The United Nations overwhelmingly voted last week to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of nonmember observer state in the General Assembly. One salient aspect of this vote was that several of Israel’s best friends in the U.N. switched from plans to abstain to a yes vote, or from plans to vote no to an abstention.
Sometimes, to be a friend of Israel means to express opposition to its self-destructive behavior. I have experienced this personally, and we now are watching it on a world scale.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to change Germany’s vote from no to an abstention in response to her frustration to obtain any gesture from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the direction of the curtailment of settlement expansion. Apparently she was also moved by the support for the Palestinian bid by Israeli Daniel Barenboim, the artistic and music director of Berlin’s opera house, the Staatsoper, and by Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister. Barenboim and Olmert cannot be credibly accused of being enemies of Israel.
There was nothing in the U.N. resolution that delegitimized Israel. In fact, it reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy as a state among the nations with its right to self-determination while affirming that a Palestinian state has an equal right.
Other than the issue of Palestinian access to the International Criminal Court, the vote at the United Nations was largely symbolic. But what has been the response of the Netanyahu government? To announce as punishment for this vote that it will now proceed to build a highly controversial settlement in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim whose outcome would be, at best, a near-fatal blow to the realization of a two-state solution.
So in response to a largely symbolic move by the P.A. and the U.N. General Assembly that affirmed Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution, the Israeli government is responding with concrete steps that may be irreversible in eradicating
the possibility of a two-state outcome.
Say what you want about whether settlements are the major obstacle to peace or whether they are a side issue — the main issue is a one-state vs. two-state solution. If Israeli government actions now move us into a place of total and permanent control by Israel from the sea to the river, woe unto us. If we reach or have reached this point, then claims of apartheid-like control will move from conjecture to reality.
In Leviticus 19:17-18, the Torah — using words of the absolute imperative, hocheach tochiach — commands us to reprove our friends when they are wrong, even as we bear them no grudge and love them as ourselves. This is not a time for Israel’s friends to remain silent.
Rabbi David J. Cooper is the congregational rabbi of Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont.