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David Suissa Headshot

In Praise of Disunity

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It's painful to watch liberal lovers of Israel feel so isolated. I'm thinking especially of people like my friend Rabbi Sharon Brous, who wrote about her disappointment with many in the pro-Israel community after last week's rally in front of the Israeli Consulate.

In her piece, she noted the animosity that Israel was up against in the first days of the flotilla crisis. She mentioned the "tens of thousands crying 'Death to Israel' and burning flags in rallies around the world," but then bemoaned the fact that "fairly quickly, the 'tragedy' of the incident was superseded by the need, once again, to stand and defend Israel against vociferous attacks on the very legitimacy of the Jewish state."

She then let the defenders of Israel have it:

"And thus a rally was born. Let's fight fire with fire, it is decided. We'll bring thousands of Jews to the streets and show the world that we will not stand by as Israel is delegitimized. 'You're either with us or against us!' a speaker shouts. 'YES!' the crowd hungrily replies. And in a heartbeat, a tragic episode, filled with complexity and nuance, becomes a Lakers' rally, complete with flag waving, chanting and sloganeering."

Brous lamented the boos and jeers that greeted an official from Americans for Peace Now, and said that she was "devastated by what I can only understand to be a tragic narrowing of the American Jewish heart and mind." She closed with a heartfelt appeal:

"Wouldn't it have been heartening if the Jewish community's message to the world after the flotilla had been: 'What a painful and tragic event. We know that we will never have peace until we can mourn one another's losses. We affirm Israel's right to defend itself, but we also realize that the status quo is untenable and pray that the world, rather than delegitimize us, will join hands with us and work to achieve a lasting peace.' "

My first reaction after reading the piece was: Brous really feels strongly about this, and I'm sure she'd love to have me and others get behind her approach. But then I thought: If we're all on the same team, why do we all have to play the same position?

Brous called on the whole Jewish community, not just her community, to follow her approach and make her statement to the world. But why does she assume that this approach is good for all of us?

In any event, how realistic is it to expect that we should all choose the same way of helping Israel? Jews are as diverse as they come. I'm a hard-nosed Sephardic Zionist from Casablanca; Brous is a spiritual Ashkenazic liberal Zionist from America. I don't mind a nuance-free demonstration once in a while; she's more into self-reflection and understanding the other side.

I see the hypocrisy of a world that's demonizing Israel and trying to turn it into a pariah state, and I feel a need to fight and expose this hypocrisy. Brous sees the same mess that I do, but her inclination is to offer a more hopeful message. Brous sees the status quo as untenable and calls for conciliation; I see a Hamas takeover of the West Bank as even more untenable, and I call for extreme caution. I call my way Jewish; so does she.

What's wrong with two Jews seeing things differently?

Jews have this obsession with rebuking each other in the hope that they'll change one another - always chasing that elusive dream of a "united approach." But if that hasn't succeeded in 5,000 years, why should it succeed now?

The way I see it, we're better off trying to turn our disunity into a virtue.

How can we do that? By focusing less on each other and more on the world - where Israel's real troubles are. If Brous and her camp want to help Israel by showing a conciliatory and self-reflective side to the world - rather than a rah-rah side - they should just do it.

For example, they can have a community "pray-in" that would include an interfaith shiva to "mourn each other's losses" and a "Hands Across Los Angeles" event where peace lovers from all walks of life would hold hands for peace.

If other groups would rather promote Israel's contributions to the world, or fight the lies and hypocrisy against Israel with conferences and activist literature, they should just do it, too.

In other words, everyone should feel free to do their own thing for Israel, even if that "thing" means holding a loud public rally to make a statement to the world of solidarity and support for Israel.

Now, if that kind of partisan atmosphere doesn't lend itself to groups like Peace Now, the organizers shouldn't force it.

Peace Now can do their own thing to help Israel, like dramatizing to the world how much Israel wants peace. For example, why don't they organize an annual Peace Now concert at the Hollywood Bowl with Israeli and Palestinian musicians? (One call to Craig Taubman will make it happen.)

You get the idea: Instead of spending so much time bickering among ourselves about how to help Israel, we ought to just get out there and do it, each in our own way.

Just as there are all kinds of Jews, Israel needs all kinds of supporters - lovers, fighters, jokesters, artists, lawyers, rabble-rousers, social activists, producers, etc. In my mind, that's the only thing we should all agree on.