This past Kabbalat Shabbat at Temple Israel I reflected on three meetings I had in the 36 hours that preceded the lighting of Shabbat candles; a national phone conference with Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street, that included 25 other individuals among whom were Rabbis and leaders of the J Street national board, a lunch meeting attended by 7 other Los Angeles Rabbis with Brigadier General Nathaniel Dagan, the former chief education officer of the IDF, and a breakfast meeting with an old friend, Daniel Sokatch, now the CEO of the New Israel Fund.
The conversations all concerned Israel and addressed the expected September UN Palestinian Statehood Resolution, the anti-democratic turning of the current Israeli government (arguably the most extreme right-wing government in the history of the State led by settler groups, ultra-Orthodox political parties, and the Russian “Putinist” party of the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman), and the unprecedented middle class economic revolt (150,000 Israelis took to the streets on Shabbat in at least 10 cities across party lines) protesting strained economic conditions because they cannot afford housing based on their salaries despite the very healthy Israeli economy.
I said that the facts are clear; namely, that unless Israel works out with the Palestinians a 2 states for 2 peoples end-of-conflict agreement she cannot remain both Jewish and democratic.
The first fact is that the government’s policy of building West Bank settlements to the tune of billions of shekels over many years and supporting the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivot and institutions with billions more have exacerbated the problems within Israeli society by misdirecting funds away from building more apartments in Israel itself and sustaining its social networks. Despite the success of a burgeoning Israeli economy the middle class is being squeezed.
The second fact is that unless Israel returns to the 1967 lines with appropriate land swaps and settles all other issues with the Palestinians in an end-of-conflict agreement Jews will constitute 48% of the population of Arabs and Jews living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, just 3½ years from now. If the status quo continues, and Israel denies West Bank Arabs the right to vote, it will turn into an Apartheid State. If it opens the doors to equal citizenship for West Bank Arabs, Jews will be a minority and the Zionist vision of building a Jewish state will be consigned to the trash bins of history.
On Saturday morning following services, a young man (about age 15) who had been at services the evening before, approached me and said, “My name is Jacob and I am a member of a Conservative synagogue in Florida [he was in LA to attend the bar mitzvah of his cousin], and my Rabbi holds the exact opposite position as you about the Middle East conflict.”
I asked, “So…what do YOU think?”
He said, “I agree with you.”
He then explained that his high school debating club had a debate this past spring on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he was assigned the position of arguing the Palestinian side. “Because I had to research the Palestinian story, I now understand why they want a state of their own and why they have been so frustrated for so long.”
“True!” I responded. “There are two narratives here, Israeli and Palestinian, and this conflict is not simply a political zero-sum game, but a moral one involving two peoples and two nations. We cannot claim for ourselves what we deny others.”
I told him, “Jacob – You keep at it. We need visionary, smart and strongly identified Jews such as you.” We shook hands and wished each other Shabbat shalom.
I was heartened by this young man and thought that if this is what we can expect from the younger generation, then there is reason for hope.
Back to my meetings of last week – Several weeks ago there appeared an article on the Op-Ed page of The NY Times written by four Israeli experts on the upcoming UN Palestinian Statehood Resolution; Yossi Alpher, Colette Avital, Shlomo Gazit, and Mark Heller. I recommend that you read it – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/opinion/25iht-edalpher25.html
Stay tuned. Now that the debt limit crisis seems to have ended, we turn to the Middle East. These next 6 to 8 weeks are going to be very interesting indeed!