Andrew Silow-Carroll, New Jersey Jewish News’s editor-in-chief, is a very thoughtful and talented editorial writer. In the wake of J Street’s exclusion from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (not to mention those who would exclude our organization from the Celebrate Israel Day Parade), he makes a great point about respect for Israeli democracy, countering those who would reduce Diaspora Jews to “cheerleaders” for whoever happens to constitute the Israeli government at the moment. Here’s most of his conclusion, with an embedded link in the title to his entire piece:
. . . Granted it seems chutzpahdik to flout the will of Israeli voters — until you remember that a democracy is defined by all of its citizens, not just the majority who won the last election (and given Israel’s parliamentary system, it doesn’t have to be a majority). Silence also consigns American Jews to a marginal intellectual engagement in the singular Jewish achievement of the modern era. Israel is many things, to the world and to the Jews: An epochal return and rebirth of a people in their homeland. A technological marvel. A miracle of immigrant energy. It’s a testing ground for Western democracy, and a beachhead in the war against regional religious extremism.
All these things are true and worth celebrating. But when history looks back on this era, it will focus on one issue above all: the solution, or not, to the Palestinian question. . . .
Refusing to talk about this existential issue — and incidents that have a significant impact on it, like the “price tag” attacks — makes us spectators to Israel’s national drama and mute witnesses to a political conversation in Washington and other world capitals that will go on whether we participate or not.
. . . We [respect Israeli democracy] when our communal conversation reflects the robust internal debate within Israel itself. There is a long tradition of Diaspora support of Israeli streams across the political spectrum — in fact, the only difference between “support” and “criticism” is whether your party is in power. There should be no shame or reluctance in declaring that you support the ideas of Israel’s Right, Left, or Center — or share Israelis’ “frustration” with a policy of their government. Doing so is intellectually honest, socially responsible, and, 66 years after the birth of the Jewish state, a declaration of peoplehood.
[ADL director] Abe Foxman said this more bluntly than I, commenting on the vote that kept J Street, a frequent critic of the current Israeli government, out of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I find it somewhat bizarre,” Foxman told an interviewer, “that there is more tolerance for dissent and different [points of view] in the state of Israel…than there is in the American-Jewish community which is supportive of Israel and its viability. So J Street would be akin to Meretz or to the Labor Party. And their views are okay to be heard in Israel and the Knesset, but their views would not be okay to be heard in the Conference of Presidents?”
I’d say that Jews in the Diaspora are “junior partners”.
The Israelis are in the front line and can see things close up and risk the immediate danger.
Sometimes, however, from the rear one can have a broader view.
But in no case should Jews in the Diaspora be seen as passive cheerleaders.