Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Response to J-Street

An Op-Ed regarding J-Street was passed along to me recently, and I found it quite disturbing. Here is the link to the Op-Ed:

I urge you to read it before examining my response.

One of my many criticisms of the J-Street movement was alluded to several times throughout this Op-Ed by AJ Sibley, a Sophomore at Princeton University. Sibley is calling for others to join him, "to rise up for peace and pressure our public officials (American officials) to continue to push for a final resolution to this conflict: a two-state solution." Peace is the goal, but to neglect the desires of the Israeli people and attempt to forcefully reform Israeli policies in order to push one's personal agenda, an agenda that is not in line with the views of Israeli citizenry, and is rooted in exceedingly dovish ideology, is, to me, both morally and ethically wrong, and is characteristic of a biased, wavering support of the Jewish homeland. 

To place pressure on America, the country Israel so heavily leans on for economic and military support, in order to reform desired Israeli policies for the sake of actualizing one’s own ideal Israel not only opens up the possibility of implementing detrimental reforms, but it would quite possibly lead to an unprecedented contentious relationship between Israel and her strongest ally. The purpose of America’s allegiance with Israel is not to apply pressure on her government so to implement policies favorable in the eyes of American constituents; the purpose of America’s allegiance with Israel is to offer absolute support of the core policies of the Israeli government, especially those policies that keep the Israeli people safe. 

Though I understand the opposition to the “blindly supportive or bust” mentality of many extremist proponents of Israel, I find it disconcerting to push one's agenda on American officials by means of pressure, especially when one is pressuring for policies that are not in the best interest of the existence of the State of Israel. As advocates of Israel, we are not obligated to agree with all of her policies. In fact, there is benefit in being critical, for it leads to a deeper, more well-rounded understanding of the conflict. However, it is purely illogical to advocate for policy reforms that will jeopardize the existence of the Jewish state. Israel, entirely justified in its reluctance to wholeheartedly engage in negotiations with the Palestinians, has leaders who have the best interest of her people in mind. It is not the right of the American people to strong-arm the Israeli government through the generation of American political pressure. That type of approach fails to take into account the position of the majority of the Israeli population, and serves to solely push the leftist agenda on a government more concerned with protecting its people than creating foolishly dovish policies. 

The strongest proof to bring to this discussion is history. By examining various peace offers and rejections, you will find that negotiations with people who refuse to accept the very existence of the State of Israel is entirely futile. Perhaps my most significant criticism of J-Street is the fact that it inexplicably fails to acknowledge the fact that the Palestinian rejectionist attitude is at the core of failed peace negotiations.
Our reluctance and apprehension regarding negotiations is not baseless. In one of Israel's most recent attempts at negotiating peace, the 2000 Camp David Summit, she offered the Palestinian people all of the West Bank, 97% of Gaza, and 30 billion dollars to fund the housing and medical care of displaced Palestinian peoples. The Palestinians responded with the Second Intifada. Even more recently, after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israel was repaid with continuous rocket fire aimed at nearby Israeli settlements. Over the years, Israel has made many overtures, several that have risked the safety of her people, in order to attain peace. But those previous peace negotiations have not only failed, they have opened the door to further endangerment of the Israeli people. 

"Seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not idealistic —  it’s imperative." 

I couldn't agree more. The Israeli government couldn't agree more, though there is a debate regarding what the parameters of that solution should be. It is the right of Israel, and any sovereign nation, to devise a plan that satisfies widespread popular desire and protects its people. It is not, however, the right of the American people to interfere with that process because of a personal agenda.

Again, it is not only morally wrong to push one's agenda on Israel's biggest ally, an agenda that could eventually jeopardize the existence of the State of Israel, but it is foolish to so strongly pursue a two state solution that has proven itself impossible without the Palestinians doing something as simple as noting our right to exist as a sovereign nation. A two state solution is the goal, advocates from both J-Street and StandWithUs can agree on that, but there is an appropriate method of pursuing that peace, and a time to pursue it. Until we are dealing with a government that prioritizes independence and peace over violence and claims to the land, a resolution is merely a dream. 

Rooted beneath the misconception of being pro-Israel is an organization whose goal is to push its own liberal agenda on Israel and her people, despite the fact that Israel’s reluctant stance on negotiations is both justified and supported by its citizenry. This disagreement comes down to such a fundamental truth: We are Americans. It is our duty to defend the ideology of, and advocate for, the land of Israel. That being said, it is not our right to take advantage of Israel’s dependence on America by means of generating political pressure in order to push an undesired liberal agenda on the Israeli government. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Perfection of Being Imperfect

I am not perfect. I have wronged, I have lied, I have belittled, and I have cheated. I have done inexcusable things, committed unforgivable acts, and negatively affected a number of lives. You, believe it or not, are also not perfect. Odds are, you have lied, belittled, and cheated. We humans are inherently imperfect beings. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve developed an understanding of perfection as being unattainable. I’ve come to grips with the fact that imperfection is reality. That being said, I have come to believe that there is a certain sense of rightness that comes with being imperfect. That belief has given me the will to see good in life, has helped restore my faith in God, and has given me a reason to endlessly pursue self-actualization.

I’ve longed wondered why our God, a perfect God, would create a world riddled with crime, murder, and deceit. I’ve long wondered why our God would create a Jew whose nature prohibits him from living a perfect Torah life. I understand that we’ve been graced with free will, but that explanation doesn’t examine why God didn’t create the human race as being perfect beings in a world void of imperfection, thus giving us free will, but eliminating the possibility of making imperfect choices. Furthermore, Jews are taught that we have been created in the image of God, from which we can reasonably infer that being comparable to God is accompanied by God’s unequivocal perfection. But we know that is not the case.

I am no Torah scholar, of that I have no doubt. However, I am fortunate enough to be a member of a religion that allows one to explore, create, and favor various answers to complex questions such as this one. In my study of the works of Rabbi David Aaron, I have come to terms with being imperfect, and I have learned to see the value within being flawed.

To me, it is not at all heretical to question if God made a mistake during His creation of mankind. Not only would absolute perfection be easier for mortals, but it would make for an easier divine reign as well. This world, a world in which the good die young, the undeserving are unjustifiably punished, and awful things happen to righteous people, doesn’t appear to be a world created by the God that we all so revere. It’s difficult to concede that our God is perfect without examining why He created such an undeniably imperfect world.

In a perfect world, I would never have tried to lie my way out of an unfortunate situation in ninth grade. In a perfect world, my family would sit down together for dinner every night. In a perfect world, religion wouldn’t be so confusing and burdensome. There would be no war. There would be no sickness. There would be no bad. That may sound ideal, but without all of those imperfections, where is the opportunity to grow? Where is the opportunity to seek something greater than ourselves? Where is the opportunity to find meaning in this life?

The reason I view imperfection as being okay is because it gives me a reason to strive to better myself. I do lie, I have cheated, and I am oftentimes deceitful. And, as a way of trying to better myself, I’ve come to accept these negative traits, and subsequently vowed to correct them. Those flaws have given my life meaning. My imperfections have created goals, they’ve given me a reason to live.

I once struggled mightily with this question. At one point, it pushed me to the brink of giving up on God. But when I came to realize that imperfections are necessary to inspire meaning and goals, I saw the beauty within this chaotic world. Had I not lied in ninth grade, I would never have decided to transform myself as a student. If my family was perfect, I wouldn’t be close to the person I am today. If religion wasn’t so confusing, then how on earth could it be so exciting and thought provoking? Without imperfection, there would be no advancement. We would be a boring, stagnant people.

For those of you struggling with this very question, I am by no means suggesting that my answer is the correct one. There is no correct answer. But the beauty of Judaism is that you can find an answer that best suits you. This one best suits me.

I will continue to lead an imperfect life within this imperfect world that our perfect God has created. I will do so with a deeper appreciation for imperfections, for I now understand that God has given us the opportunity to find meaning in our lives. God has given us a reason to live. God has created imperfection so that those who genuinely desire a better world will emerge to change the course of history. So, if you’re not perfect, don’t fret. None of us are, and that’s perfectly okay.