Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Since Ahad Ha'am and Theodor Herzl clashed at the World Zionist Congress, diaspora Jews' relationship with Israel has been a constant theme in the Jewish world. But the issue is more acute now than for some time.
Mainstream Jews are often defined by how they relate to Israel. There are vocal supporters - bold and upfront Zionists. Then there are those, privately critical of Israeli government policy, who are considered to be timid. Finally, those who love Israel but are publicly critical, who are sometimes accused of being "self-haters".
All have been trying to work out how to hug Israel yet also wrestle with the complex realities of today.
And then the fateful Gaza flotilla came upon us. Israel's international allies were unanimously critical. Diaspora Jews were accused of failing Israel by not telling her when she gets things wrong.
I was in Israel during the week of the flotilla incident. Those seven days were not good for Israel and they were not good for us - diaspora Jews. But I do not think they were a good seven days for Israel's enemies either.
They set out to provoke and they achieved their Pyrrhic victory. But they did nothing to further the cause of peace. Governments complained and MPs were unrestrained in their attacks, but no-one suggested anything to move us closer to peace.
Israel, rightly, has to accept the burden of finding a solution, but it is not Israel's role alone. I have yet to see a comprehensive and meaningful plan from the international community that will remove Hamas's capacity to launch rockets and bombs into Israel, and thereby facilitate the lifting of the blockade. I have yet to see the argument articulated that the Arab world must play a constructive role in seeking solutions to the stumbling blocks in the way of a two-state solution.
Israelis are angry. They are angry with their government, with Turkey, with the world's biased condemnation. They are angry with each other. Most importantly, they are insecure.
On this I sympathise with them, because just as Israel feels besieged, so does every Jew in the diaspora. But whereas an Israeli can at least influence events through the ballot box, we are a simple recipient of their impact.
For most Jews in the diaspora, Israel is a cornerstone of our identity. In the UK, Israel is central to our Jewish future. I am therefore profoundly concerned about attempts to undermine Israel's legitimacy, and the increasing efforts of some to remove Israel as a core element of Jewish identity itself.
The current situation requires a robust and deep-rooted response.
First, the current malaise in implementing the two-state solution cannot be allowed to continue. The current politics of tactics must give way to a politics of strategy - from both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership.
A credible, shared vision, articulated by leaders acting in a coherent and principled way, to reinforce rather than to undermine each other's commitment, is fundamentally important.
Today, her friends and allies cannot easily see the road that Israel wishes to travel. If they cannot see it, they cannot defend the tactics, making it almost impossible to provide credible and consistent support. No Israeli government will agree to a process which does not guarantee its citizens a secure and safe future.
Nevertheless it is important now for Israel to define a strategic solution in its own terms; it should be about what is right, moral and legitimate for the Jewish state, rather than what is wrong with her neighbours.
Secondly, Jews in the diaspora must recognise that we have a legitimate role as a partner with Israel in developing that strategic design. I do not accept the notion that today's diaspora, buffeted by the same winds which assail Israel, should not participate.
Israel came about because of a collaboration between Jews in the diaspora and Jews in the Yishuv, who jointly saw the modern state as a just and worthy project of all of the Jewish people. That project is not yet complete and will not be until we have peace.
Until then, our role in defending Israel in our home countries assumes a greater significance. We must not shirk from that responsibility.
If we are to build resilience amongst our young people and a sense of pride in their relationship with Israel, then we must equip them to deal with the complexities and challenges which they perceive in an honest and open way.
That means acknowledging and confronting the schisms which exist in Israeli society (as in all societies); accepting that there is a range of views on Israel's foreign policy and stimulating rather than stifling debate; allowing for dilemma alongside certainty; and telling our own story as we learn to hear the stories of others.
This is the challenge of today and the call of our youth, and it is up to all of us to provide a response. We must not retreat into a defensive, ever-shrinking circle but rather open ourselves up with confidence to the questioning that has always underpinned the Jewish way.
We will be stronger and more resolute Jews and advocates for Israel. And we will continue the sacred mandate of the Jewish people of building a strong and vibrant state, at peace with itself and with its neighbours.