Ari (Ballaban) Jun — In Conversation
We Need to Talk About Israel
There have been tensions within the Israeli mainstream about the current coalition’s plan to transfer power from the judiciary to the legislature. There have been concerns amongst those who identify or ally with non-Orthodox Jews, as certain factions within the coalition seek to redefine who counts as Jewish. And, not least significant within this chaos, there have been eruptions of violence between Israelis and Palestinians—recently, this included the heartbreaking murder of two Israeli Jewish brothers who were settlers, then a sickening, large-scale retaliation by settlers against the Palestinian village of Huwara.
Chaos in Israel is hardly new, but this is different. The Jewish Federations of North America even released a rare public letter of rebuke targeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition (although it technically also spoke to Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, it was not Lapid’s legislative proposals which triggered the letter). In it, JFNA called for moderation, effectively begging the coalition not to take any actions that would further jeopardize the relationship between American and Israeli Jews, specifically naming changes that would undermine the country’s democracy. In their attempt to show that JFNA was not issuing a threat, but instead spoke out of care and love, JFNA noted that their “support for the State of Israel [was] unconditional and eternal.”
What concerns me is the following:
Although the above quote may accurately characterize JFNA’s relationship with Israel, I have my doubts that it is true for an increasingly large number of Jews in the United States. Such Jews may have an unconditional and eternal love for an idealized Israel, but that is not true of their feelings for the political reality. As someone who views a healthy and vibrant, just and democratic Israel as essential, I find this alarming—even though I fundamentally empathize with (and even in some cases share) the frustrations and anger that are driving a wedge between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.
There is no easy fix to this problem: if there were, it would have already been deployed. What we can do, though, is continue to engage and push ourselves to keep learning. I am actually less fearful of American Jews who are angered by Israel than I am of those who grow apathetic.
Consequently, JCRC will be rolling out a new series of events in which we will seek to teach and engage members of our community on the topic of Israel and its current socio-political developments. “We Need to Talk: About Israel” has a simple premise: You give us an intimate space (e.g., your living room) and an audience (~10 people) interested in learning and talking more about Israel. We, the JCRC, will come to you and bring content and a moderated conversation in the hopes of moving us all forward.
As fault lines within our Jewish community continue to strain, this sort of person-to-person dialogue truly is one of the best tools we have. I hope that you will consider taking advantage of it and joining us in our effort.