Building Walls, Not Tearing Them Down

040414_sharff,-benjaminI am a liberal Jew and a Reform rabbi, and I love Israel. I have traveled to Israel. I lived in Israel, and I lead trips to Israel such as the one this coming December. I even married the daughter of Israelis. So when I express concern for Eretz Yisrael, it is coming from a loving place in my heart. But given all the challenges Israel is facing, the one challenge that is most worrisome to me is not actually taking place in the Middle East. Instead it is something transpiring right here in the United States.

Israel, in the world’s eye, has always been placed on a deeply unfair pedestal. The world expects Israel to be not just better, but so superior to all other nations surrounding her. It is an untenable and impossible situation. Israel will simply never be good enough or act righteously enough.

Israel also faces many threats. Some of them are external, such as the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the Syrian Civil War. Others are related to internal pressures and conflicts both within Israel and also in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially with this new unity government.

What all that means is it is more important than ever for us to be unified in our support of Israel. However, unity in our support of Israel is sadly falling by the wayside. In many ways, this is the result of today’s hyper-partisan world. Israel is now more than just a political issue; support for Israel has now become a partisan issue.

Israel and the United States share a very important relationship militarily, economically, philosophically and environmentally. These relationships are too important to allow partisanship to undermine.

Yet, when we start to accuse a political party or important politicians of being anti-Israel, what we are doing in a way is opening a Pandora’s box of the possibility that there may one day be a political party that is truly anti-Israel. To date, neither the majority of Republicans nor the majority of Democrats are anti-Israel. Most of our politicians, thankfully, are firmly pro-Israel. But if we in the Jewish community consistently attack every move they make regarding Israel, we run the risk of turning our supporters away from us at this critical time in Israeli’s future.

I am not arguing that we should not raise our voices when we disagree with policies. As Jews, I feel we have an obligation to do so on any number of issues. I am just concerned when we change the tactics to attacking parties and politicians as opposed to ideas and approaches.

No political party stays in power forever. This means we need to continue to work to strengthen our Israel agenda with both parties and with all of our political leaders. Otherwise, one party or the other may stop listening. When they are in power, they then may start acting in ways that are truly against Israel’s best interest. Or even worse, they may simply stop caring.

My prayer is that we keep working together to unify all of our representatives and all of our communities in the common support of Eretz Yisrael and that our voices are more unified in this endeavor. In this way we can continue to build up the walls of Jerusalem and not tear them down.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff is the spiritual leader for Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills and is a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.

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