Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I Did Over My Yom Kippur Break

I was home this year for the high holidays, which is always nice -- I got to see old friends, and my family hosts a Rosh Hashanah luncheon which is a highlight of the Bethesda social season.

Each year at Yom Kippur, between the morning and the afternoon services, my synagogue hosts a panel discussion with some foreign policy luminaries (it is a DC-area congregation) who give their thoughts on various international issues afflicting the world today. Israel is obviously typically discussed, but it's not the only topic -- the Kurds, Russia, and China were high on the agenda this year as well. It's mostly a way to keep our minds distracted from our stomachs as the fast rolls on, but it's still interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, this year I got to ask a question to the panel, and here's what I said (paraphrased -- I don't remember the exact words):
When I was growing up (and well into my adulthood) it was an article of faith in the Jewish community that if a fair deal between the Israelis and Palestinians was put on the table -- one that created a viable, democratic state with reasonable borders for both an Israel and a Palestine -- Israel would accept it, while Palestine would have to be induced or pressured into accepting it. Today, I don't think that assumption can be taken for granted, and we need to reckon with the possibility that Israel will have to be induced or pressured into accepting a fair deal as well.
My question is what sorts of inducements or pressures on the Israeli government are viable and appropriate to achieve this end? It seems boycotts are out -- fine. But when I talk to my students at Berkeley about BDS, many of them are receptive to the concerns the Jewish community has about boycotts, but then they ask me "okay, I hear you, but if not that, then what?" What are the alternative modes of pressure or inducement -- either from the U.S. government, or from American Jewish institutions -- that should be on the table?
I asked this question because it's one I'm genuinely curious about. I tell all of you that I asked this question because I think there is a lesson in how it was received, when asked at a synagogue, on the high holidays.

On the one hand, pages and pages of internet analysis tell me that asking this question, at a synagogue, on the high holidays!, should have gotten me run out of my congregation on a rail. But I would have been very surprised had that happen, and indeed that didn't happen. To the contrary, the question was appreciated; several congregants (including one staffer at the Israeli embassy -- again, DC-area congregation) came up to me afterwards to say they thought it was an important question and they were glad I asked it.

Not for the first time, I'm left wondering whether my home congregation is just very, very atypical in the Jewish community. Because as much as I read about "unquestioning support" this and "silencing" that, my experience continues to be that so long as you're not a gratuitous provocateur people in my Jewish spaces -- growing up and today -- are receptive to and willing to grapple with hard, probing, and challenge questions on matters that are often portrayed as communal third rails. So either my circle of Jewish community is highly anomalous -- or maybe we should think twice about some of the narratives we spread about collective Jewish intransigence around these issues.

On the other hand, and lest I brag too much about my community's willingness to dive into the hardest questions fearlessly and without flinching -- well, the panelists didn't give a straight answer to the actual question I asked. They were quite explicit that Israel is rolling down a one-state annexationist path and that this is not acceptable, that it's sort of all hands on deck in insisting that this isn't acceptable, and that we in the Jewish community need to emphasize the dangers of one-stateism at every available opportunity -- which was a bracing and important message, to be sure. But that litany, welcome as it was, didn't actually answer my question about "viable/valid forms of inducement and pressure on the Israeli government."

On the other, other hand, the congregants I talked to later had no trouble coming up with ideas on that score -- ranging from conditioning American aid to Israel to supporting more pointed UN security council resolutions on issues like the settlements and occupations. This conversation came with no fulminations, no recriminations, no screaming about how I was a self-hating Jew. Just a thoughtful, considered discussion.

So take from all of that what you will.

1 comment:

LewLorton said...

The real issue here is not how to pressure Israel to not do what it seems to be about to do but how to pressure both Israel AND the Palestinians to come to an acceptable peace.
Israel has no reason to do anything when that something doesn't change the existential problem of being faced with angry, seemingly unappeasable quasi-dictatorships in both of the Palestinian governments.