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DailyTidings.com
  • GUEST OPINION

    In Israel debate, words matter

  • and Rabbi David Zaslow
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  • and Rabbi David Zaslow
    We are writing in response to Ryan Navickas' Nov. 7 letter, which defended comments made by mayoral candidate Biome Michael Erickson at a Rotary breakfast a few weeks ago. Particularly, we want to address the assertion that "calling for the peaceful dismantling of the Zionist apartheid state" is not to be equated with challenging Israel's right to exist.
    One could not say that calling for the dismantling of the United States is a value-neutral suggestion — it would be interpreted as questioning America's right to exist. And no dismantling of any nation-state against its will could ever be "peaceful" — it would be seen as an act of aggression and would be met with aggression. This is an example where words can be violent or lead to violence even if the speaker doesn't intend them to.
    Israel is a country that we both love and are deeply committed to. At times, we can be critical of Israeli policy and leadership, just as we can also be critical of U.S. policy and leadership. The vast majority of Israeli Jews (as well as American Jews) support a peaceful two-state solution, where both Israelis and Palestinians enjoy autonomy and security. In our time spent visiting Israel, we have both been moved by meeting and working with many people on both sides who share that intention. We all have different ideas about how to achieve that vision, but most everyone who knows the history would agree that the situation is two-sided, complex and sensitive. It is unclear why Israel was singled out, while the human rights violations and breaking of international laws are much worse in other nations in the region (e.g., Why didn't Biome feel called to mention what is happening currently in Syria?).
    It is not an act of racism to have a state that has and requires a Jewish majority. If we look at 20th century history, we see that Jews needed a homeland where their rights would be guaranteed and where they would have autonomy and self-rule. The absence of this has led to repeated acts of violence and genocide too numerous to categorize here. To write that Israel would have no need to fear its neighbors if it stopped behaving like a thug in the region, as the letter does, is dangerously naïve and seems to assume that if Israel was just nicer, every nation in the region could join hands and live in harmony. This shows no regard for Middle Eastern history since Israel's inception.
    Finally, we share the goal of continuing to find a way to learn to speak about Israel, where different voices can respectfully debate and be heard. There shouldn't be a conspiracy of silence. Everyone is free to have their own opinions about any policy issue in the U.S. or in another country. The key is in being mindful not only of what we say but how we say it, and to take responsibility for how this language might be construed and what it might lead to.
    What is our intention in stating something? Are we interested in dialogue or conspiracy theories? It was not only that Biome's comment was not remotely topical (what does Israel have to do with municipal elections in a small town in Southern Oregon?), but that what he said did indeed call into question Israel's right to exist, and that does not feel like responsible language.
    Rabbi Joshua Boettiger is rabbi of Temple Emek Shalom. Rabbi David Zaslow is rabbi of Havurah Shir Hadash.
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