A call for more respect, less rhetoric among pro-Israel groups

My son, Rabbi Daniel Weiner (of Temple De Hirsch-Sinai in Seattle), and I represent two generations of rabbis, five decades of love for the State of Israel, and advocacy for its security and well-being.

We recall anxious moments that we have shared together as father and son. On a crisp fall morning in 1973, as we drove to synagogue on that Yom Kippur, our heavy hearts were at one with Israel as we learned of its battle against a devastating Arab onslaught on this holiest of days.

In 2002, we joined rabbinic colleagues for a conference in Jerusalem. In this City of Peace we experienced firsthand horrific attacks on coffee shops and clubs that took the lives of many innocent souls. We can never forget the wail of sirens and the roar of helicopters overhead.

And now, though the prospects for peace, reconciliation and agreement seem distant amid a tumultuous Middle East, we reaffirm a traditional affirmation of faith: Anu ma’aminim/We still believe that there is hope for the future.

But faith and hope, while critical, are not enough to resolve intractable problems. While the issues are difficult, the frustrations innumerable and the intentions of all parties often unclear, the ultimate outcome is unmistakable: a two-state solution, essentially along the 1967 lines, with modifications and exchanges reflecting Israel’s defense requirements and the evolving facts on the ground in the West Bank.

The chilling, fateful question is: Will it take three or 30 years to achieve the inevitable, 300 or 3,000 more lives lost?

How can we as American Jews be supportive of this effort to achieve peace? We often respond to this question by joining worthy organizations that are committed to Israel’s security and survival. Sometimes we do this with a sense that the group we support has all the answers, and “those other groups” are weak or blind to the dangers Israel faces. At times we even demonize those Jewish organizations whose approach may be different from ours.

I find this to be counterproductive at best, devastating and diluting of Israel’s best interests at worst. A committed and thoughtful American Jew who loves and advocates for Israel can support several different worthy groups that are working to fulfill the dream of a strong and secure Israel living at peace with its neighbors.

One of the oldest and most influential organizations is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. For nearly half a century, AIPAC has worked diligently to ensure support for Israel by American presidents and Congress. That very special partnership continues to this day, as President Barack Obama has continually affirmed.

For more than a century, the American Jewish Committee has defended the rights of Jews throughout the world. In our own day the AJC has developed incredibly valuable diplomatic programs that build support for Israel among dozens of nations around the globe. In addition, AJC programs bring non-Jewish American community leaders — mayors, legislators, academics and union leaders — to Israel to foster greater understanding of the achievements and challenges confronting the Jewish state.

And as one of the pioneer Jewish defense agencies, the Anti-Defamation League does similarly valuable work on behalf of the American-Israeli relationship and is worthy of our support.

Finally, we would mention J Street, the most recent of the Israel advocacy organizations. J Street has gathered significant support within the American Jewish community by emphasizing the critical need for greater effort to find a two-state solution. Most studies indicate that a solid majority of American and Israeli Jews favor a two-state solution reached by a negotiated settlement between the parties. J Street focuses its efforts in Israel and with America’s political leadership to fulfill this goal.

Many of these pro-Israel organizations reach out to Jewish college students and young adults. In a time of increasing apathy among young Jews toward their faith and their communities, and growing ambivalence toward some of Israel’s policies, J Street is the voice of a new generation of American Jews inspired by a renewed vision for peace.

If we step back for a moment to consider the broader challenges and stratospheric stakes, we can see that each of these pro-Israel organizations offers unique and helpful support to Israel. In an era of increasing polarization and diminishing civility in the public discourse, we hope that those who zealously support one or the other group will tone down their negative comments and accusations, and respect the work being done by others.

Sadly, we have recently seen how an extreme pro-Israel/anti-Obama position can lead to madness. The entire American Jewish community condemned the comments of Andrew Adler, the former editor of the Atlanta Jewish Weekly, who suggested in his column that Israel should consider sending an assassin to kill the president of the United States. This was a complete desecration of Jewish values. It carried to the ultimate a campaign of falsehoods about the president’s position on Israel that some politicians are using to attract Jewish votes. Let us hope that our community has learned something from this experience.

We all have the same ultimate goal: a strong and secure Israel. To slightly modify rabbinic tradition: The time is short, the task is great and we are accountable.

Rabbi Martin Weiner is the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco and a past president of the Central Conference of America Rabbis.

Weiner's face
Rabbi Martin Weiner

Rabbi Martin Weiner is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. He is a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the professional association of Reform rabbis.