President Obama’s inaugural address was a remarkable speech. It was uplifting and courageous and sent a clear message of his vision for this country. I found his concentration on the concept of equality to be stirring and full of promise and his extension of that concept to gay and lesbian Americans was surprisingly frank and I was deeply moved and I am deeply grateful for his position.
I know that many in this country will not agree with the specifics of President Obama’s statements. That is their prerogative. That is what it means to live in a democracy. But, it is also the prerogative of the person elected president to set the course that he or she views as proper for the nation and, even if there could be debate about the specifics, I would hope that the vast majority of Americans would agree in principle with the values he stressed: equality, responsibility and an unwavering search for peace even as we take on the responsibility of protecting our nation and our values.
As we celebrated one ritual of democracy yesterday with the inauguration, Israelis today are celebrating another ritual of democracy. Election Day in Israel has come after a long and some have said boring or uninspiring campaign as leaders are elected to shape the future of the Jewish State.
If the polls are correct, the government will be led once again by Prime Minister Netanyahu and, presuming he can form a government and it seems clear he will be able to do so, it will be a government formed from the “right of center” parties, perhaps bringing the country further to the “right” than in the past. This will be a government which, if pre-election speeches are any indication, will support the current settlements and create new ones and, while continuing to speak about peace negotiations, will not consider the current climate the appropriate time to enter into such negotiations claiming that there is no partner for peace. Perhaps, and this remains to be seen, the government will state that it has come to the conclusion that many, sadly, have come to, that a “two state solution” is impossible. It would then be forced to articulate its vision for an alternative solution (and I have yet to hear an alternative which is reasonable) or opt for a continued status quo which is harmful, in my opinion, to both sides.
But, when the government is elected, it will be by the will of the people. And, as I said above about our country, those who are elected have that right to articulate the vision, both in general and in specific for the nation. Most will agree, some will not. But, the will of the people will be reflected in their decisions.
This places many American Jews who love Israel but who oppose in the strongest terms the continued occupation in a difficult situation. On the one hand, we have no right to criticize Israelis for their choices. And, keeping in mind, that they are the people who face the ramifications of their political decisions much more directly than we do and that it is their lives and the lives of their children which are one the line, one could say that it is not our place to question.
On the other hand, as a Jewish state which seeks the support and concern of Jews (and others) around the world, what do we do if the values expressed by the Israeli public are not those we share? Do we continue to speak our minds hoping to give strength to those in Israel who see things the way many of us do? Or do we realize that this is the choice Israelis have made and we must support the decisions of the current government? Or, do we disengage completely from Israel and admit that the gulf between our values has grown too large?
I will opt for the first option. We can not disengage ourselves and give up on the cherished and critical relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel. But, we can not simply stand by if we think the direction of the country is misguided. While we can’t vote in Israeli elections, we can continue respectfully and fairly to speak about the values we feel are important in our congregations, work to support those in Israel who share our vision and we can, in appropriate, positive, constructive and cautious ways, encourage our government, where appropriate, to continue to urge Israelis and Palestinians toward a path of compromise and reconciliation. That is the path I hope that those of us who are dismayed by the predicted results of the election in Israel will take.
May the coming years see peace and strength in Israel and in our nation.