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IfNotNow protesters

“We stand with Israel.”

That is the sign in front of my Conservative synagogue and many other synagogues. What could be less controversial? What could be more fundamental to Jewish identity

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Alas, at too many synagogues, standing with Israel is too much for some. On Rosh Hashanah, my rabbi felt compelled to defend the sign after a congregant complained. He later admitted to me that he’s not sure such a sign could be put up in the Bay Area where he previously lived.

Even worse, the problem is no longer surprising. A year ago, while thousands of Hamas rockets were bombarding Israel, dozens of American non-Orthodox rabbinical students signed a letter criticizing Israel’s response to the attacks. It could have been written by the PLO. For example, it omitted any mention of Hamas or Israeli civilians.

It’s hard to know whether the letter was a result of the quality of the education the students received or just appalling ignorance. The signatories’ claim, for example, that Israel is engaged in “racist” violence and their comparison of it to Afrikaner South Africa raise the question of whether they ever read a dictionary.

The letter spoke of a “spiritual crisis.” Clearly, the students are in the midst of one. Indeed, it appears that they would rather see Israel destroyed than defend itself because its enemies might be injured. Perhaps the students were depressed by their inability to remake Israel in their image. But the most depressing thing is that these morally conflicted people, with so little compassion or understanding of Israelis, will be future teachers and leaders of Jewish congregations. Together with Israel’s non-Jewish detractors, they will seek to erode the relationship between Jews and their homeland, and between the United States and its ally.

It’s possible that I am naive. Sitting in my synagogue, I thought, “In our polarized nation, is there nothing we can all agree on?” I looked around at the packed sanctuary with some optimism as Democrats, Republicans and independents, liberals and conservatives, supporters of J Street and AIPAC, more and less observant sat together in harmony. On this one day, at least, we truly were one. We were joined in peoplehood and praying in a common language – the vernacular of the only Jewish state.

Was it impossible for these people to agree that “we stand with Israel,” the birthplace of our faith and the homeland of our people?

Our rabbi acknowledged that Israel is flawed. It would be easy to enumerate its imperfections. But what about our nation? The US has not solved its problems in 246 years. Yet some Jews expect Israel, which unlike the US is surrounded by people who wish to destroy it, to create a utopia in less than 75.

I thought back to the Cold War and it occurred to me that people under 40 probably don’t remember the Berlin Wall. While the Wall stood, there were fools, many teaching in universities – and some still doing so – who lauded the virtues of communism. The communism that was so wonderful a wall had to be built to keep people from escaping it. It was hard to find anyone tunneling under the wall to get into East Germany.

I realized that this is analogous to Israel. For all its faults, there is no mass exodus from the Jewish state. On the contrary, people are clamoring to get in. If you believe the student rabbis, the UN Human Rights Council and other detractors, Israel is the worst country in the world. Yet thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war and Russian domination are seeking Israeli citizenship. If Israel is exactly like Afrikaner South Africa, please tell me why so many people are flocking to live under such a system.

Ah yes, the detractors say, but it’s only the privileged white Jews who feel that way. This ignores the hundreds of thousands of non-white Jews who came to Israel fleeing persecution in Muslim countries. Having experienced life in those societies, these Jews reject American liberal suggestions that they should be happy to live under the rule of Palestinian Muslims. They do not dismiss the threat posed by a nuclear Iran and Islamist terrorism in general.

But, of course, those who can’t stand with Israel claim that it’s Palestinians who are treated like black South Africans. But they’re not.

When Israel built its security fence, it was meant to keep terrorists out, not keep its people in – unlike the Berlin Wall. And in which direction did Palestinians choose to go? Did they want to be on the side controlled by the Palestinian Authority? No. Most of them wanted to be on the Israeli side of the barrier.

A declining number of Israeli Arabs support a two-state solution, and few would move to a Palestinian state if it were established. Whenever peace negotiators have suggested incorporating the “Arab triangle” in the Galilee – where most Israeli Arabs live – into “Palestine,” the residents have ferociously objected. Polls have found that most Israeli Arabs are proud to be Israelis. When asked how they identify themselves, only 7% said “Palestinian,” a majority said “Arab-Israeli” and an even larger percentage said they feel like a “real Israeli.” According to a Palestinian poll, 93% of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem prefer to remain under Israeli rule.

Can you imagine blacks in Afrikaner South Africa expressing such views? What does all this say about Jews who can’t stand with Israel? Who have less regard for the Jewish state than Palestinians and Israeli Arabs?

I stand with Israel. You should too.

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