The patriarch Jacob, on the eve of a reunion with his twin brother Esav after a 20-year separation, finds himself left alone on the banks of the River Yabok. Having prepared for a possible conflict with his brother who, when he saw him last, swore to kill him, Jacob has a mystical experience in which he wrestles with a Divine being until he extracts a blessing for himself at the break of dawn. The Torah does not provide an explicit description of this being, which commentators identify either as Esav’s alter ego or as an angel sent by God to confront Jacob. I have always preferred the explanation that the Divine being is none other than Jacob’s own conscience and that the wrestling match is an inner struggle to purge from his soul the less than upright attitudes and behaviors that threaten him with destruction. In the end, he wins the battle and emerges with God’s blessing, a change of name from Jacob to Yisrael, the one who has struggled with beings Divine and human and has prevailed.
I thought of this story last night as I listened to Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli author and journalist and Senior Fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, talk about the implications of the collapse of the current Netanyahu government and how we can best understand the likely results of the next general election in Israel, set for March 17, 2015. The analysis, sponsored by AIPAC for Rabbis in our area, was eloquent, insightful and profound and I want to share some of the highlights with you.
The story of Jacob told in this week’s Parasha is, in some ways, analogous to the dilemmas faced by the State of Israel. Israelis, by and large, experience an inner struggle of their own. The overwhelming majority of Israelis are best described as centrists (which does not mean that the electorate will vote for a centrist government). One statistic in particular quoted by Klein Halevi caught my attention. Fully 70% of Israelis believe in a two-state solution to the Palestinian question…and fully 80% of Israelis believe that a two-state solution will not bring peace and security to Israel. That statistic can be interpreted by understanding that the left in Israel has won the argument about the destructive, immoral and unjust effects of being an occupying power, of dominating another people and denying them sovereignty. And the right in Israel has won the argument over security and stability. It would be insane at this point in time, when the map of the Middle East is undergoing incredible transformation and countries dissolving into chaos (there is no more Syria, Iraq is on its way to breaking up, and there is no longer a central government in Libya), to create another Arab state, especially in the heart of Israel, that would almost surely become another unstable regime soon to be taken over by extremists like Hamas, Hezbollah or even ISIS. Israelis want peace within themselves, the peace yielded by not occupying and dominating another people, and they want the peace that results from stable relations with their neighbors. At this point in time, it seems they cannot have both.
What should be done? Klein Halevi suggests that they do nothing, at least in the near term. He advises that the peace process, negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, be set aside and left dormant for now. And, he advises that all settlement construction (with the exception of Jerusalem, he notes) also be abandoned. That position of neutrality would be the safest course for now, at least until the fate of the Middle East, and the fate of negotiations with Iran in particular, become clearer. Whether or not the next Israeli government takes that position remains to be seen (it’s likely, from snap polls released shortly after the announcement of new elections, that Netanyahu’s Likud party will be reelected with even more Knesset seats, and that the centrist parties of Tzipi Livini and Yair Lapid, which balanced the now collapsed coalition, will lose many of their current seats). Israel’s inner struggle cannot be solved solely on its own initiative, as outside factors must be considered.
Another powerful point made by Yossi Klein Halevi merits passing on. At this time in Israel’s history, AIPAC has never been more important. AIPAC, which has unjustly been characterized by some as a right-of-center organization, is actually centrist. It alone has demonstrated the capacity to talk to those on the right and those on the left, both in the halls of Congress, in the Knesset and here in the United States. Klein Halevi spoke about being able to raise issues, as a speaker engaged by AIPAC, with right-leaning groups like Yeshiva University about the need to halt settlement construction and with left-leaning groups like HUC about Israel’s pressing security needs. AIPAC devotes itself to building relationships with Democrats as well as Republicans, all with Israel’s security interests in mind. The months ahead will be potentially difficult for Israel and AIPAC’s resources and advocacy in Congress will be needed.
So I encourage you to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. on March 1-3, 2015. I will be there, along with a number of Oheb Shalom members. We still have a few discounted registration packets available but time is running out to take advantage of a lower cost to attend this crucial conference. Contact Mark Blumkin or Michael Schechner for more information.
Israel, in ways perhaps similar to the patriarch Jacob, is experiencing inner turmoil, a choice between two courses that are difficult to harmonize. We can help by being informed advocates on her behalf. Let’s not be complacent.