic and pluralistic Israeli society for all Jews and all Israeli citizens.
Within the American Jewish community, much attention is currently focused which method, process, or particular actions should be taken in support of true peace and security for Israel. There is angst about who may speak on behalf of our very diverse Jewish community. The litmus tests has become are you a member of JStreet or AIPAC.The fact is, Jewish tradition has long taught us “Elu v’elu, divrei Elohim chaim – many views can be the words of our living God.”
Those who worry so much about what organization one supports are ignoring the real issue. What we need to address is how we strengthen the ties that should bind the Israeli and American Jewish communities together for our mutual benefit. What we must focus on is how to insure that involvement with Israel remains one of the core elements of Jewish identity and activism.
Our Torah and how we embrace it can serve as a metaphor for how we can have a mature and sophisticated relationship with Israel. The Torah belongs to all Jews. We love the Torah; we study the Torah. And yet, we do not accept the Torah blindly. Our tradition of critique and searching began in ancient days. Over time we have developed not only the written Torah but the Oral Torah. There are passages and concepts that we find to be difficult or uncomfortable. In these cases, Jews have for centuries interpreted, reinterpreted and drawn lessons from the Torah in order to inform their own lives in their own times. Just as we are not a monolithic community in our interpretation of Torah, we should not be expected to be one-dimensional in our support and love for Israel.
Zionism was always a big enough tent to include ideas as different as those espoused by the likes of Theodore Herzl, Zeev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’Am or Beer Borochov. We, as their heirs, will continue the debates, even as we collectively work together to insure Israel’s safety and security. Wherever we may find ourselves politically, or however we may define our personal and collective Zionism, we need to know that our work is for the sake of heaven.
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA.