There are some topics regarding which I have expertise and experience, but here, I am afraid, I have experience but no real expertise. So what I write below is indeed my opinion, but simply one that others might take into consideration but not necessarily weigh as any more authoritative than their own.
I think that one has to draw an important line between those Israeli policies that affect Diaspora Jews directly and those that do not. Issues of Jewish identity, conversion, marriage, and divorce clearly affect us all, and so when Israeli authorities propose or enact laws or policies that disenfranchise many of the world's Jews, that has to be protested as loudly and as politically effectively as possible.
When, however, Israel is taking positions on its own internal affairs -- e.g., what it requires of its high school graduates, what its health care system will look like, how it will treat domestic violence, etc., -- or its external affairs related to its security -- e.g., the Wall, the settlements, Gaza, etc. -- then I am willing to express my opinion and to join organizations that do so more thoughtfully than I would, but I always have this nagging feeling that my family and I are not risking our lives by living there and so I have a limited right, if any at all, to try to shape such decisions. That said, friends of mine who are indeed experts in everything from education and social welfare to military and political matters do indeed have a right and even a duty to try to help Israel with these matters, and many of them do -- but that is at the invitation of the Israelis.
This is a complicated question, and the answer rests on assumptions about the relationship between the American Jewish community and the State of Israel. Those who see themselves as primarily American, but with a deep connection and love for Israel, will necessarily answer differently than those who see themselves as exiles of Israel currently residing in (and owing great thanks and allegiance to) the United States. It seems to me that from an Orthodox point of view, the latter perspective is a part of one's attachment to Judaism-- given the strong possibility that there is a Biblical commandment for Jews to live in Israel, and the many hyperbolic statements in the Talmud about the importance of living in Israel if at all possible (and I note my own personal failure to live up to that standard, so I say this as one who has not yet succeeded at living out that value), even those blessed to live in the wonderful exile of the United States would still need to see themselves as exiles.
If so, American Jews would need to realize that the community in Israel is, in many senses, the primary world Jewish community, even if they currently rely greatly on our financial contributions to help them build the miraculous society they are in the process of building. That affects our response to their actions in the following ways:
1) Living far from where we should, we should always approach our desire to criticize the State with the humility of realizing that we often see it differently because we don't have all the facts. To give examples would likely descend into a political argument that is neither useful nor productive, but I know from personal experience that much of the news that comes to Americans is necessarily filtered and edited in ways that can skew our perspective. For perhaps one example, which I hope is unarguable, the question of how to conduct negotiations around peace with the Palestinians, in the American conversation, takes almost no account of the Israelis having left Gaza unilaterally, and still bearing hundreds of rocket attacks a year from Gaza. Whatever the proper response to that fact, its being left out of the discussion in American discussions means that we have to be aware of the limitations on our knowledge and, therefore, perspective.
2) Granting all that, we may still come to feel that on a certain issue we do have enough information to have an opinion, and to see Israeli policy as misguided. In such a circumstance, I think the first step would be to think of how we would act if we saw a close family member acting misguidedly. It seems to me that we would remonstrate with that relative in private, doing our best to get them to see our point of view. And if they rejected our perspective, I think we would most often simply leave them to act as they saw fit, much as we disagreed. It would be rare, it seems to me, for us to go outside the family to protest those actions.
3) It is more complicated in our case, obviously, because our family member wants our financial support for their course of action. Here, I would first consider how we would act if we were living in Israel; we might write letters to the relevant officials, we might engage in a peaceful protest, but what level of objection would it take for us to stop paying our taxes? Even those, in Israel, who refuse to perform their military duties are, it seems to me, often being short-sighted, since they open the door to others making the same refusal on whatever issue seems objectionable to them, and having each individual operate solely by his or her own moral compass is not a way to build a cohesive military. So, too, how objectionable would a family member have to be before you refused to help them with pressing financial needs? Transferring that to the State, it seems to me the next step inis for us to realize that, much as we might object, it is usually a family fight, meant to be kept entre nous, within the family, and not absolving us of our other family obligations, such as making our usual contributions to the cause.
4)The next level would be if the State was acting in a way that was so deeply offensive, I could not feel comfortable being complicit with its actions. Note that this level, to me, is of the kind where I blame Germans of WWII for not standing up to Hitler, Iraqis of the Sadaam Hussein era for not overthrowing that dictator, and the people of China and North Korea for not standing up to their immoral leaders. If someone came to feel that Israeli policy had reached that level-- and, again, we have to approach such issues with the deep humility of recognizing we don't know the whole story; the many Americans who see Palestinian suffering and assume ipso facto that the State bears the responsibility for that are laughably ignorant of the circumstances, and could use many lessons in both long-term and short-term Israeli history-- but if someone felt that Israeli policy had reached that level, they could do no less than protest loudly and publicly, to disassociate themselves from that immoral regime-- as I am still waiting for Arab and Muslim leaders worldwide to do regarding all the various acts of Islamist terror, from those connected to Israel like Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, to those outside of it, like al Qaeda and the Taliban.
When that day comes, it will be much more likely that we'll have to worry about Israeli policy.
What is the proper response of the American Jewish community when Israeli policy seems misguided?
The Reform Movement is a strong supporter of the State of Israel and has deep ties to the land and people of Israel. There are currently over 30 Progressive (the Israeli term for Reform Judaism) congregations in Israel, plus a growing network of schools, community centers, kibbutzim, and other institutions. The American Reform Movement is a supporter of these institutions, as well as the Jerusalem campus of the Reform Movement’s seminary, Hebrew Union College, and also of the Israel Religious Action Center, which advocates for religious pluralism, equal rights, and social justice in Israel. Since 1978, the Reform Movement’s ties to, and advocacy on behalf of, the State of Israel has been fostered through the work of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA – www.arza.org).
Because the Reform Movement supports Israel as a strong, democratic, Jewish state and is concerned for Israel’s long-term security, it is a strong advocate for policies that both preserve Israel’s democratic character and promote Israel’s welfare. At times this may result in expressions of disapproval of specific policies or actions of the Israeli government or of particular political or religious authorities in Israel. However, such disapproval or criticism should in no way be taken as lack of support for the State of Israel or her people.
In 2009, the Reform Movement was instrumental in creating the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues. The Task Force, a coalition of 80 American Jewish organizations, is devoted to Israel’s security and democratic character, and is particularly charged with advocating for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens, as called for in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The Reform Movement has been vocal in calling upon Israel to live by its ideals of religious freedom and pluralism and equal rights for all its citizens. It has repeatedly called upon Israel and the Palestinians to engage in meaningful dialogue to establish peace, based on mutual recognition and respect (see, for example, the CCAR resolution on Israel and the peace process from 2001 at ; http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/resodisp.pl?file=israel&year=2001) it has called upon Israel to cease the building of settlements in the West Bank and upon the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to cease acts of violence against civilian populations. When Israel has failed to live up to its highest ideals, the Reform Movement has spoken out with love and concern, while continuing to support and pray for Israel’s security and celebrating Israel’s achievements, and looking toward a future of peace and prosperity for Israel, the Palestinians, and the whole Middle East.
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