Comments on the Report of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation Israel Policies Task Force

By Sydney Nestel February 2005

These are my comments on the Report of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation Israel Policies Task Force dated September 15, 2004 and downloaded from in Feb 2005. Since most of these comments will focus on areas where I think the report erred, let me start by stating that I think the report is more right than it is wrong. It makes a number of statements that, if adopted as JRF official policy and followed up on, will position the JRF, within the context of normative North American Jewish opinion, on the correct side of most Israel related issues. Specifically: • It states that the relationship between Diaspora Jewry and the Jewish community in Israel, is of vital importance, and needs to be raised in the consciousness and practice of Reconstructionists and Reconstructionist institutions. We cannot put Israel, Israel related issues, and our relationship with world Jewry, on a back burner because of apathy, fear of controversy, or the pain of confronting uncomfortable realities. These issues are too central to the Reconstructionist world view, and to do so would be to be untrue to our principles. In doing so we need to act as equal stakeholders with Israelis and Israeli institutions, and need not be silent for fear of talking out of turn or publicly disagreeing with Israeli government positions. It puts the JRF clearly in the “dovish” camp vis a vis the Israel/Palestine dispute, rejecting divine, or any other, claims to Greater Israel, acknowledging Palestinian rights and needs, seeking security through agreements, and promoting compromise. It puts religious pluralism front and centre as one of our prime interests in Israeli society. It puts human rights, democracy, social justice, and environmental sensitivity front and center as prime interests of ours in Israeli society.

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If these principals are, in fact adopted and internalized within the JRF and its congregations, the report will have done a great service. If this report will have broken some of the paralysis around Israel issues that grips many Reconstructionist groupings, it will have done a great service. If it sparks serious open and respectful discussion about Israel issues within the movement, it will have done a great service.


Lastly the authors are to be praised for the courage to take on potentially divisive issues, and to have come up with a report, that while clearly a negotiated synthesis of various viewpoints, for the most part, presents a consistent view point, that we can react to. *** My criticism of the report can be divided into six areas. • • • • • • Fundamental Conceptual Disagreements Disagreements re values and assumptions. Confusion of terms. Disagreements with specific recommendations. Lack of clear positioning of the report. Recommendations on how to proceed

Obviously there are dependencies and overlaps between these areas, and the division is somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless it seems a useful way to organize the rest of my comments.

Fundamental Conceptual Disagreements
My fundamental conceptual disagreements with the report are the following: 1. The report sees the State of Israel and a Jewish majority within it as ends in themselves. It confused and conflates the terms and concepts: “State of Israel”, “People of Israel”, “Land of Israel” (Eretz Yisrael), and to a lesser extent “Torah of Israel” (Jewish values and culture). I see my own prime and clear loyalty to the Jewish People (People of Israel), its physical safety, and the revitalization of its values and culture (Torah of Israel). For me the State is merely instrumental, and my loyalty, or at least passion for it, is contingent on its utilility in achieving these goals. If the State, as structured, is detrimental to those goals, it should be changed - radically if necessary. Historically this has been the position of many pre-and post state Zionists and respected Jewish thinkers. (Ahad Haam, Buber, Magnes, Leibovitz, etc…) For me the State is a pragmatic necessity in the present (and likely in the near future.) In the long run, it along with all nation-states, should whither, as we move towards a globalised more interdependent and less ethnically polarized world. While it is undeniable, that in the collective and historical consciousness of our people “The Jewish State” (or more precisely the Jewish Kingdom) has been linked with the Messianic vision, this does not means that such a state should be the be-all and end-all of our hopes and dreams for the future. Indeed our prophets linked such a Messianic kingdom to universal peace and justice. The Talmudic Rabbis saw the future Jewish Kingdom as a prelude, a stepping stone, to some fantastic post historical (and perhaps post physical) utopia


where everyone would acknowledge the Lord and the differences between Jew and non-Jews would be minimal. Today of course we understand that other forms of political organization than Kingdoms, Empires, and nation-states, are possible, and furthermore we should not limit our Messianic vision only to models that exist today. Our policy regarding the idea of the State of Israel should be “A nation state if necessary, but not necessarily a nation state”. 2. The report fails to properly acknowledge the essential central problem with Zionism: that the re-establishment of a strong Jewish national presence in the Land of Israel, necessarily infringes on the national rights of the Palestinians. This does not mean that Zionism is wrong, nor unnecessary. But it does acknowledge that our success has harmed them. This was once acknowledged by both the Zionist right and left. Indeed one of the most prescient and insightful analysis of the essential nature of the problem is the “Iron Wall” a 1930’s essay by the Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of today’s ruling Likud party. He admitted that Jewish settlement necessarily hurt Arabs interests and it was foolish to think the Arabs would voluntarily agree to our national program. (We need not now go into whether his prescriptive advice on how to deal with this was correct.) Furthermore, the report does not acknowledge that de jure and de facto Zionist and Israeli policy has often - and fairly consistently - gone beyond even what was “necessary” in advantaging Jews at the expense of Palestinians. Until the Jewish people fully admit to ourselves and to the Palestinians that we have in the past and continue today, to hurt the Palestinians, until we take seriously our responsibility to make what amends we can, until we acknowledge that we now have “enough” - land, water, historical places, economic well being, security; and that it is time to allow them have some of these things too, there will be no justice, and little peace. (See the section on Tshuva on page 45 of the report. This is the spirit that should have been present in the programmatic and policy sections of the report. It is not.) Until we raise our consciousness and do these things, the whole Zionist enterprise will stand in the balance, and, indeed, threaten the Jewish future as much as help it. This is the central dilemma facing Zionism today. 3. The report falls victim to the myth of Klal Yisrael - “the Community of Israel.” (Perhaps this is caused by, or causes, the conflation of the State, People, Land, and Torah of Israel, mentioned above.) Myths are useful didactic and motivational tools. And they can describe an idealized past or future state of affairs. But to accept myths as reality is dangerous. The report urges us to support “Israel” without distinguishing which aspect of Israel it is referring too. It urges us to support Israel, as if Israel - even just the People of Israel - were a homogeneous whole, with a common vision of its future, and common definition of “the good”. (This is particularly ironic when the Jewish people in the Land of Israel are tearing themselves apart about the planned withdrawal from Gaza and small parts of the West Bank.) Rather the report should have been honest about the culture war going on within the Jewish people. A battle for the soul and the future nature


of the Jewish people. In this battle, which side, which groups, which ideas do we back - and which do we oppose? Being explicit about this, urging clear, even if uncomfortable ideas and positions, should have been part of the positions and programmatic part of the report. While all of Israel is indeed arevim ze la ze (responsible for one another), and our fates are linked, we do not all agree on what is best for the Jewish People and for Judaism. The Orthodox, and the “right”, understand this, and act upon this understanding. We should too. 4. The report is not clear enough about separating our values, vision and goals from our strategies and tactics. My approach would be to explicitly differentiate between our religious hopes and vision (what we pray for, what spin we put on the stories we tell, what we teach our kids to work towards, how we define the “good”), and our day to day pragmatic politics, policies and programs. The latter should serve the former in some way, but they are not the same thing. Programs and political policy statements are compromises and tactics influenced by our vision but also by our analysis of current, and ever changing, circumstances. Instead the report seems to derive (and limit) its values and vision, from its desired policy and programme objectives. The report’s over-emphasis on State, a Jewish majority, and geo-political solutions, may serve to drive out, or alienated JRF members who do not agree with these specifics. A broader, more future oriented, more inclusive and more unifying values based vision needs to be articulated. Then we can legitimately argue about how to work towards that vision in the present, through programs and political policy statements. JRF members are likely to be more willing to compromise on matters of program and short term political policy, than those of long term vision and goals.

Disagreements re Stated Values and Unstated Assumptions
While the report acknowledges the importance of our “values” as the basis of it approach and its conclusions, it does not devote much space to discussing or justifying them however. In fact they are relegated to an appendix, where they are listed with no further commentary. This is a mistake, in my opinion, both because it fails to bring front and centre the many values I would support and the problematic ones I would oppose. Values, not specific programs and political policies should be at the core of any religious movement, and they should have had a place of prominence in this report. ***


I do not accept some of these values as written, nor do I think the Reconstructionist movement should either. Certainly they should not be accepted as self evident, requiring no justification or discussion. In particular: • “Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) – As the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, the land of Israel has always had special meaning for Jews. “Only Eretz Yisrael, where Judaism is the civilization of the majority of its people, can serve as the center of Jewry.” (Mordecai M. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask, pp. 33-35.) With the revitalization of the land, aliyah (migration to Israel) and creation of the modern State, the Jewish attachment to the land has come to mean a commitment to the welfare and safety of the State of Israel as well.” (page 42) I do not agree with Kaplan as quoted. Why do Jews need to be a majority in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) for it to be the centre of Jewry? And which Ertez Yisrael? All of it? Part of it? What are the borders of Eretz Yisrael? The term is generally understood to refer to the maximal Biblical limits of Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish settlement in Temple times, and includes the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and areas currently beyond Israeli sovereignty or occupation. Harkening for a Jewish majority or Jewish control of the land is in fact contradictory to the conclusions of the rest of the report. It is in fact the major motivator of the most extreme elements of the settler movement and the Eretz Yisrael Hashlema (Greater Land Of Israel) movement, which opposes territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Even if we restate Kaplan’s opinion as referring to a Jewish majority in the State of Israel, why is it necessary that only an Israeli State with a Jewish majority can serve as “the center of Jewry.” (Do we need a single centre, as implied by the word “the”? ) Did not Jewry have vibrant centres over the centuries of its exile. Was Iraq (Babylon) not a most vibrant center for 500 years? Was Spain in its day not a vibrant centre? Were Lithuania and Poland in their days not centres? Ahad Ha’am, one of the most influential of early Zionists (and an opponent of Herzl in this regard) believed, more correctly in my opinion, that what was required for Jewish cultural revival, and for the creation of a vibrant center for world Jewry was, merely sufficient territorial concentration of Jews in Eretz Yisrael so that they could create a vibrant self sustaining culture, and secure their economic, social and security interests. Whether, and how, such a vision could be realized in the future, is not the point - in a statement of values. Such non-majoritarian status may or may not be practical or desirable in the short run. But that is an issue for the policy and program sections of the report, presumably areas that would be reviewed from time to time; while the values themselves have a longer shelf life, and are not likely to be reviewed and modified yearly.


Furthermore, the problematic of insisting on the NECESSITY of a Jewish majority is not a theoretical one. It is central to much debate in Israel.  It is used by some on the Jewish “left” as a driving reason to leave the territories, as if the aliyah of another million Jews to Israel, or a sudden drop in the Palestinian birth rate, would make it all OK It is used by the “pragmatic right” (i.e. Sharon) as a primary reason to disengage from as much Palestinian population as possible, while retaining as much Palestinian land (they would call it Eretz Yisrael) as possible - hence the drive to leave Gaza and parts of the West Bank while retaining all the major settlement blocks within the West Bank, as well as much hinterland and water resources as possible. It is used by some in Israel to advocate for “transfer” of non-Jewish population to Jordan or to a future “Small Palestine.” It is used by some to advocate for “transfer” of territory (and the people therein) between Israel and a future Palestinian State. (e.g. Israel annexes Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maaleh Admumim, etc, and Palestine annexes Taiyibe, Ar’ara, Umm el Fahm etc. (this would sort of be like the U.S trading East L.A, Spanish Harlem and Central Miami, for the hotel districts in Acapulco, the Dominion Republic and Maricibo in order to decrease its “Spanish problem”) It is used by some to justify denying citizenship to foreign workers and their Israeli born children, as well as to non-Jewish relatives of Jewish citizens. It is used by some to point out that even if Israel does withdraw from the occupied territories, it will lose a clear Jewish majority by 2050, so why bother. It is used by some to preclude, as beyond the pale, any talk of bi-national states, federations, shared sovereignty, etc. as possible end states of a peace process.

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To be clear, I am not against a Jewish majority in the short run. And I do not deny that a Jewish majority is best for Jewish security under present circumstances. I just don’t think that this is a value in and of itself. It is a means to an end. In the short term it may even be a necessary means within a clearly Jewish state. But it is not a value in and of itself, and in any case may not be sustainable in the long run. • “Jewish Civilizational Continuity and Evolution – The future growth and enrichment of Jewish life are specific goals of Reconstructionism. Our approach teaches that for Judaism to remain authentic and compelling, we must engage in the study of the Jewish tradition, adapting it to changing political, scientific, social and technical circumstances, and thereby renew our commitment to Jewish living. Furthermore, “as there is no future for Israel as a Jewish state without the Jewish People, so there can be no future for the Jewish people without a strong, secure, democratic, and spiritually and culturally Jewish Israel.” (Emanuel S. Goldsmith, introduction to Dynamic Judaism: The Essential Writings of Mordecai M. Kaplan, p. 26.)” (page 42) 6

I do not agree with Rabbi Goldsmith as quoted. Why is it that there is “no future for the Jewish people without a strong, secure, democratic, and spiritually and culturally Jewish Israel.”? One could argue that we do not have this kind of Israel today. Certainly a culturally strong Jewish community in the land of Israel will help the Jewish peoples continuity and continued vibrancy. But the above statement is too categorical, and too overloaded with ill defined buzz words. (What does “strong” mean in this context? Does it mean a good air force? What does “spiritually” mean in this context. That most Israel Jews attend synagogue ? ) If all this section is trying to say is that Jewish Civilization Continuity and Evolution is tied intimately to the life of the Jewish community in the land of Israel, and that therefore our concern for that continuity and evolution requires our concern for and care for the life of Jewish community in the land of Israel, well I agree, and that’s what it should say clearly, As written it seems to imply a lot more, without being clear or explicit. Beyond my disagreement with the two values statements above I should point out that the report recognizes that conflicts between deeply held values occur, but there is no attempt to discuss these conflicts and to set priorities among values when they do compete, or to help define rules that could help us resolve such conflicts. There is an expressed hope that maybe we can make these conflicts go away, by sheer good-luck or by wishful thinking. “The task force established three sets of values that are enumerated in the appendix to this report. The first two sets are regularly in tension for Reconstructionist Jews as they are the core values that form the foundation of the Reconstructionist approach to Jewish living: the values of “Survival of the Jewish Civilization” and “Justice and Equality.” The third category consists of process values for use in discussions and decision making. It should be noted that a fresh examination of values could take them out of tension into a reinforcing relationship. For example, challenging the traditional notion that increased territory increases Israel’s security can lead to a different conclusion: that withdrawing to defensible borders both protects Israel’s identity as Jewish and democratic and enhances the security of her citizens.” But what if it does not? Which value trumps which in this scenario: Jewishness, Security, Democracy, Justice ? The real answer will lie not in a strict priority order, but in weights applied to these values. Certainly we would not allow the slaughter of all Jews in Israel even if absolutely required to achieve Justice for the Palestinians. But would we risk the death of one Israeli, to increase the justice inherent in Palestinian living conditions. How many lives for how which conditions? This is not a theoretical question. It is the ethical questions at the heart of the debate about the road blocks, checkpoints, and the “security fence” / “apartheid wall”.


Similarly, does our value of security trump our value of due process and respect for law? How much of one for how much of the other? This is the ethical question behind the question of targeted assignations and indefinite administrative detentions (arrest without trial.) Or how about weighing our value of “though shalt not murder” versus our value of self defence or of punishing the wicked. This is at the heart of the debate about dropping a massive bomb on an occupied apartment building in order to kill one terrorist leader. Discussions of these sort are needed, to clarify our values. The working assumptions of much Israeli policy and much Jewish public opinion is that security trumps all. I believe Reconstructionists should explicitly reject this often un-stated assumption. But only an open debate about our own conflicting values can do that. Without it we are left with only un-stated and often unclear priorities. And these un-stated assumptions are often the core of our policy and program disagreements down the road.

There are several axiomatic statement scattered throughout the document, that are not defended, and are not obviously true either. These should have been highlighted in the values section, or defended in their context. 1. Right on page one, we have the statement: “A people cannot be challenged to create for itself an ethical nationhood if it is not autonomous and responsible for the fulfillment of the social, human and civil rights of the inhabitants of its land.” The term “ethical nationhood” is itself worthy of note. It is, of course, part of the title of a later book by Mordechai Kaplan ( “The Religion of Ethical Nationhood” 1970). But Kaplan himself rarely used the term nation or nationhood to describe the Jewish people prior to 1948. He preferred the term people or peoplehood. The early Kaplan deliberately eschewed the terms “nation” and “nationhood”, because he did not want to tie his vision for the Jewish people too closely with the idea of the nation state, or invite the confusion of the term “nation” with the idea of State. After 1948 he became more comfortable with the term “nation”, and in the contexts of those years that makes sense. Who knows how he would feel about the relative merits of the words “people” and “nation” today, and how he would feel about the roles and rights of non-Jews in the Jewish homeland, given the reality that has emerged since 1967. We can certainly surmise that, security considerations aside, he would have favoured some sort of multi-cultural or multi-national arrangement; this based on the Kaplan quote presented on page 26 of the report:

“Judaism can certainly not afford to harbor any doctrine which is in conflict with the ethical basis of democracy. That basis is the intrinsic worth of the individual human soul, a worth which is independent of the people, race or church to which one belongs. This implies that no people, race or church can confer upon its members a higher human status than does any other. Democracy as such calls for


the treatment of individuals, despite their marked differences, as equals, from the standpoint of law and of their right to happiness and salvation. Ethical democracy goes one step further and calls for the treatment of all peoples, races and churches as equals in all respects.” (emphasis mine) The last sentence makes clear, by the use of the plural, that he has in mind a polity that respects that national and group rights of all peoples living in that polity, and that this is precisely what elevates “Ethical democracy” from “Basic democracy” which respect only individual rights. We Reconstructionists, who demand space for a Jewish national life in the countries of our Diaspora, should be in favour of just that for others in the one country where we do have political control. But issues language aside, I would disagree with the basic assertion above, that only by controlling a national government can a people express its national identity and promote ethical policies and practices among its members. A people who do not control a government can nonetheless educate and advocate and lobby for policies that reflect their world view, and they can even implement their world view through NGO’s, schools, religious institutions etc. The idea of a fully autonomous nation, in this modern globalized world, is in any case not realistic. Israel, as it is today, is not fully autonomous. The trend in world politics is for states of all kind to ceded more and more autonomy to trans-national organizations (e.g. the E.U., NAFTA, the World Court, etc…, not to mention trans-national corporations.) Security considerations aside, would it be an irreversible blow to our Reconstructionist vision for the Jewish future, if Israel were to cede much of its autonomy to some sort of middle-eastern federation, or join the EU, as that organization moves more and more to a “United States of Europe” model. The underlying assumption here seems to be that only in a classic idealized 19th century nation state can the Jewish people truly reach its potential. The hankering for ethnically homogeneous (or at least ethnically dominated) states has lead to many tragedies in the 20th century: the most recent, perhaps, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Other models are certainly viable, and perhaps even desirable - both for the personal fulfillment of their citizens and for the viability and vibrancy of the peoples within those polities. Think of Canada (both in its early bi-national mode and in its current multinational mode), Belgium, Britain - as it absorbs waves of South Asian and Caribbean immigration and devolves power to its component “nations”, the EU as it evolves into a United States of Europe, and even the U.S.A as it moves away from a melting pot, dominated by WASP culture, to a more multi-cultural model. 2. The section on a New Zionism (page 11) is a well intentioned and perhaps a necessary attempt to redefine what Zionism (which we are all to ascribe to means in the first decades of the 21 century.

An alternate and simpler approach, which would have been less contentious, and which would have satisfied me personally, is quoted on page 1 of the report: “the fundamental and universally accepted proposition of contemporary Zionist ideology is that Israel is central for Jewish life, though interpretations of the term ‘central’ differ widely.”


But the authors chose to go farther, and specify more detail. Detail that invites scrutiny. And I believe, they miss the mark in some respects. (The fact that, rather than start from first principals, they based their tenets for a “New” Zionism on the now 37 year old “Jerusalem Program” - itself a political compromise among various Jewish factions at the time - contributes to this missing of the mark.) In addition to being disappointed in this sections failing to make any mention of Israel’s single greatest challenge - how to deal with the Palestinians - as if this question where not central to any current definition of the Zionist enterprise, and thus re-enforcing the mistaken mythology of some early Zionists who believed in “a land without a people for a people without a land” , I disagree with some of the suggested “affirmations”. I hope that the Reconstructionist movement too rejects these, as being incorrect, too narrowly defined or both. Specifically: • “1. The unity of the Jewish people around the world, who consider Israel the birthplace of their heritage and the state of Israel the national home of the Jewish People. My objection here is to the word “state’. Certainly, “land” would have been acceptable in this context. As written, this “affirmation” is neither a true descriptive statement, nor, in my opinion, a beneficial prescriptive statement. As descriptive, it asserts a unity of opinion among world Jews that simply does not exist. Certainly that are religious Jews, leftwing Jews, and apathetic Jews for whom this statement is simply not true. As a prescription for what is desirable, it precludes imaginative options such a federation, confederation, bi national state, etc. that should not as a matter of principal be precluded. Though these may not seem desirable or even feasible to us in the short run, they should not be precluded in broad statement of principals. Reconstructionist should certainly be allowed to entertain such ideas. Support for a uni-national state of Israel is better moved to the policy recommendation section of this report, - where short term tactics and positions are enumerated - along with borders, refugees, etc. • “5. A state of Israel that represents the Biblical promise of redemption and liberation to a Jewish people that has suffered historic persecution and is, as such, viewed by Jews, as a national homeland with sacred spiritual and religious significance.” This is something I truly object to! To equate the state of Israel - as is - with the greatest longings and visions of our people is a travesty. Is this what we dreamed and prayed for? - falafel, traffic jams, and a good air-force ! Even the religious Zionist fanatics only call the state of Israel “reshit tzmichat geulatenu” (the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.) But, I object to this more limited formulation too. To ascribe “sacred spiritual and religious significance” to the State, is dangerous and wrong in my opinion. Dangerous, because this borders on fascism; because it demands a transcendent


loyalty to the State, when such loyalty should always be contingent. Religions, as a matter of course, should feel free to be in opposition to States, and certainly never their hand maidens. This should apply to all religions and all States. Dangerous, because the belief in the linkage between the State of Israel and the Messianic era is precisely what fuels the passion of the religious right in Israel and among world Jewry. For the sake of the Messiah, all sorts of crimes and “temporary” injustices are be allowed. (This was just as true of Jewish Communists in their day as it is of the extremist settlers in ours.) Dangerous because, when it comes to fulfilling our Messianic dreams, the state is likely to disappoint. And what do we do then? Recast our dreams to fit the limited reality, or drop the idea of Messianic dreams all together. Dangerous because, the Jewish People is likely to outlast the Israeli State (and I know I am talking long term here, but what is religion, and the Jewish religion in particular if not a long term view.) And what do we do with our Messianic vision when that happens. Wrong because as rationalists (and Reconstructionism must remain rational if it is to be anything.) we must always see the danger in taking Messianism too literally. Wrong because the Messianic dream is just that - a dream. One that moves us forward to be sure; but a reality never attainable, just - hopefully- approachable. In reality there is no perfection, no “end of history”, no pain free utopia, where all our needs are magically taken care of, and all conflicts a thing of the past. • “8. That Zionism represents a consciousness that can be actualized outside, as well as inside, the land of Israel and that aliyah is encouraged because only in the State of Israel are Jews fully autonomous and responsible for the physical and moral fate of the Jewish People.” Aside from the fact that the first half of this sentence seems in conflict with the second (why is aliyah encouraged if Zionism can be actualized outside as well as inside the land of Israel?) I reject the phrase “only in the State of Israel are Jews fully autonomous and responsible for the physical and moral fate of the Jewish People.” As I states above, not even in Israel are Jews autonomous (and autonomy is becoming less and less relevant in a globalized world.) And second, I certainly reject (and so does the rest of this report) that The Jews of Israel are “responsible for the physical and moral fate of the Jewish People” (emphasis mine.) While there is no doubt that what Israeli Jews do has great influence on the fate of Jews everywhere, our fate should be and is in fact a shared responsibility among all Jews, in Israel and outside it.

Confusion of Terms
There is a repeated confusion about the term “Israel” itself. This is not surprising, It has plagued all Jewish discourse, since Ben Gurion surprised some of his colleagues, and much of the world, by insisting in calling the new state “Israel.” (It had been widely


expected that it would be called Palestine, or Judea, or the Jewish State.) In any case the decision to name the Jewish state “Israel” added a forth leg to the usual triad of “the Torah of Israel, “the Land of Israel” and “the People of Israel”. We now also had the “State of Israel” . So now-a-days when someone speaks of “support for Israel” (or alternately attacks “Israel”) it is not always clear which of these meanings they are referring to. One suspects that even the speakers are not always clear to themselves as to which they refer. Unless this report is trying to state that these four are one, then it too suffers the same confusion. I certainly would not wish us to say that these four are one (though they clearly influence one another.) Conflating the concepts of people and state, and Jewish People and Israeli State in particular, is a very bad thing. After all, it is we who cry foul when anti-Israel sentiment spills over into anti-Jewish sentiment. If people and state are the same, then we have no right to this objection. We cannot have it both ways. For me, as for Kaplan, the People of Israel and the State of Israel are not the same thing, and clearly has the People have primacy. Examples of where the report is unclear about its use of the term “Israel” abound. One example is on page 1, where the report speaks of the need to strengthen Diaspora relations to the “land and people of Israel,” and to the “Israeli Jewish communities” (clearly a reference to people). Later, on pages 2 & 3 it speaks of “Israel advocacy” and only the footnote makes clear that this is intended to refer to the People of Israel. Later on the same page it speaks of creating a society in Israel that offers “each of its citizens and opportunity for salvation” . The word “citizens” clearly indicated we have switched out attention to the State of Israel - 20% of whose citizens are not Jewish. There is a repeated statement that the Israel must be Jewish. (This is usually stated in the context of “Israel must be Jewish and democratic”). When stated as an unqualified “Israel”, this may sound reasonable. When stated categorically as the “State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic”, this is more problematic. In what ways must the State be Jewish? Since states exist only as legal entities, one assumed this must be in some legal fashion. But the report states, and I agree, that Israeli law should not discriminate against non-Jews. So what I hope the report means in this regard is that we - world Jewry, including Israeli Jews - should work to see that Israeli culture and society has a strong Jewish component; and not that the State of Israel should legislate this Jewish component, either by discriminating against non-Jews or for or against any particular vision of Judaism. This is just as we work for an holistic Jewish culture in Canada, the U.S. or wherever we live, without demanding special state support for Jewish projects. Thus, for example, we should support Jewish education in Israeli schools for Jewish children to the same extent that we support Muslim, or Christian, or Arab education in Israeli schools for those communities. We should support housing projects and land allocations for both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel equally (Neither of these is the case in present day Israel. Often justified, by the need for Israel to be first and foremost Jewish.)


Similarly, what “Jewish” means in the context of “Israel must be Jewish” is never clear. Does it mean a demographic majority must be maintained at all costs? Does it mean that Jewish culture must be promoted over other cultures by State funding? (And if so which Jewish culture? Should the State should impose Sabbath Laws?) Does it mean that Jews should be given more economic opportunities than non-Jews by State policy. Does it mean the Jews should have preferential immigration rights by Law? Or, does it mean that the organic Jewish community in Israel should be allowed to grow and prosper naturally. And that we in the Diaspora should contribute to its cultural vibrancy and economic support as needed, and as we can? Intuitively, I too want Israel to be Jewish in some way, else why should I bother with it? But these are in organic, non legal ways. And I have a, more or less, clear view of the kind of Jewish values and culture I include in the word “Jewish”. None is articulated in the report. Finally, why, if that is the intention, should we advocate for State sponsored ethnic discrimination (either positive or negative) - things I, and most of Reconstructionists, would fight tooth and nail against if propose in our own counties.

Disagreements with Specific Recommendations
Obviously, most (but not all) of my disagreements with specific recommendations of the report stem from the general principled disagreements outlined above. So this section may be somewhat repetitive. Nevertheless I choose to list these, so that they can be made explicit. 1. • In the section A New Zionism (page 11) I would have liked to see at least two additional points. That the Jewish people acknowledge that the instantiation of their rights in Eretz Yisrael has negatively impacted the individual and national rights of the indigenous Palestinian people, and that Zionism must acknowledge that damage, and do its utmost to minimize it and where possible make amends. That any movement that hopes to influence the shape of the Jewish People must be active in both the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities.

This last point is obvious, IMO, but it is necessary to state it explicitly in order to give a principled underpinning to renewed and expanded JRF activity in Israel. In addition, and as noted above, I would like to see point 5 - referring to the state of Israel as representing redemption, dropped. 2. In the section Communal Covenants (page 12) the sub-heading reads Obligations of the Reconstructionist Community to the Jewish People when in fact the obligations listed are almost entirely Israel focused. Either the heading needs to be changed or the list greatly expanded.


The second sub heading (page 13) reads Obligations of Israel to the Jewish People. At a minimum the second sub-heading should read “Obligations of State of Israel to the Jewish People.” - just to be clear. But in that case many of the obligations are not ones I would endorse. In particular it should not be the job of the state - that legal entity with coercive powers - to promote “the celebration of Jewish festivals and marking of Shabbat”, nor “work together with other communities to forge meaningful connections of the Jewish people, including creating and participating in programs such as reciprocal visits, mutual educational enrichment …” These are, to be sure, good things that should be encouraged, but by Jewish civil society in Israel, by NGOs, etc., not the State. In fact many of these activities are today carried out by just such organizations e.g. the WZO, the Jewish Agency, etc . (I will ignore, for the moment, that these two particular NGOs are so tightly intertwined with the Israeli state and political establishment as to sometimes be indistinguishable.) Therefore it would be better re-write for the second sub-heading as Obligations of Jewish Community in the State of Israel to the Jewish People. 3. The section on programmatic objectives re Goal: Educating About Israel (page 16) should have an additional point: • Promote knowledge and appreciation of Israeli literature, music, film, and other cultural forms, by providing reviews, discussion guides, speakers, and access to the materials themselves where possible.

4. The section on programmatic objectives re Goal: Connecting to Israel (page 17) has as its point 8 “Promote regular recitation of the ‘Prayer for the State of Israel’ in Reconstructionist worship” I agree with this despite, my general objection to elevating states to holy objects, because the context here is a programme objective and not a long lasting principle or value statement. Obviously if the state exists we want it to be a good and successful one. In the present circumstance all Jews should be concerned with the welfare of the State of Israel and wish it good leadership, security, peace , etc. However, the current text of this prayer as it appears in Kol Hanshama is flawed. First, because it refers to Israel as “reshit tzmichat geulatenu” (the first flowering of our redemption), generally accepted as manning the harbinger of the Messianic era. I explained above why I thought this is a dangerous and wrong idea. I should add here that the term itself was coined in relation to Zionism by Rabbi Kook, as a justification for supporting Zionism as a stepping stone to an ultimate re-establishment of a Jewish theocracy, complete with Temple sacrifice, Temple priests etc. It is the guiding theoretical principal behind the religious Zionist settlers, who resist giving up even one inch of holy Eretz Yisrael. We Reconstructionists should have nothing to do with such concepts or such wording. Second, it is flawed, because of it context within the Kol Hanshama. It appears at the end


the Torah service, along with a Prayer for the Congregation, a Prayer for the State (which we live in), and a Prayer for (World) Peace. Practical considerations of time management within a service usually dictate that we do not say all four of these prayers. So by privileging the prayer for Israel among these four, we necessarily recite those less, or not at all. Do we really mean that our concern for Israel is greater than out concern for peace in our own lands or the welfare of our local communities? What we need, in my opinion, is a single prayer that addresses all four of these concerns - community, land of residence, Israel, and the world. The report should either make note of the above, or change the wording of the above to read: “Promote regular recitation of a Prayer for Israel in Reconstructionist worship”, thus leaving room for these problems to dealt with at the local level. 5. The section on programmatic objectives re Goal: Advocacy for a Jewish and Democratic Israel (page 18) has no activities related to the Jewish component. This is OK with me. As I have stated above, “Jewish and Democratic” is a problematic formulation; one that can and has lead to many distortions. I would prefer if the title were “Advocacy for a Democratic, Socially Just and Environmentally Sensitive Israel.” Point 2 : “Provide information to membership that enables individuals to participate in advocacy initiatives on the peace process.” should be augmented to include advocacy of religious pluralism, equality, social justice, and environmental issues in Israel. Point 3: “Take and active role, working whenever possible with Israeli partners, in advocating for religious pluralism and freedom, equality, and social justice in Israel.” be augmented to include advocacy of environmental issues in Israel. 6. The language at the bottom of page 19 and top of page 20 is unfortunate: “However, there are supporters of Israel’s security or a “Greater Israel” who advocate policies that would compromise human rights, undermine Israel’s democracy and make it impossible to achieve a just and lasting solution to the conflict, or, at the other extreme, who would sacrifice the Jewish State in favor of a democratic bi-national one. It is precisely because of Reconstructionists’ love for Israel and commitment to her preservation as a Jewish and democratic state that we believe that JRF must speak out.” Again, it reiterates the insistence that a uni-national Jewish State is a core value of Reconstructionist. It was not for many early Zionists, including Buber, Magnus, or Ahad Haam, and it should not be for us either. It wasn’t until 1942 that the Zionist movement adopted a “Jewish State” as it official goal - and then only in the face of the Holocaust and British immigration restrictions. I personally believe that in the immediate future two states for two peoples is the only option that guarantees security for both people, but as a long or even medium term goal I have no necessary commitment to an exclusively Jewish State. I am proud that Canada, where I live now, sees itself as a multicultural and multinational state, and hope that Israel may one day evolve in


this direction too. So I agree that a JRF Israel policy should advocate for a two state solution in the short run. But I do not agree to language that debases the ideas of (or people who support them) a bi-national state or other solutions that go beyond the autonomous autarchic uni-national state. 7. Section 2 on pages 21 and 22, and the footnote 19 on page 22 are illustrative of a built in contradiction in the report. On the one hand report states: “Because of our basic belief that an applicable formula can be found that preserves Israel’s identity as a Jewish and a democratic state, the guidelines are also unequivocal in their insistence of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish polity.” On the other had the footnote makes clear that the State - as a legal entity - need not be Jewish in any way, and that a Jewish majority and Jewish culture will be maintained in any case. If that is true, why the insistence throughout the document that the State be Jewish, and actively promote Jewish interests. If it is not true, and a Jewish majority is threatened without proactive State action, then why pretend there is no conflict between “Jewish” and “democratic”. I say, that it is the responsibility of the Jewish people - not the state of Israel, to ensure a large healthy Jewish community in Israel, and that despite our best efforts a Jewish majority is endangered within the lifetime of our children. Further, we should learn to live with this possibility, and that the best way to prepare for that day is to have peaceful friendly relations with our neighbours, and to break down the culture of exclusive tribal or ethnic loyalty which is prominent in the Mid East (and among Israeli Jews too). Obsession with the Jewish nature of the Israeli State (as opposed to the Jewish civil society within it ), will only make a transition to a post nation state reality more painful. The above quoted sentence should be deleted. On page 23, point 2, the report calls on the “State of Israel to guarantee full social and political equality to all Jewish citizens without distinction as to religious or secular affiliation …” (emphasis mine) Are non-Jews not in need of this protection too? (An oversight perhaps, caused by the conflating of “the State” with “the Jewish People” and obsessing on the Jewish character of the State as opposed to the character of the Jewish People living within it) . This language cries out for change. Non-Jews in Israel suffer from much of the same religious discrimination as do Jews. On page 27, point 2, the report reads: “We believe, however, that further steps must be initiated in order to bring about full equality, in law and by practice, between Jewish and Arab Israelis, thereby producing a more just society and a more stable political system. These steps include but are not limited to: a) active recruitment, in areas where they are eligible, of Arabs for government service until at least proportional representation is reached; …” Why the phrase: “in areas where they are eligible”. ? It certainly sounds condescending or discriminatory. It should be removed, or at least explained. On page 29, in the preamble to the section on Peace and Security, I would have liked to see some mention of “Justice.” Peace without justice is possible (at least 16




for several years or even decades), but it is not the idyllic peace our tradition longs for. If the Palestinians were not carrying on an intifada, would we be in favour of keeping the occupied territories? Sharon, it is widely believed, thinks he can have peace by a combination of military might and relatively small concession involving about 50% of the occupied territories. If he is right, would we support such a peace: a peace of Bantustans? I would not. I would hope the most Reconstructionists and the Reconstructionist movement also would not. Peace without justice is merely a cost effective oppression. 11. On page 35, point 1, the report states: “JRF views most settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as an obstacle to peace. These settlements will need to be evacuated in any final peace agreement.” It is more correct to write; “JRF views all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as an obstacle to peace. Most of these settlements will need to be evacuated in any final peace agreement.” On page 35, point 2, the reports states: “The evacuation of settlements is in Israel’s security, moral, social and economic interests. Recognizing demographic realities, evacuation is also necessary to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity.” Better to write simply: “The evacuation of settlements is in Israel’s security, moral, social and economic interests.” On page 37, in the preamble re Refugees the reports states: “Justice requires that the Jewish people acknowledge its share of responsibility for the suffering of Palestinian refugees and that the refugees be compensated not only by Israel, but also by the Arab countries and Palestinian Authority with whom primary responsibility rests.” (emphasis mine) The allocation of primary responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem is a hotly contested topic. With the recent works of the “New Historians”, like Benny Morris, and especially since the release of the military archives from 1948, it has become increasingly clear that Israel had a major part in the creation of the refugee problem. Words like primary and secondary, are subjective. It is sufficient to know that Israeli forces, in some cases, rounded up Arabs, put them on buses and drove them over the border, and engaged in other activities designed to cause the Arabs to leave. The section above only invites controversy. It is enough to accept our full share of responsibility and offer to help in compensation, without minimizing our sins. Our approach should be one of tshuva in the religious mode (see section Teshuva on page 45 of the report), not one of “cover your ass” based on a legal or diplomatic mode. The underlined text should be removed. 14. On page 38, point 2, re the exact division of sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites, is too categorical (i.e. “must”) and too specific. The JRF is not drafting the final peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. It is enough to go with point 3 that states that “JRF accepts in principle, mutually negotiated solutions to the




division of Jerusalem.” 15. On page 41, point 6, the recommendation is flawed. To mention our Israel policy in every public statement is overkill. And again the constant harping on the “Jewish identity” of the State is wrong - as I have explained above. The bibliography (pages 46 - 57) does not include a single work of the “New Historians” which re-examine the 1948 war in light of recently released archival materials. These would have shed a different light on the issue of Palestinian refugees.


Lack of clear positioning
Finally I would like to comment on the positioning, or lack thereof in this document. Is this report now Reconstructionist policy? Or is it just the basis for discussion. It is unclear from the report or from the preamble on the JRF web site ( .) Further it seems to me the report can be divided so as to allow discussion and approval in sections. There are general principals and values, there are programming recommendations, there are position statements on the various aspect of Israeli life and the Israel/Palestine conflict, and there are recommended next steps. It may be wise for the JRF to discuss, amend as necessary, and approve/adopt each section separately. Further it may be wise to only do this for the programmatic sections and next steps. This is where we need an action plan. There need not be agreement on the values underpinning, and the exact political position statements, and trying to force agreement may be unnecessarily divisive. This does not imply we should not try, and indeed this kind of discussion is most appropriate for a religious organization. It just means we do not need to push for a unified conclusions in these areas if a near consensus does not really exist. And what would it mean to adopt these value and position statements? Would all Reconstructionists be bound to abide by these? This is a real question and not meant to be rhetorical? Finally, what is the position of the JRF as to how this report is to use and understood? What authority does it have now, and what will it have in the future?

While I believe the report is a step in the right direction, I would not want to see it adopted as is in full by the JRF.


Obviously, I feel my comments are all correct and should all be adopted. I understand that this may not happen. Below are several recommendations of how to proceed, in order of my preference. 1. Modify the report to include all or at least most of my suggestions and then adopt the report. This should only be done if a substantial majority exists to do so. 2. The section on programmatic objectives (pages 16 through 18) should be modified as per my (relatively small) suggestions above (Disagreements With Specific Recommendations: 3 through 5) , and adopted as JRF working policy. And the section on advocating for Israel (pages 19 though 38) should be modified as per my suggestions above (Disagreements With Specific Recommendations: 6 through 14) and adopted as JRF guidelines. And the Section on Next Steps (pages 39 through 42) should be modified as per my minor suggestion (Disagreements With Specific Recommendations: 15 ), or not, and adopted as JRF working policy. The rest should remain unadopted. 3. The section on programmatic objectives (pages 16 through 18) should be modified as per my (relatively small) suggestions above (Disagreements With Specific Recommendations: 3 through 5) , and adopted as JRF working policy. And the Section on Next Steps (pages 39 through 42) should be modified as per my minor suggestion (Disagreements With Specific Recommendations: 15 ), or not, and adopted as JRF working policy. The rest should remain unadopted. 4. The report should not be adopted.