Our community is nervous. The delegitimization campaign against Israel has traveled beyond the borders of Arab states and the Third World to Western European societies, and it’s even finding a beachhead in North America. Even within the Jewish community there are increasing numbers whose discomfort with Israel’s policies has morphed into alienation.
When a community feels threatened, its response can take two different paths. The first attempts to circle the wagons and set up defensible lines. This process involves shoring up any or all perceivable weak points and positioning one’s resources in the most appropriate way to defend the line.
In the modern “battlefield,” public relations is as potent as bullets and opinions as significant as armor. Accordingly, those of good intentions are attempting to determine the line for what is acceptable and not acceptable speech and policy when it comes to Israel, and who is with “us” and who is against “us.”
While this is understandable, however, as is the case in asymmetrical warfare, the lines are not always clear, and one needs to exercise great wisdom and sensitivity, lest one find oneself setting the line in an indefensible location or robbing us of some of our most helpful and significant allies.
As an American Jew who has made aliyah and chosen to raise my children and grandchildren in Israel; who believes that Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is essential to the future of Jewish life; who has fought for Israel, whose children are fighting for Israel, and whose family has lost some of its members in defense of the country, I look with bewilderment at the campaign being waged by friends of Israel against the appointment of Rabbi Rick Jacobs as president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
These individuals undoubtedly mean well and surely find themselves at odds with some of the positions held by Rabbi Jacobs. What is tragic, however, is that their nervousness has blinded them to the individual in question.
I have known Rabbi Jacobs intimately and personally for more than 15 years, and if he is not a friend and lover of Israel, then these categories have no meaning. My colleague, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, has analyzed the predicament of the relationship between North American Jewry and Israel by saying that when America does something wrong, Jews get angry, but when Israel is at fault, they become ashamed. This experience of shame is the foundation for alienation and the primary source of danger for the future of the relationship.
Rabbi Jacobs is a lover of Israel because he is never ashamed. He is a loyal, trustworthy and dependable friend who not only supports Israel in words but in deeds. He has made Israel and living here an integral part of his Jewish life.
When he disagrees, as we all invariably find ourselves doing at one time or another, he does not allow himself the luxury of self-righteous indignation, but rather shows his love by getting angry and his commitment by working to change what he feels is wrong. For Rabbi Jacobs, Israel’s faults are never Israel’s but his and the Jewish people’s. He shoulders equally that responsibility and never wavers in his love. In that sense, he is more like an Israeli than a Diaspora Jew.
Rabbi Jacobs personifies the second option for dealing with the danger. Instead of circling the wagons, he is a proactive leader who recognizes that effective public relations, at the end of the day, requires defensible policies. He has committed his life to helping build that policy.
In a world in which Jews are walking away from Israel, the path personified by Rabbi Jacobs and others is our greatest hope. It offers troubled Jews the opportunity to shift their alienation to involvement and to find new and more complex ways to be lovers of Israel.
We, the lovers of Israel, must unite and accept that we may disagree on certain policies—and at times may even adopt different positions and strategies. We must accept that love can never necessitate complete agreement, but that true love at times may require criticism. It requires that we unite and move from the indefensible lines of loyalty that we are erecting to a proactive, unified force which helps Jews of all stripes find ways to become a part of Israel and its future.
Rabbi Jacobs is a critical force for good in this battle. Let’s make sure that our “good intentions” don’t undermine this force but rather use it for the betterment and well-being of our people.
(Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and director of its Engaging Israel project.)