Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World (Jewish Lights, 2006) pp. 157-159.
Israel: Between Conscience and Solidarity The fact that the place of Israel in the mind of American Jews transitioned from a source of great pride to one of excruciating moral dilemma in the space of just twenty years relates directly to our understanding of Jewish historical consciousness. Jews are driven by their twin impulses to survive as a people (Exodus) and to help the world be ordered in accordance with a higher moral standard (Sinai). When confronted by the difficult reality that these twin objectives might be in conflict, as was the case in the decades following the Six-Day War, Jews went in two different directions. Some Jews rallied to Israel’s support and redoubled their efforts to protect and defend Israel. Other Jews, no less concerned about Israel’s survival, nevertheless attempted to hold successive Israeli governments accountable for any actions that might be interpreted as an abuse of power or an obstacle to eventual peaceful coexistence in the region. The gap in the perceptions of the respective camps, Exodus and Sinai, was enormous. The Exodus perception of the Middle East conflict by American Jews was that Israel was subjected to an unfair double standard in the court of world opinion. Motivated by a sense of historical justice, Exodus Jews would claim that the Jews had but one state in the Middle East where Arabs claimed more than twenty. The Jewish state was a haven for Jews surviving the Holocaust and fleeing persecution in the years since the end of World War II. Israel fought its wars to defend itself against Arab aggression, not to capture more territory. There were numerous examples of Arab rejectionism, such as the PLO’s Cairo resolution of 1974, which advanced the idea that Palestinians should accept any offer of territory from Israel with the intention of using it as a forward base to destroy the state of Israel… …There is, of course, another perception of the Middle East conflict. Quite apart from those critics of Israel who are from outside the Jewish community (and there are many), there are numerous Jewish organizations that have criticized selected actions of the Israeli government or trends in Israeli society… (Such) groups are not unconcerned about threats to Israel’s survival, but they are primarily motivated by the Sinai impulse of Jewish identity. They expect the Jewish state to be guided by the values of righteousness and justice that have guided Jews since the dawn of history. They expect the Jewish state to live up to the aspirations expressed in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and to be a country “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.” They expect that a people, so long oppressed, would look into the eyes of their Palestinian neighbors, identify with their plight, and act with sympathy and compassion. In terms of Israel-related Jewish organizations, the relationship between the more pragmatic Exodus camp and the more idealistic Sinai camp is often uneasy. The former certainly is far better organized and represents the predominant perspective of the organized Jewish community. The latter often feels itself unheard and disenfranchised by those who have the ear of public officials as representatives of the organized Jewish community. When Israel faces a crisis, as it did with the second intifada, Jewish individuals or groups that are not in step with the communal party line find themselves facing ostracism, if not worse.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Twenty-five years ago, more than 90% of American Jews felt that Israel's security and safety was a matter that affected their own security and sense of well-being. That number has since declined dramatically, now closer to 50%. Do you feel that your security and safety is linked to the stability of the state of Israel? If your answer is "no," do you feel that your Jewish identity is linked to the state of Israel?

2. Would you call yourself a "Zionist"? Can you define the term? Would the definition "the national liberation movement of the Jewish people" make the term more or less appealing?

3. Do you identify more closely with the narrative and assumptions of the Exodus camp or the Sinai camp as it relates to Israel? Can you understand the narrative and assumptions of the other camp?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)