Thursday, June 2, 2011

[Shefa] Rabbi Andrew Sacks on "I am a Zionist?!"


Masorti Matters

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I am a Zionist?!
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel (the organization of Masorti/Conservative rabbis) and the Masorti Movement's Bureau of Religious Affairs.

I grew up thinking I was a Zionist.  I remember as a child learning songs from the early statehood days. I wore an "I Love Israel" pin.  I collected dimes, and later quarters, to put in a folder that would buy trees through the JNF.  I visited the airport, with my school mates, to welcome Golda when she visited Philadelphia.  I was glued to the news during the Six Day War and again during the Yom Kippur War.  I visited Israel. I studied in Israel. I made Aliyah twenty four years ago.
I thought of myself not only as a Zionist but as a religious Zionist.  I moved to Israel to fulfill the Mitzvah of "Yeshuv HaAretz" (settling the land).
Let me add that I believe that there is more than one way to be a Zionist.  I chose the path of Aliyah. Others express their Zionism differently. But there is one thing we all have in common – we support the State of Israel. We do not always support the government or its policies.  We may be deeply critical. But we love Israel deeply enough that we are obliged to criticize. We do so in order to build a Zionist State that reflects the values we feel must be a part of our Jewish State.
But am I a Zionist? I mean do I qualify to be a member of the club?   I could never join the ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) as I often find its positions repugnant and an anathema to Judaism. I think they are cocksure of themselves and are certain that those who think differently, wittingly or not, may be partners in the downfall of Israel.
 Last month Rabbi Richard Jacobs, a lifelong Zionist who has toiled on behalf of both Israel and the Jewish people, was named the new president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Almost immediately he was attacked in newspaper ads calling into question his Zionist bona fides.  His terrible sin- he serves on the board of the New Israel Fund (an umbrella organization that supports human rights groups in Israel), his involvement with the left leaning J Street, and his presence at a Friday rally at Sheikh Jarrah.
Well get ready for my Vidui, my Al Het, and my mea culpa: I too support the NIF, J Street, and have demonstrated at Sheikh Jarrah. I do not agree with every statement, or every position, taken by these organizations.  But I do believe that the path they seek will help heal our ailing country.  Other Zionists may not like the direction of these organizations (at a recent wedding a woman seated next to me told me "J Street people should die") but it is only sheer arrogance that would suggest that we are not fully committed to welfare of the Jewish people and to the security of the State of Israel.
I remember well the days when those who supported "The New Jewish Agenda" and "Breira" were scorned.  Unfairly scorned.  Last year a former MK, Naomi Hazan, was pictured in a smear campaign with horns. Last month I attended a cocktail party in downtown Jerusalem for supporters of J Street. Go know! MK Nachman Shai of Kadima was at the party. So was Yitzhak Buji Herzog.
Now if the many Israeli academics, rabbis, MKs and retired generals who support NIF and J Street (and not blindly so) are now viewed as possibly being outside the Zionist tent - then I stand there too.
But that's OK.  My political views are in line with most mainstream Israeli political parties. Just like Prime Minister Barak (then of Labor), Olmert (Kadima) and Netanyahu (Likud) I support a two state solution that would allow Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace and with security.
As was true of each of these Prime Ministers I know this will entail painful concessions. I know it will mean withdrawing from most of the lands captured during the 1967 war. I know that it will inevitably mean that some of the settlements will be dismantled or abandoned as part of a land swap.  Jews will be allowed the Right of Return to Israel and Palestinians will be allowed the Right of Return to their state.  There may be some other symbolic gestures here.
Regarding the desire to maintain a united, undivided, Jerusalem under the control of Israel – I would ask: Which Jerusalem?  Over the past decades we have annexed neighborhoods that were never a part of Jerusalem. The area of Jerusalem has grown greatly.  How many Jews have ever taken a stroll through Tzur Bahar or Jabl Mukaber?  Very few that I know (other than those involved in dialogue).  And does Israel have a pressing need to keep Shuafat within the municipal boundaries of our Holy City? Even Avigdor Leiberman, whose form of nationalism, I believe, borders on racism and hatred, is happy to split off parts of Jerusalem.
And if Jewish control of all of Jerusalem means we must put up with Jewish groups trying to "Judaize" the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, even as  the Palestinian  residents  are denied building permits and  quality municipal services – well that is not the State envisioned by our Zionist founders.
It is a distortion of Zionism and a violation of Israel's own Declaration of Independence which recognized that even as Israel must be open for the ingathering of the Jewish People it " will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
But it is far too easy to stand with the Mort Kliens of the Jewish world (president of ZOA) knowing with complete certainty that your path is the correct one and all others are dupes, naïve, or even worse. Zionism is far more nuanced than many on the right will allow for.
I end with a quote from the great Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan who said, "‎From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths, from the laziness that is content with half truths, And from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, O God of truth, deliver us."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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