In a recent op-ed in the Washington Jewish Week, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb asserts that “it’s past time to redefine what ‘pro-Israel’ means’ as he calls on all good American Jews to rally to the banner of “progressive Zionism” to combat the scourges infecting the Jewish homeland. While giving lip service to the “serious external dangers that Israel faces,” Dobb designates these potentially horrific existential threats as secondary to “the significant menaces Israel faces from within.”
Upon completing Dobb’s piece, I felt alienated and patronized. What was troubling me so greatly making me feel confused and somewhat angry? Several factors influenced my reaction.
For Dobb, there seems to be only one definition of Jewish values, and it belongs to him and his assigned community. In Dobb’s own words, “progressive Zionism” consists of “communities like mine” who “work hard to strengthen the Israel-diaspora relationship among folks who deeply embrace humanistic values (a.k.a. Jewish values).” And so I was left wondering. If I disagree with Dobb, am I bereft of Jewish values? If I don’t see current Israeli politics as bedraggled by “a status quo rife with anti-democratic threats, emanating from the very top” but rather thriving as part of a roiling, truly democratic process, am I an outsider, dark and nefarious, like Dobb’s favorite whipping men, “an unhinged Trump and an emboldened indicted Netanyahu?”
If I were to ask Dobb to consider if the rhetoric informing his piece might be misconstrued or even misused by certain readers as anti-Israel, then do I, steeped in my own discernment of Jewish values and heritage, deserve to be adrift, in a type of cherem, cast as an enabler of “a narrow right-wing cause,” and separated from my community?
I was uneasy sensing that Dobb treats Israel as if it is a Jewish colony functioning at the pleasure of his crown community of self-assigned virtue and progressive humanism. In Dobb’s own words, “even as we continue to learn from and connect with Israel, let us help our cousins and friends there to see the view from here — which might just be “the bigger picture.” For a moment I thought I was reading a version of Gunga Din. Perhaps unintended, Dobb’s piece projects a haughtiness that insists a certain segment of the American Jewish community knows better what is good for Israel, how Israelis should behave, and whom they should elect.
Israelis democratically choose their government, but Dobb demonizes the election as a slide “toward the extreme right, bolstering a narrow vision of Israel’s Jewishness at the expense of its democracy.” As if he were a resident expert on developing policies for Judea and Samaria , Dobb blithely writes that “long term, to be ‘pro-Israel’ means supporting a two-state solution. (Pithily put, ‘friends don’t let friends build settlements.’).” As if Jewish Americans in their relative safety have the right to stop Israelis who live in daily danger of mortal assaults from taking defensive measures that include its settlement policies. Dobb is perhaps familiar with what Yitzchak Rabin said in 1975: “The response to the attack on Zionism and the State of Israel must reinforce and underscore the implementation of the settlement plan in all areas in which the government decides regarding settlement.”
In an other bewildering we know better than you statement, Dobb insists Israel connect “with its denizens of all ethnicities and faiths, taking in the whole complicated reality from Jerusalem to Ramallah, Tel Aviv to Hebron, Gaza to the Golan.” Does Dobb really think Israelis are not exactingly assessing their “complicated” realities, or is he asking that Israel attenuate its particular basis as our “Jewish” homeland and, ironically, despite his insistence otherwise, devolve into one multi-national state? For now, I too believe in a two-state solution, but I trust the maturity and good sense of Israelis to determine when this approach is viable.
Dobb’s piece reverberates with United Nations canards equating Zionism with racism. In Dobb’s own words, Israel is “anti-democratic,” “intolerant,” and “racist nationalistic.” These denunciations chilled me to the extreme as they came from a rav in my own Jewish community. I had to check to make sure the byline was not by Ilhan Omar. Dobb does not add in “apartheid,” but the implication is there for the taking by any Israel hating, anti-Semitic malefactors wishing to exploit Dobb’s words. It’s difficult for me to understand how, if Dobb experiences Israel as malevolent, oppressive, and destructive, it is possible deep down for him to be a lover of Zion?
For unlike Dobb, I believe being “pro-Israel” does mean “unequivocal support.” Somehow Dobb conflates “unequivocal support” by American Jews with “toeing the (Israeli) governmental line.” It does not. Rather, in echoing Jeremiah, is not Israel for Dobb still a precious child? And like any parent to whom one’s child is precious, let’s say we find fault with certain actions and attitudes of the child, do we vilify the child with brutally derogative taunts and recriminations or do we act as adults retaining perspective, the “larger picture,” and extend unconditional love?
Thankfully, despite the extraordinary challenges it has faced for over 70 years, that “child” has grown into a mature, responsible nation bringing us joy and pride. Dobb writes of a “special relationship” between American Jewry and Israel. Yes, that relationship does exist, and it takes more than creating and holding to one’s own idea of what Israel should be to be “pro-Israel.” Those of us with a constancy and shared love of Israel, which I hope includes Dobb, do not need, piquantly and reflexively, to redefine the relationship, but as good friends might do, ennoble each other in reaffirming our eternal commitment to Israel as the basis for working through any transient differences of opinion.