Sinning Against Each Other
On my list of worries this Tisha B’Av: Iran, Egypt—and the ugly ways we Jews talk to one another
A second phenomenon was blatant intellectual dishonesty. A well known U.S. newspaper columnist wrote me saying: “I am dismayed that you would sign the letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disregard the Levy Report. Your ‘explanation’ in Ha’aretz only reinforced my feelings of disappointment. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot effectively endanger other Jews and then argue that you have done no such thing.” That’s bunk. It had never occurred to me that I’d endangered Jews in the first place, so there was no point denying it. Why invent that accusation, instead of addressing my decision on its merits or lack thereof?
In similar fashion, Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist, declared: “Unfortunately, the settler public has been marked with the scarlet letter of murder and expulsion and now, their ethnic cleansing has also received the imprimatur of influential Jewish rabbis and Israeli personalities like you.”
Really? Asking the prime minister to ignore a report is tantamount to urging “ethnic cleansing”? Meotti knows better. And the websites that posted his letter know very well that he’s a serial plagiarist. Was going after me so important that is was worth publishing someone with such tainted professional ethics?
The third issue, and perhaps the most distressing, was the implicit attitude behind all of these accusations: “You’re either with us, or against us.” Daniel Greenfield, a widely read blogger taken seriously by some people I take seriously, tweeted, “Daniel Gordis loses all credibility by signing on to pro-Hamas group Israel Policy Forum’s letter.” Even if we ignore the absurdity and incitement of calling the IPF “pro-Hamas,” there’s an important issue here: If a person makes one move with which you disagree, must they immediately “lose all credibility”? For some, apparently so.
It wasn’t only bloggers who suggested this letter had to have meant that I’d abandoned my principles. One supporter of the Shalem Center, for which I work, suggested that the only way to explain my decision was that I’d signed in order to raise money: “I can only hope that your chance to rub shoulders, even virtually, with your co-signers will result in some sizable gifts to Shalem College.” The mere suggestion was despicable. We’re in grave danger if support for Israel allows no disagreement about how to support Israel.
Happily, I should note, there were rays of light. The St. Louis Jewish Light wrote that I must be feeling like Justice Roberts and continued, “Gordis is absolutely right and yet, the backlash he’s received from both commentators and a slew of web posters makes it sound like he’s sold out Israel’s safety and security. Such could not be further from the truth.”
Others, even when disagreeing with me strongly, were also models of civility. Jonathan Tobin, writing for Commentary, said that he understood my worries about the Levy Commission, but then gave thoughtful explanations for his belief that the letter was a mistake; his column was a model of intellectually fair argument. Eve Harow, an Efrat resident and passionate spokesperson for the communities of Judea and Samaria, took me on in no uncertain terms (and gave me permission to quote her): “In this case by joining with those who, unlike yourself, jump on opportunities to malign Israel, you let many people down. Levy does not preclude some kind of treaty; it gives us more an even legal playing field which ultimately … may even garner us what we seek since they’ll understand that we have made a sacrifice too.”
Fair enough. Harow and I disagree. But she didn’t impugn my sincerity or demand lock-step agreement. She simply implicitly suggested that we talk. Hers, I believe, is precisely the mode of engagement we need, particularly when we disagree.
Israel is entering a new and very uncertain future. Iran may get a bomb. Hostile regimes have arisen in Turkey and Egypt, and Syria will soon fall. The American election looms. With Israel facing perhaps unprecedented isolation, do we not need a broad tent now, more than ever? Or do we want to watch as young people abandon the conversation, and the State it is about, out of sheer disgust with the way we conduct ourselves? We must choose.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin recently shared a beautiful thought with me. The Talmud suggests that the First Temple was destroyed because of serious violations like murder, idolatry, and incest. The Second was destroyed because of “baseless hatred.” Since the first violations are seemingly so much more serious, why was the First Temple rebuilt after 70 years, while the second never was?
The answer, Rabbi Telushkin heard from his own teacher, Rabbi Aharon Kreiser, was that baseless hatred, dismissive attitudes, and communal rancor are different. They are the sorts of actions for which we can always find explanations and justifications, and so, we never really confront the fact that we’ve sinned. This is why, Rabbi Kreiser said, the Temple that was destroyed because of baseless hatred has never been rebuilt.
We have no Temple now, of course. We do have a Third Jewish Commonwealth, a state that faces unremitting hatred from its neighbors and much of the international community. Without question, we need to defend it. But as Tisha B’Av looms, we would do well, I think, to ask ourselves what kind of a Jewish world we’re defending and whether, even if we’re successful at preserving the Jewish State, those whose loyalty we desperately need will want to have anything to do with us.
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The fall of Assad’s pro-Iranian regime is a net gain for the U.S., even if what replaces it isn’t a reliable ally