Since taking a look at this video yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about it. Not only because it is hysterical (The Norwegians killed the Salmon), but because it is so sad. It comes from "Eretz Nehederet," an Israeli political satire program and has spread across the internet among those of us who care deeply about Israel.
As we struggle with making the case for Israel, too often our dialogue and approach resembles that of the kindergarteners in this video.
Fixated on our echo chamber (there it is again), we delude ourselves into thinking that a binary view of the world will suffice in communicating Israel’s message to anyone outside of the bubble. We struggle with the incredibly difficult position in which Israel finds itself and the seemingly endless pressure it deals with. Without “skin in the game”, we have been told for decades, our role is to support and defend. However, we are faced with an interesting dilemma.
On one hand, we experience many of those in the “Peter Beinart” generation who not only do not have “skin in the game” but aren’t connected at all – despite what the “studies” tell us. Despite the miracle of Taglit-Birthright, many of our institutions do not confront the dilemmas of supporting Israel in a complex world. And, certainly do not approach the question of when it is appropriate to question the decisions of one government or another.
I recall one Tisha B’av, at a rally to support victims of terror, I exhorted the crowd to pressure the Israeli government to act decisively on behalf of the people of Sderot region. (I admit that I asked the Israeli Consul, who was in attendance that day, if it would be ok. She graciously agreed). So there I was, in front of hundreds of people, activists and community leaders, urging the crowd to do something I had never asked before – to put pressure on the democratically elected government of Israel to take action on a matter of peace and security. After the speech a well-known community activist and gadfly in his own right approached me and said – “How about that from Ronkin! I toned down my remarks and you came out and finally said it!”
And, do we not have “skin in the game?” No, we don’t fight in the army or pay taxes (however, many Israelis don’t either – but that’s a topic for another time), but we put ourselves out there every day – organizationally and personally – on behalf of Israel, and by extension, the Jewish people. Increasingly, the Jewish people are being held accountable for Israel’s behavior. This is true in Seattle where a wonderful Jewish professional was murdered at the beginning of the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and in numerous incidents across Europe. While I firmly believe that not all critique of Israel is anti-Semitism, I think that we are all susceptible when anti-Zionism leads to extremist rhetoric or worse.
So, where are we today?
Honestly, I am not sure.
Many of us, myself included, have strong opinions about which policy alternative makes most sense. Some of us speak out. Some of us speak privately to those whom we think we can influence. And others keep their mouths shut.
So, what’s a committed Zionist (or Zionist organization) to do? How do we stay relevant and create a space for the discussion. And, more importantly, how do we make a real difference, because ultimately, talk is cheap if it has no impact.