Devotion to Israel is bigger than single issues

Larry Levin is the former publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light. 

By Larry Levin

French President Emmanuel Macron’s emphatic declaration that anti-Zionism is a reinvention of anti-Semitism is spot on. Most, if not all, of those who oppose the existence of a safe and secure Israel as a Jewish homeland perpetuate false equivalencies, double standards and outright lies about Israel to make their case.

Far different, of course, is to oppose the policies of the Israeli government. This distinction — love Israel but fairly criticize the prime minister, the Knesset, etc. — is common enough to not devote much attention to here. 

Highly relevant, on the other hand, is how the actions of the government will affect ongoing political and financial support for Israel among those who already firmly believe in its existence, safety and security.

And the answer? A lot, though it’s an extremely tough question as to whether they should.

Most recently in the news is the Israeli government’s statement to the High Court that it will not reverse the policy that precludes same-sex couples from adopting children in Israel. On the heels of recent decisions reversing an expanded egalitarian prayer site at the Western Wall and the broadened power of the Chief Rabbinate regarding conversions, the adoption decision is likely to once again affect Israel-supporting Jews across the globe. 

The adoption issue seems like a no-brainer to that huge percentage of American Jews who side with political liberalism or progressivism. I oppose the government’s position emphatically. As one who supports egalitarian treatments, and with credible social science research largely dismissing adverse impact to such adopted kids, I’m probably like a majority of American Jews who will find this most recent government action to be distasteful and just plain wrong. 

So say that, like me, you disagree with all three of the recent decisions, which certainly all cut against a progressive view of the world. Will that diminish your tendency to speak up for Israel, through your advocacy, tourism, contributions or otherwise?

It might, but why? After all, the Jewish world reflects myriad opinions, religious and otherwise, about how nations ought to sculpt their laws. Why is it reasonable to expect that Israel, a pluralistic society with diverse populations of Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians (and multiple subsets of each), should share your particular view on a particular subject? Or that if your own view is different, whether it should relate to the strength and fervor of your support for the Jewish State?

That answer is above my pay grade, but I do have a belief as to why it does. 

Usually, this debate is framed in terms of whether Americans, or any other Diaspora Jews, have a right to tell Israelis what to do and how to do it. That’s easy: Of course we do, and Israelis have every right to accept or reject those views.

But that’s not at all the issue for me.

I believe that we are vastly more realistic — maybe even cynical — about the United States, while we’re more aspirational about Israel. We live the complexities of our own country on a daily basis. We feel it in our bones. We talk with neighbors with whom we disagree. We view the incessant chatter on TV. It’s not that we’re not Israelis, but rather, that we are Americans.

To those of us who live in America and have done so 24/7 for most of our lifetimes, America may be a concept, but it’s far more a reality. And the more connected we are, the more it drifts from an idea to an earthbound slugfest. Every time we think progress has appeared, we are presented with a set of concrete stairs leading right back down to about two steps above where we started.  

We have, in other words, deeply internalized both the breakthroughs and disappointments of our nation. And we don’t have the ability to turn our involvement on or off like a light switch; we’re living it on a daily basis.

Not so with Israel, at least not for most of us. As we look from afar, Israel is a concept, a hope, a rectification of the way the world has treated Jews. It is a promise and an expectation of a better future.

It’s good to hold Israel in such high stead. But in so many ways, it’s a fantasy, or perhaps more accurately, an imagined reality than doesn’t exist in real time or real life. We don’t live there, we don’t breathe there, we don’t absorb the reality like we do here at home. And, therefore, we don’t approach the real-life struggles of Israel with the same perspectives as do her residents. It’s so much easier from here to disengage our aspirations from the true facts on the ground.

Now, as Jews, none of that should preclude any of us from speaking up about how we think Israel should be, especially as we see it through the prism of our highest aspirations for a Jewish State. I know I do, and I will continue to do so. And as noted above, Israelis have every right to accept or reject those opinions with their own myriad opinions, and they do, constantly.

But tying the strength of our devotion to the Jewish State to the outcome on each issue? Not for me. Oh, I’m sure there are boundaries over which I might check out. In the meantime, though, while I’m highly empathetic to those who want the pluralism issues to play out faster and more successfully, it’s virtually impossible for me to scale my weekly, monthly or annual love and support of Israel based on the timing of the outcomes.

I hope others will come to the same conclusion as I have. But as with most things, I’m not so sure.