Excerpts From the Address of the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Excerpts from the address of the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Richard Block, to the CCAR Convention, Chicago, March 31, 2014. 

[In discussing Israel] criticism and attachment are not necessarily incompatible….. 

There are aspects of Israel I find annoying, demoralizing, even horrifying. I support ARZA, IRAC, IMPJ, and the World Union, and I urge you, especially, to promote and campaign actively for the ARZA slate in the forthcoming WZO elections, because our Movement’s funding in Israel depends on it, and because there are things about Israeli law and society that absolutely must change. However, these feelings are manifestations of my bond with Israel, not impediments to it, and they are overwhelmed by the pride I feel at what is admirable, exemplary, even miraculous about the Jewish state. When I have a quarrel with Israel, it is a lover’s quarrel.

But while criticism and attachment can surely co-exist, there are proper and improper times, places, and ways to critique others, if we want our admonitions to be heard and to do more good than harm. The Torah commands, “Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him.” Rashi explains: Rebuke him, but do not shame him publically. Going further, the Talmud likens those who embarrass others in public to shedders of blood.

Israel needs a many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some is legitimate, but lacks context. Much of it is exaggerated, unfair, uninformed, or plainly wrong. Increasingly, it lurches from offensive to anti-Semitic, rationalizing the shortcomings of Israel’s adversaries and ignoring the worst abuses of others, focusing exclusively and obsessively on the Jewish State.  

…. I choose, instead, to heed the CCAR’s Centenary Platform on Reform Judaism & Zionism, which lists “political support” as the first of “our obligations to Israel.” I elect to make common cause with others who believe that Israel’s security depends on broad bipartisan political support for the US-Israel alliance, regardless which party controls Congress, the White House, and the Knesset. 

…I am not suggesting we pretend Israel is perfect, ignore the complex moral challenges it faces, disregard its occasional failures or excesses in the exercise of power, or encourage unquestioning approval of whatever its government does. Ardent support for Israel does not permit us to deny that Palestinians, too, have rights that deserve acknowledgment and suffer hardships no one would willingly bear. 

Where Israel is concerned, rabbis have a primary duty: to nurture ahavat Yisrael – love for, identification with, and attachment, loyalty and commitment to the Jewish state, its imperfections notwithstanding. The highest and best use of our pulpits and voices is not to focus on Israel’s flaws, but on its virtues, to rebut distortions, oversimplifications, and falsehoods, to provide context and perspective, to inoculate those who will study on campuses rife with anti-Israel hostility and to support them once they get there. It is to acquaint people with Israel the vibrant democracy, that guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, where relentless self-scrutiny is the national pastime, and women, Arabs, religious minorities and gay and lesbian persons enjoy rights, protections, and opportunities unknown elsewhere in the region and most other places, the Israel that has sent humanitarian aid and emergency relief missions to more than 140 countries and provided medical care to more than 700 Syrians wounded in a genocide to the world seems mainly indifferent, the Israel that rescued tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, the only time in history that white people took black people out of Africa to free them, rather than enslave them, the Israel whose arts and culture are as rich as its geography is various and its beauty is breathtaking, the Israel whose myriad innovations in science, medicine, and technology are contributing so much to humanity, the Israel that is infinitely more than the sum of its conflicts.

It is also the Israel of my favorite poet, Yehuda Amichai, who wrote HaMakom SheBo Anu Tzodkim: The Place Where We Are Right.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

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