Getting Comfortable with Israel Advocacy

Thursday, 31 January, 2019 - 2:04 pm

When I was growing up it was a near given that a Jew, especially one who was engaged at any level in the community or in Judaism, would be an advocate for Israel. It didn’t mean that one agreed with every position held by the Israeli government or the Israeli society, but at least one regarded Israel advocacy as a basic fundamental of Jewish identity. The right of Jewish people to be in the land of Israel and to defend themselves against those that did not accept that right, was the normative position for the average Jew. One could even argue, that associating this assertion of the Jewish right to Israel with a Biblical, or at least historical, legacy, was also not foreign to the average Jew.

That given has eroded considerably during my adulthood. Jews began to assign primary importance to other causes and the urgency of Israel advocacy faded. World attitudes have shifted and that may have caused Jews who identify with “progressive causes” to develop a bit of discomfort with Israel advocacy. This has become even more acute in very recent years with the rise of intersectionality, where leaders of other advocacy movements have rendered Israel support as antithetical to their worldview. A most glaring example of this is the Women’s March and the shunning of pro-Israel supporters of the March’s cause. One Women’s March leader went as far as to declare that one cannot be a supporter of women’s rights and a supporter of Israel; that the two causes are mutually exclusive.

Without getting into debates on the merit of the above sentiment, or about the merit of each individual cause, it behooves us to analyze the results. This shift has contributed to the phenomenon of some (mostly) young, socially conscious Jews carefully examining their willingness to be advocates for Israel. For others, it has pushed them entirely outside of the spectrum of Israel advocacy at all (and beyond). We have seen the fallout of this firsthand here in New Orleans during last year’s city council “BDS law” drama.

Yet, Israel is of vital Jewish interest. Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. It is safe to say that Israel has the greatest concentration of Jews in one area since Babylonia in Talmudic times. If for no other reason, Israel’s security is the last line of defense for the safety of close to seven million of our brothers and sisters. As such, it is essential for the Jewish community to engage those Jews who are ambivalent or disenfranchised about Israel and to provide a forum for developing a sense of comfort in advocating for Israel’s right to exist and thrive as a country where half the Jews of the world reside.

I don’t have the answer or the solution to how to do this, but we must keep trying to find effective methods. I would like to invite you all to an event this evening where one young man presents his personal journey on this path. Leibel Mangel, will present his story “From Auschwitz to the IDF” at Chabad Uptown at 7 pm. See below for more details. His is a fresh perspective that may give us all something to think about. Hope to see you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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