Peter Beinart who argues that the settlements are the major stumbling block to peace with Israel's neighbors and perhaps even more importantly the core reason why many American Jews are growing disconnected from the Jewish state was recently uninvited from speaking at the Atlanta Book Fair. While I disagree with Beinart about many of his judgments, this action represents an insidious turn in the American Jewish landscape. When facing such difficult and weighty problems we require a diversity of views. Narrowing the discussion serves no one, except perhaps our enemies. As the debate grows smaller and our collective views more narrow we can then be more effectively caricatured. I therefore open my hearts and ears to those who disagree with me. As long as someone believes that the State of of Israel must remain Jewish, democratic and in the Middle East they are a Zionist. I have always found it strange that there is far more open debate about Israel's most vexing challenges within the Israeli Knesset than among American Jews. I certainly don't agree with everything Israel does or everything every American Jew says but let's keep the debate open and wide. It does not serve our collective future to apply such litmus tests and attempt to excommunicate those who disagree with us.
Rabbi Danny Gordis writes of those who uninvited Beinart:
They represent, I believe, a scary anti-intellectual trend in the Jewish community. These people believe that an increasingly narrow tent will best protect the state of Israel, and so they continue to move the tent’s pegs. But they are doing just the opposite of bolstering the Jewish state: They weaken Israel and make it more vulnerable because they exclude enormous swaths of the community that we need—particularly on a week like this.And Gordis concludes:
Speaking with people who agree with me is no challenge. Engaging with those whose views seem to me dangerous is infinitely harder, but far more important. That sort of conversation is perhaps the most critical lesson that we inherit from centuries of Talmudic Judaism. The Talmud is essentially a 20-volume argument, in which even positions that “lost” the battle and were not codified into law are subjected to reverential examination. When Hillel and Shammai debate, Jewish law, or halakhah, almost always follows Hillel. But we still study Shammai with reverence. Even those views not codified, we believe, have insights to share and moral positions worth considering.
The American Jewish community is the most secure diaspora community the Jews have ever known. Economically, socially, politically, culturally—we have made it, and what we say and model is watched by countless others. Yet New York Times readers this week can only conclude that in the midst of that security and comfort, we’ve utterly abandoned the intellectual curiosity that has long been Judaism’s hallmark.
Are we not ashamed to have created a community so shrill that any semblance of that Talmudic curiosity has been banished? Has the People of the Book really become so uninterested in thinking?Let us rally in support of the State of Israel. This week let us renew our commitment to its security. But let us as well not rally around one ideology and one vision of Zionism. We are indeed one, but not one idea.