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Looking Towards or Away From Each Other

02/27/2020 04:07:33 PM


This coming Sunday-Tuesday, over 18,000 pro-Israel activists, including over 30 from Congregation B’nai Torah, will be gathering in Washington, D.C. for the AIPAC Policy Conference. This year, there has been a lot of commotion about which politicians will be attending. Israel’s election is taking place on Monday, March 2, and absentee balloting is strictly limited, so many Israelis who would ordinarily attend will be absent. The last day of the conference is the Super Tuesday Primary, and so it was expected that, as in 2016, some candidates would not be able to participate, or would “phone it in” from the campaign trail.

This year, attendance is more than a "check the box." AIPAC, and support of Israel, have been turned into a litmus test.   Bernie Sanders made his non-attendance a political statement, calling AIPAC a “platform for bigotry,” and others have made less dramatic statements along the same vein. Some candidates have been quick to announce that they will attend, and still others have expressed regrets without editorializing.

I reject Sanders’ statement. In the past, AIPAC has been one of the few “safe zones” in American political discourse where leaders from both sides of the aisle, politicians who ordinarily disagreed with each other on almost every issue, would come together to express their support for America’s relationship with Israel. I don't personally agree with every speaker or sentiment expressed at the Policy Conference. In my opinion, almost every candidate has some association that they should not be proud of, or has shared a stage with hateful people to the left or right. More than once, I have sat politely through remarks by speakers whose views I find misguided or even abhorrent. In some cases, AIPAC may be the only tent that we can sit in together.  

If Bernie came to AIPAC, he would see that those gathered represent a diverse range of views. They are not unanimous in their support of specific Israeli policies or politicians. Indeed, Israel is usually represented at the conference by both its Prime Minister and leaders of the opposition. 

Bernie is not alone in speaking about his pride in his Jewish heritage and turning away. Indeed, there are others in the Jewish community who support his views and have turned against Israel as well. There are those on both sides of the aisle who have seized this opportunity to turn Israel into a “wedge” issue, as a way of scoring political points and dividing our Jewish community just as our larger society is increasingly fragmented.

The Torah portion we read this week, Terumah, speaks of the Cherubim, angelic figures placed on top of the holy Ark. In some texts, it seems like the two figures are to be facing each other. In others, it seems like they were positioned to be facing away. The Talmud (Bava Batra 98-99) explains that when the Jewish people did not obey God’s will, when we look away from each other, then the Cherubim look away. When we face each other, then the Cherubim turn towards each other as well.

We live in a time when our Jewish community is increasingly at risk of turning away from each other and from our brothers and sisters in Israel. Let’s hope that we can find a way to turn back.

Sun, April 21 2024 13 Nisan 5784