Israel is only ours by virtue of our conduct

By Jonathan Wittenberg, November 25, 2010

I welcome Mick Davis' courage and comments. They come from a man deeply committed to Israel.

We worry lest the Jewish state cease to exist because of a military defeat. More recently we've become concerned Israel may no longer be Jewish because of demographic factors. But it is also possible that Israel ceases to be a 'Jewish' state for ethical reasons, because it fails to remain faithful to the 3000-year-old ethical traditions of Judaism.

Justice and compassion are the heart of Jewish ethics. They are the due and duty of everyone, irrespective of race or religion, because of the dignity bestowed by God upon every person.

The often unequal treatment of Israel's Arab citizens, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the degradation imposed by the wall and by road blocks, the destruction of olive groves and the confiscation of lands are matters of the deepest moral concern.

I avoid comparisons with apartheid, because the original causes of these ills lie not in wanton expansionism but in the complex conflict for which Israel's enemies must bear a profound share of responsibility. Nevertheless, the resultant injustices present us with one of the greatest crises not only in the history of Israel, but of Judaism.

Throughout the Bible, the premise is not that Israel is ours by right, but only by virtue of how we conduct ourselves morally in the land. Our responsibility is to perform what we believe to be God's will, to do what is right.

If we silence this debate out of fear of Israel's delegitimisers, sadly well-founded, we allow our enemies to rob us of our own culture, of the discourse which is the essence of Judaism.

Further, we let down those numerous and remarkable Israelis who stand up for the human rights of all, even while risking their lives to defend the country they love. We also close ourselves off from those Palestinians and Muslims who want to share a dialogue about a peaceful future. And we render Israel seemingly irrelevant; or, worse, a matter of shame to those many young Jews who have grown up in pluralist Diasporas with liberal values.

However, it is equally central to the Jewish tradition that the privilege of comment is accompanied by the responsibility of commitment. Our support for Israel's right to exist, our readiness to stand up against the country's many unjust detractors, must be staunch, fearless and backed up by visiting and giving to the country.

We do not have the liberty of debating on one front only but, like Israelis, must do so on many. We cannot avoid the issues.

Jonathan Wittenberg is Senior Rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues UK

Last updated: 1:55pm, November 25 2010