A RABBI’S VIEW ON NORTH AMERICA’S DISILLUSIONMENT WITH ISRAEL

SPECIAL REPORT

“The North American disillusion with Israel is in many ways an honest recognition that Israel has not become the state of our dreams.”

Alan Simons

MARCH 15, 2010.  – There have been very few occasions that jewishinfoNews has had the opportunity to publish an article by a rabbi. Bearing in mind the current depressing state of relations between President Obama’s government and the State of Israel, this is one of those rare instances that give us some grounds to think about, as Rabbi Strauchler refers to, the need for a “new type of North American Zionism.”

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler joined Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, a modern orthodox community, in August 2008. He is the first alumnus of Yeshiva University to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar. He holds a master’s degree in religious studies and a diploma in theology from Oxford University.

Rabbi Strauchler acknowledges his “grave concerns about what North American support for Israel will look like in the years to come.” He states: “Many North Americans are finding it more and more difficult to support Israel. This is not merely a function of accusations of racism in the media and on campus but a growing discomfort and fatigue for the state and its persistent conflicts.”

This is what he had to say in a recent article published in his synagogue’s magazine.

The New North American Zionism

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler

Support for the State of Israel has been one of the abiding themes of Shaarei Shomayim’s history. Be it in 1948, 1967, or 1973 – the members of Shaarei Shomayim have stood with Israel at its times of need. From Israel Bond appeals, the community wide assembly on behalf of Jerusalem with Natan Sharansky, or the continued work of our Israel Action Committee – we have demonstrated as a synagogue how important Israel is to our religious identity.

As a shepherd of this legacy, I have grave concerns about what North American support for Israel will look like in the years to come. Many North Americans are finding it more and more difficult to support Israel. This is not merely a function of accusations of racism in the media and on campus but a growing discomfort and fatigue for the state and its persistent conflicts.

We were reminded of this on October 16, 2009 when the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to adopt the Goldstone Report. Judge Richard Goldstone’s report condemning Israel for Operation Cast Lead has done terrible harm to Israel’s international image. The fact that the UNHRC decided to condemn Israel alone despite Goldstone’s protestations that his report found war crimes on both sides of the conflict belies the biased nature of the entire process. This report is deeply flawed for many reasons. Goldstone did not receive Israeli cooperation in his investigation. Goldstone saw this refusal as a declaration of “no contest.” As a result, Goldstone made findings of fact based on evidence provided by Palestinian accounts alone. Despite the obviously biased nature of this testimony, he and his fellow investigators made little or no effort to corroborate these claims.

Yet, the commission’s accusations are serious and disturbing Israel should carefully examine any allegations of misconduct by its soldiers. However, it should not do so as a function of a biased UNHRC investigation and thereby give succour to its detractors.

These accusations contradict everything we know about Israel. As George Gilder’s new book The Israel Test argues, the accusations say more about the accuser than they say about Israel. Israel is hated because Israel is successful, because Israel is free, and because Israel is good. Wherever Jews are free to invent and create, they achieve prominence – sparking envy and resentment. We know Israel is not perfect – but we know that Israel is not just a good country but also a great country.

To many North American Jewish eyes, Israel’s founding was a Utopia. Zionism was the answer to anti-Semitism. The model Jewish state would prove wrong all the hatred through the ages. Once the Jews were a people like all others – and no longer strangers in another’s land – anti-Semitism would disappear.

“That dream has turned out to be false.”

A new anti-Semitism thrives: the state that was meant to end anti-Semitism is now its focus. The hate for the Jews has developed into hate for the state of the Jews. The success of Jewish statehood – the creativity and innovation tracked by recent books like Start Up Nation – only further the envy and hate towards our people.

The North American disillusion with Israel is in many ways an honest recognition that Israel has not become the state of our dreams – a quick fulfillment of our redemption – but instead a reality of “this-worldly” proportions. The road to salvation remains long and arduous. Israel is an imperfect country and therefore a real country.

If I were to describe our age – we live in an Isaac era. There are periods of Jewish history with great innovation and great hope – where basic assumptions about what it means to be Jewish change and anything seems possible – these I call Abraham eras. Then there are times of consolidation – when facts-on-the-ground are consolidated and grand hopes become more modest realities. These I would call Isaac eras – periods requiring a gevurah – a strength and perseverance to make the gains of earlier eras concrete and lasting. It is not for us to value one age over the other – but each era require a different response from us as members of the Jewish people.

We must not lose faith – we must not become disheartened. For a North American who travels to Israel expecting an amusement park of religious experience, the magnitude of Israel’s “problems” often can dishearten. Many of us would try to maintain the illusion of perfection – to sugar coat what is the hard reality of Jewish existence. One day the rose-coloured glasses will come off, and when they do, what then?

For some – it leads to opposition to Israel. Much has been said about Jewish leadership of anti-Israel groups on campus. For most – it leads to neglect for Israel all together. They turn off the television. It just doesn’t matter to them anymore. If it’s not exciting – if it’s not inspirational – we don’t care.

That’s wrong.

“We must know and love Israel as it is – not for what we might like it to be for our needs.”

Jews are not perfect people. The Torah is a book that can be used for good; and yet, all too often, it is twisted into a tool for abuse. Israel is not always right. And – nevertheless we must love it and defend it because it is ours – and the people who live, work, and die for it are our family. Israel is a great country – with real problems – but a great country nevertheless.

What I am advocating is a new type of North American Zionism. Its principle acts are not limited to Israel parades and Bond drives. This new North American Zionism requires us to be honest about Israel’s faults just as we speak of its merits. It requires us to speak out against the new anti- Semitism – as Doctors Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (a group founded by a number of local doctors) does. It requires a confidence in the existence of Israel warts and all. It requires us to engage in addressing the social and economic ills of this state. Most of all it replaces the Utopian dream and its attendant disillusionment with an appreciation for what is a tremendous and imperfect blessing – an autonomous and fractious Jewish state.

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler joined Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, a modern orthodox community, in August 2008. He is the first alumnus of Yeshiva University to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar. He holds a master’s degree in religious studies and a diploma in theology from Oxford University

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