We can change nature of discourse for good


I am troubled by the nature of discourse about Israel and its impact on the community. An issue that used to unite us now frequently divides us.

On one hand, some people who object to specific Israeli government policies respond by speaking out publicly. Many see their voice as an expression of their Zionism and a vote of confidence in Israel’s potential. Even though they may not live in Israel, they feel a personal responsibility to do what they can to strengthen Israel according to their values, even if this means seeking policy shifts on various
issues including religious pluralism, treatment of minority groups or policies toward Palestinians.

On the other hand, while not necessarily agreeing with all of Israel’s policies, others believe those who criticize Israel publicly are at best naive and, at worst, dangerous to Israel’s security. They see public criticism as contributing to Israel’s enemies and their campaign of destruction and delegitimization.

These people feel responsible for ensuring Israel’s survival in a hostile world. At times, this stance can lead to denouncing anyone who is critical of Israel as beyond the tent of the Jewish community.


Given these two poles, how could we not argue with each other? We differ in both our perception of and relationship to Israel. Moreover, those with extreme views on either side can be loud and can end up pulling others toward their extremity or attacking those who disagree.

The result is that, far too often, people simply walk away from the topic and even Israel. While we may not be able to resolve this issue, I hope that we can at least begin to understand one another and energize the vast majority who have more in common than not. There is too much at stake here. I cannot help but see Israel as a miracle.

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people dreamed of returning to their homeland. Now, within the span of some of our lifetimes, we have seen our dream come to life in ways our fore bearers could not have  imagined.

At The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we want to celebrate and protect the miracle of Israel, even as we create space for discussing ways we can come together and further strengthen Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The health of our community relies in part on our ability to understand each other’s vantage points even as we grapple with our own views. I believe that by helping each other explore Israel’s internal challenges while recognizing the significant issues that Israel confronts in a hostile region and world, we will find the answers we seek. I also believe that the nature of our discourse will have a greater impact on our local community than on Israel. How we engage with one another will determine the strength of our community. Attacking those with whom we disagree will not strengthen Israel. It will only drive more people away from Jewish life and the Jewish homeland.

In this next chapter of American Jewish life, we will no doubt continue to wrestle with how we, as American Jews, can best support a Jewish, democratic state in a complex world. I hope that as the conversation unfolds, we can come together around our common values—of respect, of deep listening, of seeking nuance, of civil discourse, of community, and of ensuring a vibrant state of Israel for the long-term.

Gil Preuss is CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

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