Supporting Is­rael is our duty

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Yoni Birn­baum Rabbi Birn­baum is Rabbi of the Hadley Wood Jewish Com­mu­nity

need to crit­i­cise its ac­tions in the pub­lic square. Dis­mayed at the lack of sup­port for the state, Rabbi Henkin ex­claimed: “If we our­selves dis­par­age the State and [its] Gov­ern­ment, the rest of the world will say that they have no re­spon­si­bil­ity [to­wards it] ei­ther.”

For Rabbi Henkin, the key is­sue for di­as­pora Jews to con­sider was not whether the ac­tions of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of the day were right or wrong. He him­self ad­mit­ted that he was deeply dis­tressed by cer­tain Knes­set poli­cies af­fect­ing the re­li­gious char­ac­ter of the State, for ex­am­ple. In­stead, he ar­gued that their fo­cus should be on pre­serv­ing the vi­tal role di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties have in dis­play­ing united and un­am­bigu­ous sup­port for the be­lea­guered state of Is­rael. And he saw the prospect of this role be­com­ing eroded as po­ten­tially en­dan­ger­ing “mil­lions of Jewish lives”, as he put it. There­fore, he felt a need to speak out.

There is al­ways a dan­ger in ap­ply­ing his­tor­i­cal prece­dent to a con­tem­po­rary con­text, par­tic­u­larly in an area as sen­si­tive as this. Yet Rabbi Henkin’s per­cep­tive words cer­tainly de­serve a fair hear­ing and I, for one, be­lieve that this vi­tal role of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the di­as­pora may be un­der threat once again to­day.

It is no se­cret that there is a plu­ral­ity of views within the modern Bri­tish Jewish com­mu­nity re­gard­ing the poli­cies of the cur­rent Is­raeli gov­ern­ment. Peo­ple on all sides of the de­bate speak with pas­sion, stem­ming from a deep love for Is­rael and a de­sire for its peace and sta­bil­ity. They are all peo­ple who “seek the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalms 122:6), and it would be un­con­scion- able of me, rabbi or not, to ques­tion the sin­cer­ity of their mo­tives. I am in awe of all those who main­tain such a pas­sion­ate con­nec­tion with Is­rael, some­times against the odds, and our com­mu­nity is blessed to be full of such peo­ple.

But the cen­tral mes­sage of Rabbi Henkin’s let­ter is about the voice we choose to sound in the pub­lic square, not about the le­git­i­macy or oth­er­wise of a plu­ral­ity of views within our own com­mu­nity. That pub­lic voice, he ar­gued, must al­ways be strongly and un­am­bigu­ously pro-Is­rael. That is the role of ev­ery Jewish com­mu­nity in the di­as­pora. Not to be Is­rael’s “crit­i­cal friend”, feel­ing it morally nec­es­sary to make their views known in pub­lic when­ever they dis­agree with a par­tic­u­lar pol­icy. But, in­stead, to stand up and say that this tiny par­cel of land is our na­tional home­land, and we will fight for its sur­vival.

To pub­licly sup­port the state of Is­rael does not equate with a full, or even par­tial, agree­ment with the poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment of the day. It sim­ply means to sound a whole­hearted, un­am­bigu­ous pub­lic mes­sage of sup­port for Is­rael. Those who have the priv­i­lege of ac­tu­ally liv­ing and vot­ing in Is­rael can (and do) pub­licly dis­cuss, de­bate and crit­i­cise its gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies. But those of us liv­ing in the di­as­pora would do far bet­ter to fo­cus on strength­en­ing our united sup­port for the state of Is­rael’s fun­da­men­tal right to ex­ist and thrive, rather than crit­i­cis­ing the poli­cies of its demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment.

Let us de­bate, dis­cuss and even crit­i­cise in pri­vate. But, in pub­lic, it is the jus­ti­fi­able ex­pec­ta­tion of the peo­ple of Is­rael to hear our full and un­wa­ver­ing voice of sup­port at all times.

Let us de­bate, dis­cuss and even crit­i­cise in pri­vate

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