Sunday, October 20, 2013
by Alan Edelstein
(originally published in The Times of Israel)
There are about 14 million Jews in the world. My guess is that about nine or 10 million are not connected, not involved, or just otherwise busy, unless they are Israelis, in which case being Jewish means for most just living, paying taxes, working, raising kids, arguing about the country, and all the other mundane but important activities of daily life.
So, by my figuring, that leaves about four or five million who are connected in some way or another. For only four or five million people, we Jews seem to have more organizations, institutes, think tanks, museums, you-name-it, than anyone else in the world. It wouldn't surprise me if every connected Jew could have his or her own organization.
And we seem to study, think, discuss, and debate every angle of being Jewish that one can possibly imagine. Just when I thought we had done all that are possible, a new one has popped up. The latest craze in organizations and subjects is dedicated to discussing what you can discuss about Israel and still be "pro-Israel" or in "support" of Israel. That's right. We Jews have to have a debate about what it is we are debating.
My own hometown of Sacramento has gotten into the act. First, there was a program on "Civil Discourse." Reports that I received indicate that it was basically a session stacked with anti-Israel folks saying that we should include them in our community conversations and that we should be nice when talking with them.
Now we've got an organization called "TICVA, The Israel Civil Voice Alliance." TICVA's sponsoring a program entitled "Is There More Than One Way for the Jewish Community to Support Israel?" Panelists are the president of the Jewish Federation, the co-director of the New Israel Fund's San Francisco office, J Street's Northwest Regional director, and a long-time pro-Israel activist who is a retired professor at University California at Davis, which is just down the road from Sacramento. The panel will be followed by "community dialogue facilitated by" a local rabbi who serves on J Street's rabbinic cabinet.
There is an argument that some are pushing this effort as a way to gain inclusion for groups that are highly critical of or outright anti-Israel not so much as to facilitate discussion but for the purpose of being able to say, "Look, even the Jewish community has a split when it comes to support for Israel. It's mainstream to consider Israel's actions and existence questionable." According to this line of thinking, getting included in the "big tent" will help these groups in their efforts to weaken and discredit Israel.
Putting aside this cynical possibility, one is prompted to wonder if a community really needs a panel discussion to answer the question of whether there is more than one way to support Israel? Isn't it obvious? Of course there is, and that's where the myriad of organizations to which I made reference comes in.
We Jews have more organizations ready to support Israel than one can imagine. All one has to do is join. Only Jews would think that you need a panel discussion to figure this out. What will they talk about after saying "yes?"
If one wishes to support Israel politically, one can join an organization such as AIPAC or the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting Israel does not mean failing to mention that, as a democracy, its citizens debate critical issues and many disagree with the current government.
However, in that circumstance, supporting Israel does mean having the knowledge and ability to explain multiple positions, including ones with which you may disagree. It also requires taking the time to understand historical context. In other words, it requires time and dedication, not just a desire to feel on the side of what is right and comfortable.
But there are many ways to support Israel without having to move into the political realm. One can support Israel by supporting Israeli civil rights organizations, Israeli organizations that feed the hungry, Israeli organizations that promote education, Israeli organizations that defend the rights of minorities, Israeli organizations that support the disabled, Israeli organizations that promote sports and fitness, Israeli organizations that protect the environment. And for every Israeli organization, there seems to be at least one "American Friends of. . ." organization.
The list goes on and on. Opportunities for supporting Israel are unending, thanks to the Jewish propensity for organizations and the fact that Israel is a vibrant and open democracy .
But, wait, perhaps that kind of "support" is not what those who want to debate "support" have in mind. Maybe they don't want "support" to mean "support." Maybe they want "support" to mean "criticize." Or perhaps they want it to mean "tell Israel what to do."
Perhaps they want "support" to mean lobbying the U.S. government to pressure Israel to do things or take positions that its democratically elected leaders do not feel is in Israel's best interest. Perhaps they want "support" to mean imposing their judgment regarding what is in Israel's best interests of its citizens, despite their protestations that they put a high value on and worry about the vibrancy of Israel's democracy.
Groups who want to support Israel by advocating positions against what it believes is in its interest certainly have every right to do so. And doing this can certainly make one feel comfortable that he or she is promoting what he or she thinks is good for Israel, or for the "oppressed." Doing this can certainly make one feel good.
But to call that "support" is an insult to one's intelligence, not to mention Webster's. And it certainly does not require a panel discussion on what I'm guessing is a nice fall evening in Sacramento. It simply requires use of a dictionary.