My colleague and friend, Rob Jacobs, executive director of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, leaned over to me the other day and asked: “Are you getting calls about your participation in the interfaith dialogue on the Mideast that appeared in Colors NW?”
“No,” I replied. “Why?”
“I’m getting them. People think that you and Ted (Falcon) were too soft in the defense of Israel.”
Then, in the January issue of Colors NW, there was a long letter by one of Israel’s self-appointed but admittedly well-intentioned defenders, taking us to task “for bending over backwards to understand and accommodate the Palestinian view and their supporters.”
“What was missing,” he wrote, “were Jews and others who would articulate the Israeli position.”
“The Israeli position.” It is a curious choice of words. What he really was saying is “an Israeli position that corresponds more closely to my own.” Since Israel is celebrated for the vitality and diversity of its political debate, his implicit claim that could identify and speak for “Israel’s position” really raised my hackles.
The funny thing is, I feel the same way in a mirrored image — that my perspective more closely represents Israel than does this writer’s. Now I could understand his frustration. There was no one on the panel who spoke from his point of view. Even though Ted and I did our best — and I thought that the dialogue, as a first step, was quite useful — no one present spoke from a “right-wing” pro-Israel perspective (or what our letter-writer called “the Israeli position”).
As invited participants, it wasn’t up to us to determine the guest list, but our letter-writer makes a point that even I have had to make at similar gatherings: all too often there is a certain pre-selection that goes on in dialogues. Sometimes the host wants to limit the range of opinion present and thinks they might have more success by not inviting those they perceive as on the extremes. Other times, potential dialogue partners choose not to attend, saying, “I won’t sit and talk with anyone with views like that.”
Sometimes some people just don’t want to hear too divergent a point of view. People on the left prefer to talk with people on the left, and people on the right with others on the right, Orthodox with Orthodox, Reform with Reform, etc. It is human nature — but not necessarily the best thing for us — to prefer to talk with those who basically agree with us.
The well-known expression on Jewish diversity has a Heavenly Voice proclaiming that both the views of the School of Hillel and those of the School of Shammai were the words of the living God. We lack that kind of authoritative voice in our own day, but the principle still holds. There is a place for all of us, ideally speaking, in our community.
Think of our community as an organic whole. We need those who preserve our traditions and those who make new ones. we need people to be vigilant about resurgent anti-Semitism and people reaching out to diverse communities. And we need pro-Israel doves and pro-Israel hawks—and maybe also those who aren’t even pro-Israel, too. All have a place and role and we are healthier for our diversity, but no one is less a Jew or a Zionist for having a different perspective.
Perhaps the biggest danger our people faces may not come from those outside our ranks but from “sinat hinum,” the irrational, groundless hatred that has its roots in intolerance of those with different views inside our own tent.