Take off That Mask. (Israel: Two E-Mail Communications)
Gordis, Daniel, Midstream
March 16, 2003
When The New York Times carries a story about a student newspaper at the Jewish Theological Seminary refusing to print a D'var Torah, something of interest is clearly happening. So, curious, I dug around the web a bit, found your submission, and read it with interest.
Given that JTS--hardly a bastion of rabid Zionism these days--had refused to publish it, I expected something really outrageous. But on the surface, it wasn't nearly as troubling as I'd expected. You're concerned about the fair treatment of Israeli Arabs. So am I. You're deeply troubled by the deaths of Palestinian civilians. So am I. You want Israel to be better. So do I.
So do many Israelis, Jill. Many of us are troubled by precisely the things that trouble you. That's why, for a while, I found myself feeling that the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. OK, so it was a bit political for a D'var Torah, and a bit left. But still, why the outcry?
But I read it again, and again. And over a couple of days, I found it making me more and more uncomfortable. So I asked myself, given that there is so much that I, like many Israelis, actually agree with in your piece, why does it leave me with such a feeling of discomfort? There are, I think, three dimensions of the epistle that strike me as troubling. I'd like to tell you why.
Before I do so, though, let me assure you that the critique that follows isn't about you. We've never met, though I look forward to doing so. My comments here aren't personal at all, but rather, are directed at a certain form of public discourse about Israel, which, I think, is reflected in your D'var Torah. What I'm addressing is a way of speaking about Israel that is found in the public utterances of groups like "Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace" (which you represent) and the American Jewish radical left, in general. Please read my letter in that spirit.
The first thing that troubles me about your piece is your certainty that Israel is simply wrong. Your tone implies that Israel has alternatives that are readily apparent to anyone with even a modicum of moral sophistication. Where I live, we muse on our predicament all the time; but unlike you, none of us can seem to think of any easy answers.
When the army accidentally killed two Jewish security personnel last week in a torrent of bullets, both the press and many of our friends began to wonder what that says about the behavior of the army in cases that we don't hear about, when the people being pursued are Palestinian, not Jews. The people we talked to over Shabbat (religious, and by no means anywhere near "left," if that will help dispel any stereotypes here) were deeply concerned. They were sad, perplexed.
But Jill, there's an enormous difference between our friends who live here and the American Jewish left you represent. Here in Jerusalem, we have those conversations in full knowledge that the alternative to this IDF "full court press" in the hills just outside our neighborhoods isn't obvious. For when the army lets up, our buses explode. When security measures are loosened just a bit, our children don't make it home from school. So we struggle, and we agonize.
But I don't feel any struggle in what you write. And your colleagues certainly don't agonize. You just assume that we're callous, that we're comfortable with all the results of our actions. You write as if Israel has made a choice to be evil. No, you don't say that, but that's what you imply. You imply that we're motivated by hate, by disregard for Arab life. Perhaps that's true of a small percentage of radical-fringe Israelis, but it's not the case for the overwhelming majority. Most of us are animated these days by something completely different.
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