For a devotee of Israel, I had a surprisingly emotional reaction to seeing Ambassador Gabriela Shalev at New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, on March 30, literally on the eve of Benjamin Netanyahu’s second ascendence to the office of prime minister. I was overcome by a sense of unease and anger. Amb. Shalev, a retired professor of law at Hebrew University, may be a perfectly fine individual, but I had trouble with the whole scene.
Stephen Wise is a prominent Manhattan Reform temple, and its senior rabbi is Ammiel Hirsch, who had previously been executive director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. I indicated to my companion that this could be a tough venue for Ms. Shalev, certainly tougher than an Orthodox synagogue, for example. But I was wrong.
There were no critical or challenging questions for the new representative of Israel at the UN, who had been appointed under the embarrassingly failed centrist government of Ehud Olmert, now being succeeded by the center-right coalition of Netanyahu. Nothing difficult or probing arising, for example, from the bloody humanitarian disaster of the Gaza Strip offensive of a couple of months ago.
Not only were the questions posed by the audience all soft balls, but Rabbi Hirsch’s remarks were an embarrassment for their overzealous declaration of undying love and devotion for Israel. I mean, I love Israel, but I hate most of what it has done to the possibility of peace that was so much the expectation of ten years ago, when Netanyahu was defeated by Ehud Barak.
The failure of peace is definitely not all Israel’s fault. But a lover of Israel could at least express honest concern that the two-state solution that is so vital for Israel’s future is slipping away. Yet all we got from Rabbi Hirsch and the audience was fawning and cheerleading.
Ms. Shalev made the point that she is “non-partisan,” having never been a member of a political party. This may give her the stomach she needs to represent the views of a government that will likely do some reprehensible things. But it doesn’t make me want to cheer her. And all I heard from her address, and the Rabbi’s introduction, were pious recapitulations of conventional and tired notions that Israel always strives for peace and that its non-obtainment is always the other side’s fault.