Saving Israel’s Soul

April 6, 2010
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Hadar Susskind

I was born in Israel to American parents. I grew up in America and then as a young adult made the decision to move back to Israel to serve as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The security and wellbeing of Israel and its citizens, as well as its nature as a Jewish democratic homeland, are at the core of my professional and personal life. I spend my days working — in the manner I believe is most appropriate — to help ensure the long-term security of Israel and to help make sure that Israel continues to be the pluralistic, democratic country that I love. Part of that effort is working to fix the things that I think detract from that security and from Israel’s long-term interests.

Some in the Jewish community, both here and in Israel, seem to believe that is not enough. They demand ideological purity (their ideology, of course) before they will consider someone loyal to the cause, before they will bestow upon them the mantel of “pro-Israel.” There are those on the conservative fringe of our community who insist on a “no daylight” rule — claiming that Israel is so threatened militarily and diplomatically that disagreement with any Israeli government policy or action by Diaspora Jews is, by definition, anti-Israel. More than being distastefully simplistic for the Jewish psyche, this framing is also unhelpfully over-broad: Could anyone credibly argue that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) should not be considered pro-Israel because it opposed many key policies of the Israeli government under Yitzhak Rabin?
Yet even though the ZOA opposes a two-state solution (a position that is, I believe, a direct threat to Israel’s long-term security), I would not question whether ZOA members believe themselves to be doing what is best for Israel.

Democracy in the United States means that we needn’t agree with every single action taken by President Barack Obama, or by President George W. Bush before him. Yet, when it comes to Israel, we are asked, sometimes instructed, to put aside all critical thinking and simply support any and all actions taken by the government — any government. Those who are unwilling to surrender their critical ways of engaging are often attacked with the Jewish community’s rhetorical version of the nuclear option: They are branded as anti-Israel. This black-and-white worldview demands fealty of the sort that would have fit in well with the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s best efforts to determine exactly who among us was pro-American.

The key question should be whether doctrinaire loyalty actually helps Israel and is good for our own Jewish community. In both cases, I would argue that the answer is no. As the Israeli daily, Haaretz, recently wrote in an editorial referencing young American Jews: “It would be an act of outrageous irresponsibility to alienate these Jews instead of doing everything possible to bring them closer, even while engaging them in sharp debate and arguing in favor of Israel’s just positions.”1

We waste precious time when we debate who has the pro-Israel credentials to be heard, rather than how all who identify as pro-Israel can work together to support Israel, its safety and security, and its soul.


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Hadar Susskind is director of policy and strategy for J Street, a new, pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organization. Prior to working with J Street, he was vice president and Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. He has served on the task force of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as well as on the board of directors of the Coalition on Human Needs. Susskind was recognized by the Forward as one of its Forward 50 — one of the 50 most influential Jews in America — in 2008.

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