Skip links

Main navigation

The Perils of “Or Else” | Shabbat Shalom 24 Adar 5783 שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם

By Doron Krakow

The Perils of “Or Else”

Tough news cycle. The banking sector experienced several failures and instability. Russian jets downed an American drone not far from the Ukrainian war zone. In Israel, the government continues to pursue dramatic judicial reform as the circle of voices in opposition, both within and beyond Israel, grows. Judicial reform isn’t the only issue on the minds of opponents of the still-new government and the vitriol on both sides increases daily.

Many, including this writer, have urged the parties to the dispute to embrace the opportunity to sit down together and negotiate a compromise—an effort championed by Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president. There are some indications that such discussions are taking place, but there is not yet a resolution. There has also yet to be actual judicial reform, although the government coalition continues to advance the legislative process in that direction.

A rising tide of public criticism of Israel in the media typically inflames the passions of Israel’s critics, and this time is no different. A new Gallup poll found that more Democrats (49%) have sympathy for the Palestinian cause than they do for Israel (38%). The remaining 13% indicate they have sympathy for neither, both, or are undecided. We have been aware for some time that sympathies with and support for Israel have lessened among Americans and Canadians in recent years, but this is a first, and it is possible that this trend is accelerating.

Meanwhile, the escalating discontent around government policy in Israel increasingly includes voices indicating that a compromise must be reached, or else …

… high-tech businesses and investors will pull out of the country in search of greener pastures.
… reservist pilots and those serving in special units may not report for duty.
… some Israelis may choose to leave altogether and live elsewhere.

The arguments often go something like this: If these and other reforms are adopted, it won’t be the same Israel anymore.

Those arguments fall on listening ears here too. With encouragement from friends and colleagues within and beyond Israel, Jewish leaders here in North America are actively speaking out—largely in opposition to the reforms. Many, who have long been steadfast in their commitment to Israel and Zionism, are expressing doubt about whether Israel will continue to warrant such support. These voices may be interpreted to be saying that Israel must meet a certain standard or else it will be unworthy of our love and devotion.

Who sets that standard, I wonder?

We Jews are endowed with a sense of history and, since time immemorial, have understood that our fate and our destiny are intertwined with those of Jews everywhere—the very essence of peoplehood. Throughout nearly 20 centuries of dependence on others, owing to a lack of sovereignty, we suffered some of the worst ignominies the world has known. But that all changed with the Zionist revolution and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. From its inception, the modern State of Israel has been a part of us—every one of us, every Jew everywhere, irrespective of where we make our homes or raise our families—and we have been a part of Israel.

We should be vocal. We should be engaged. We should share our thoughts and feelings. Our connection is with Israel and with Israelis, not with any one governing coalition. In a vibrant democracy we are likely to find fault and to oppose some governments and political leaders, but our support for Israel and its citizens is transcendent.

It’s like that with families. With communities. It’s like that with the schools we attend and the synagogues we join. It’s like that with causes we support and with governments and political parties here, too. Few, if any, maintain and promote ideas and positions that are always and fully consistent with our own beliefs or values. Sometimes the actions of those closest to us are the most infuriating—precisely because of their proximity. But we turn our backs on them at our own peril—and theirs.

We live in a time of reflexive absolutes: What words will we tolerate? What considerations are obligatory? What constitutes the hard and fast contours of right and wrong, good and evil?

We should know better.

As a people who have endured triumph and tragedy, travail, and tribulation for more than 4,000 years, we know that the arc of history is neither smooth nor easy to discern and understand in the moment. Our interests have always been rooted in our commitment to one another, and so they are today.

Actions in the offing in Israel may at times make our blood boil, but the country is still a part of who we are. Projecting a standard required for our continued support and commitment to Israel or else should be anathema to us as a people. That is, unless the phrase continues: or else

… I’ll seek to increasingly engage and to ensure my critical and passionate voice is heard.
… I will draw others, who share my concerns and interests about how Israel can become a greater version of itself, to join me in these efforts.

Maybe the better phrase is “even though.”

Even though I can’t stand what may be happening today, I understand that our future as a people is bound up together, and so, I will lean in and try to do more.

Even though it feels as if this government doesn’t share my values, I understand that governments are temporary, but peoplehood is forever. Israel and Israelis are a part of me, just as we are a part of it and of them.

Israel’s best days and those of the Jewish people are before us, not somewhere in the past. So, things will either get better on their own or else I’ll find a way to do more to see that they do.

Our inclinations to hew to particular standards may be nobly intended, but if those standards put a wedge between us and ourselves, they only diminish what it means to be a people. Our actions have bearing on the actions of others. They can help pull us together or drive us farther apart.

Shabbat shalom.

In March of 1948, Maariv, a Hebrew daily afternoon newspaper, was founded by Ezriel Carlebach. By 1970 it would have the largest circulation of any newspaper in Israel, nearly 200,000 daily readers.

And that’s the way it was…

Subscribe to A Message from Our President and CEO
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Reader Interactions