Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize: A Two-State Solution

In this week’s portion, Moses and Aaron are called upon to bring forth water from the rock of Meribah so that God can provide water for the people and their animals.

The people have been complaining about the lack of water in the Wilderness of Zin, complaining with a trope that has become a sore spot for Moses, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?”

It’s amazing how easily the Hebrew word kahal, community becomes the verb for gather against, “vayikahalu.” If nothing else, gathering against something is a way of bringing the community together, of unifying the kahal with a shared rallying cry at their center.

How often have we seen this phenomenon through history? The disparate temporarily united because of a common scapegoat, enemy or cause against which to gather? What are the costs toward building community against, instead of for?

We have seen this phenomenon play out this past week with the Presbyterian Church’s resolution at their most recent General Assembly to divest from companies that they deem to be “aiding the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.” I don’t know whether their vote, which was very close, served as a unifying cry, because it has actually caused a bit of a split for the Church internally. They narrowly voted to divest their stock holdings in three companies that they thought to be improperly supporting the Occupation: Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard.

This move by the Presbyterian Church brings up many different issues.

One is whether divesting from global companies that lend support to the Occupation will change anything. Another is whether the tactic is peace-inducing or simply obstructionist. Another is what the role of an American church should be vis a vis acting alone against Israel. The final and most fraught issue is whether divestment is really against Israel. Is it not perhaps to spark dialogue and media attention regarding the plight of the Palestinians? Are they not deeply oppressed?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so complicated and so entrenched that it is difficult to know what to think. At a certain point, we must move away from concern about Israel’s image and rather seek out the right thing to do, the best way to move forward.

A 2-state solution is in Israel’s best interest for many reasons: Most importantly, it is the only way forward for Israel to remain both a Jewish and a Democratic state. If full rights of citizenship were granted to all Palestinians tomorrow without a Palestinian state, it would no longer be a Jewish state. If a one-state solution were created tomorrow in which Palestinians were not full Israeli citizens, Israel would become an apartheid state.

Let’s go back to the Torah portion. There is something else going on here that may have caused the Israelites’ discontentedness and complaining against Moses and Aaron about the lack of water in the desert. The portion we read from the Torah recounts Miriam’s death and burial. And then immediately in the next verse, “the community was without water, and joined against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, etc.” The stark chronology of the biblical narrative indicates that Miriam’s death may have been more than the people could bear. They channeled their grief and frustration from Miriam’s death into rebelling against Moses and Aaron. The loss of Miriam made them realize the ways in which they were lacking materially as well.

With people, as with organizations, the challenge is to see the causes behind the stated cause, the underlying reasons that motivate a given behavior. It is all too easy for people to misdirect anger or emotion from one area of their lives into another. Part of keeping an even temperament, walking the middle way, as Maimonides advocates, is knowing ourselves: Knowing our old wounds and knowing how they are triggered, both as individuals and as a collective, as Jews.  In the Torah portion, the people are so distraught about the death of Miriam they do not even state or admit their grief among themselves. Instead, they experience understandable loss and lacking, and channel that into their loss of water. They cry out like young children far from home, “We want to go home! It’s all too much for us! Take us back!”

With regard to Israel and the conflict with Palestinians, a massively complicated and entrenched situation, grief is a real and daily experience. In fact, currently, Three Israeli teenagers are missing, abducted by Hamas. We pray for their safe return. Terrorism is never the answer. Yet among our people there is also an entrenched pattern of grief and victimhood that is older than the conflict with the Palestinians; a grief made acute by the Holocaust, but older than the Holocaust as well.

I do not know whether the Presbyterian Church did a good or a bad thing in divesting in these companies that supposedly support the Occupation. It is complicated, not black and white. Yet the cry we have heard in response, both from Israel and even many Reform Jewish leaders is an all-too-familiar cry that too easily equates criticism for the sake of sustainable peace with anti-Semitism; an old pattern we need to heal in order to see a real and lasting peace in our lifetimes, in order to see a future with 2 states living side by side.

To help our Israeli family reach a Promised Land of peace, we as American Jews need to be aware of the ease with which Israel slips into a victimhood mentality of everyone is against us. Rather than exacerbate this mentality, let’s help Israeli society strive towards a unity and a cohesiveness that is greater and stronger at its root than any external enemy. Moses grows angry at the people for their rallying cry against him. He strikes the rock with all his might, forgetting to sanctify the name of God as he does so. For this, Rashi teaches, Moses will not enter the Promised Land.

For our people today, the Promised Land is a 2-state solution, and rather than falling into a pattern of crying out against groups that apply pressure on Israel to achieve it, let us keep our eye on the goal of achieving the only sustainable goal for Israel: 2 democratic countries side by side. Economic divestment of any kind may rub you the wrong way, as it does me, but let’s not let our anger distract us from that shared goal. We can use all the help we can get.

I recognize there is a diversity of opinions about issues related to Israel, in our congregation. The strength of our community is reflected in our ability to listen, disagree and debate these issues. I welcome debate. Tonight, I wanted you all to know what I think.

Shabbat Shalom.