In Response to a Colleague’s Question

Dear…….,

You raise so many very important questions. We Jews are described as being captives of hope, but sometimes that hope is very difficult to find. I can’t respond to you in any formal or official fashion. I am not a social scientist, I am not a talking head or a political columnist. I am just a Jew, a liberal Jew, a political activist, someone who cares passionately not only about Israel’s survival but about the quality of the Israel that will survive.

My biggest source of hope is in the area now being called “the day after.” The cease-fire is in effect, negotiations are beginning in Cairo, and there is little to no likelihood that the situation will return to the status quote ante. The +80% support for Bibi’s handling of the war will now begin to erode in the aftermath of that war. That is only natural. The right wing will demand answers as to why Bibi did not complete the process of totally annihilating Hamas. The left wing will resume its criticism that much of what led to the current war could have been avoided if there had been a cessation of the building of settlements and a willingness on the part of the government to treat Abbas as a real negotiating partner.

Rivlin’s role in all of this will be absolutely unimportant. Peres still has far greater impact on the Israeli political scene and on the international political scene than Israel’s new president.

Bibi will be confronting an increasingly fractured coalition. He knows that from Bennett to Danon to Lieberman, the challenges to his leadership will be rapidly increasing. Bibi is an historian, and he certainly realizes that he has a long way to go to guarantee his own positive slot in the history of the Jewish people.

Will the prime minister use the opportunity to shake up his coalition, to bring Labor into the government and thus strengthen the power of the Center?

The answers are not written in stone, and therein lies my hope. Those of us living in North America have to do more then worry and kvetch and criticize. We have to be involved in creating coalitions of strength and of influence that can mobilize the power of the North American Jewish community to influence the shaping of political realities in Israel. We have to be willing to express our profound concern over the building of settlements and the lack of engagement with Abbas and his government. We have to be willing to express our profound concern over the lack of Jewish religious freedom, of true democratic pluralism, within the Jewish state.

The changes that must come within Israel’s foreign policy must be paralleled by changes within the Israeli society. And all of those long-overdue changes will only come about with the strong, positive support of the North American Jewish community. Far too often, the liberal wing in North America has held itself off from what it considers to be “inappropriate involvement” in the shaping of Israeli society. We have to get over that hesitation.

There are signs that such strong, positive support may in fact be consolidating. Each of us must take up the responsibility of personal involvement in that consolidation.

We have no control over what the responses will be, in the foreign policy arena, from the other side. We can only be certain of one fact: the status quo cannot be maintained.

And we can be very certain that there are elements within Israeli society that are more than willing to take to the streets in a violent response against any and all efforts to bring true democratic religious freedom to Israel.

The risks in all of this are monumental. If we do not handle our relationships in the foreign-policy arena well, Israel could be exposed to immediate existential threat. If we do not handle the reshaping of Israeli society carefully, we could lose Israel as a 21st-century democratic country. But if we fail to take those risks, the even greater risk is the collapse of the Zionist enterprise.

Literally.

The battlegrounds for North America Jewry will be found in the meeting rooms of all elements of the Jewish Federations of North America, in the American Jewish Committee, in Hiddush, in the URJ, in ARZA, and in other like-minded organizations. Coalitions need to be formed. Activists need to sit together. And hope must be embraced.

In any event, just one person’s opinion.

With warm regards.

Stan

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Rabbi Stanley Davids serves as the president of ARZENU. He currently resides in Israel with his wife Resa. 

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