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Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi David Wolpe

In Israel Debate, These Jews Should Be Ignored

Posted: 02/ 9/11 04:58 PM ET

Judaism is an argumentative tradition. My Talmud teacher explained early on that if we doze off in class and are roused by a teacher's sudden question, the proper answer is always "there's a dispute." Rarely, he said, will we be wrong.

But there are limits. Jews argue from every viewpoint about tradition, peoplehood and always about Israel. But two perspectives, and their advocates, should not hold a place in public discourse. The boycotters and the expulsionists are quite simply beyond the pale.

First are those who support BDS -- the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. These same people who anathematize Israel do not march against China for its rape of Tibet, against North Korea for its threatened obliteration of the South, against the Arab nations that have barred other religions from practice and discriminated in vicious and consistent ways against women, homosexuals and dissidents. No, they reserve their protest for a thriving, imperfect democracy that has a parliament with Arabs as well as Jews, a justice system where the chief judge in the trial condemning a former President of Israel is an Arab Israeli, where a completely unfettered press criticizes the government with vigor. Disagreeing with Israel is a time-honored tradition. Seeking to boycott it is to function as an anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is making human faults (real and imagined) the special preserve of the Jews.

Those Jews who support BDS, or deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, have no place at the table. They should not be invited to speak at synagogues and churches, universities and other institutions that respect rational discourse. They should have the same intellectual status as Klansmen: purveyors of hate.

Equally to be shunned are those Jews who advocate the forcible transfer of Arabs from the land of Israel. Here too there is no disguising racism in the mantle of political preference. Insisting that Arabs leave the land of Israel is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple. Though it may be advocated by means less draconian than murder, no civil hearing should be extended to those who promote it. They should no more have a place at the table -- the crazed zealots of Zion -- than the deniers of Zion. The middle -- the great, reasonable, quarreling middle -- must be permitted to thunder its standards as well. The best need not lack all conviction. We can cry "foul" to both extremes.

As someone who cares passionately for the state of Israel, I am weary of the venom poured on this solitary nation whose legitimacy must be proven again and again. After World War II convulsed the globe, no one said Germany was illegitimate. After genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, Congo, no one called for an end to those nations. But Israel, repeatedly attacked, is a tiny nation which has returned territory, rich valuable land, to its enemies in exchange for peace and is a vanguard in a region surrounded by those who would destroy it. Singling it out is morally repugnant: It may not be a result of anti-Semitism, but it sure quacks like a duck.

Jews who call for expulsion of others are historically ignorant and morally contemptible. How many times were Jews forcibly exiled, including from Arab lands? Jews who call for boycotts are equally benighted. Considering the sanctions levied against Jews throughout history, for Jews to be calling for the boycott of other Jews is a savage irony.

Viewpoints from left and right -- J Street on one end and the ZOA on the other -- affirm Israel's right, in common with all nation states, to exist. And they endorse Israel's fundamental quest to exist as a free and fair democracy in a perilous corner of the globe. One may dislike the angle of approach but it is one of understanding and sympathy. We have, as the prophet counseled, deep stakes and therefore a large tent; only those whose agenda is destruction belong outside.

Callous and cruel talk about the Palestinians or other Arab groups is odious. Those who preach and do evil are of course to be condemned -- the rhetorical and actual violence of Islamism should not be blunted or minimized. But it is time that Jews set clear standards for who is inside and who is outside the ring of acceptable discourse. If you support a boycott of Israel, you have invalidated yourself. If you want Israel to be free of its Arab inhabitants, we need not hear your rants. This is not a call for censorship. Everyone has the right to speak, to protest, to write and to agitate. Yet no responsible organization should dignify intellectually disreputable and morally loathsome positions. There is enough to argue about without inviting the haters into the conversation.