I am a Jew devoted to Israel. I believe that Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core, and Israel cannot be sustained without the Jewish people at its side.
When I look at Israel, I do not do so from the right or the left but from the center.
When it comes to Israel, I am a Jewish centrist and I believe that most American Jews are centrists on Israel as well.
What does it mean to be a Jewish centrist on Israel? It means the following:
First and foremost, a commitment to a Jewish and democratic Israel.
A commitment to the premise that the status quo existing between Israel and her Arab neighbors is untenable—politically, morally, and practically.
A rejection of the claim that there is a religious obligation for Jews to retain all of the territories captured in 1967.
An understanding that the only way to have a Jewish and democratic Israel is to have two states – Jewish and Palestinian, living side by side in peace and security. Otherwise, Israel will either cease to be Jewish or cease to be democratic.
An acknowledgement that a full peace is beyond reach at this moment and may be beyond reach for many years.
An awareness that Palestinian leadership, while more diverse and complicated than is often recognized in the Jewish world, is nonetheless unable to do what is necessary now to move peace forward; and that while there are some elements of moderation in the Palestinian camp, much of that camp at this time is rejectionist and anti-Israel.
A belief that the idea of a single Jewish/Palestinian state in which Jews and Palestinians live together and enjoy equal rights is a pipedream; that the long, violent history of their conflict and their radically different national narratives mean that the creation of such a state would lead to chaos, terror, and ongoing civil war; that there is not a single country in the Middle East that could serve as a model for a Jewish/Palestinian state, and that mixing hostile populations is obviously not an answer to the conflict; and that the Jewish people and the Palestinian people are each entitled, as a matter of fundamental justice, to a state of their own.
An assertion that Israel can, and should, take unilateral steps that will keep open the possibility of peace, and that she can, and should, refrain from all actions, particularly settlement outside the blocs close to the 1967 borders, that will make peace impossible in the future.
Recognition that an occupation that has lasted for more than 50 years, no matter who is at fault, inevitably imposes significant burdens on innocent people and that Israel needs to do all that she can to minimize those burdens and create hope for a two-state solution in the future.
A belief that doing such things will improve Israel’s standing in Europe, America, and the international community, but that ultimately the reason for Israeli action now is not how others see her but her own interests, her Zionist values, and how she sees herself.
A willingness to condemn inhumanity, cruelty, and terror wherever and whenever they appear. This means that I will not hesitate to speak out when I see inhumane acts committed by Israelis, and neither will I refrain from condemning them on the Palestinian side. I have no illusions about the Jewish side—my side—in the Jewish/Palestinian conflict. I recognize the mistakes Israel has made and the wrongs she has perpetrated. But neither do I have any illusions about the Palestinian side. The Palestinian national movement has too often been murderous, and to excuse the Palestinians from normal standards of moral judgment is to patronize them and separate them from humanity. To the Palestinians I say: “Yes, you are hurting, you are suffering. And I believe there are Palestinians who yearn for peace. But no more excuses. Bloodshed is unacceptable. Terror is unacceptable. The killing of innocents is unacceptable.”
A conviction that, as a Jewish state, Israel bestows on Jews everywhere a role in determining her character. Final authority, of course, rests with Israel’s citizens, whether Jewish or not. But precisely because Israel is the state of the Jewish people, I have a right, as a Jew, to offer support or criticism of Israel’s actions. Doing so, even if my criticism is harsh, requires no special permission from Israeli or Diaspora leaders; the right to do so is inherent in Israel’s Jewish mission.
A firm, unshakeable belief that the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its ancient homeland, and to live with recognized, secure borders, is one of the most just and moral causes of our time. And an equally strong belief that the Palestinians too have the right to create their own state and future in peace, living side by side with the Jewish state.
This is what it means to be a Jewish centrist on Israel.
Agree? Disagree? Comments? Email me at [email protected]
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is the President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism