Israeli diversity must thrive, and diaspora must unify

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Now a century after Herzl, and nearly half a century after the establishment of the Jewish state in Israel, we must create a new Jewish state of mind if the Jewish national state is to survive and to thrive.

We are today a divided people tearing ourselves apart from within. Herzl, too, saw this eventuality. He said that it was our enemies who have made us into one without our consent. It is distress, he said, that binds us together.

Now we live in the best of times, and in the most dangerous of times — for when times are good for Jews it is always the most dangerous of times for the Jewish people. Like Moses, we can almost glimpse at the Promised Land of peace for Israel and for Jews around the world, yet like Moses we may be denied the reward we have so long been trying to achieve.

We have been lulled by a few years of relative prosperity, a reduction in internal persecution, and the prospect of peace. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, which has given us the luxury of lowering our external guard and turning our quarrelsome nature inward.

We are a people divided over how to achieve peace but not whether to achieve peace. As Americans, we are a people divided over how best to support Israel but not over whether to support the Jewish nation.

We have always been divided over tactics and strategies. The very idea of a Jewish national state divided us, literally, a century ago, but we eventually united. I have two specific proposals: one for the Jews in Israel and one for the Jews in America.

The Jews in Israel must continue to be divided. They must continue to argue, to debate, to politic. That's the nature of the democratic process. We do not want Israel to turn into Iran or Iraq or China.

We love the fact that Israel is one of the most open and diverse democratic nations on the face of the earth. Israel must eventually decide, after a full and complete debate by democratic means, on the future of the peace process, on the future of Judaism, however defined in their governance and on the other issues that so deeply divide the Jews of Israel today.

But what about the Jews of the United States? My proposal for us is more difficult. We must know our place. We are supporters of Israel — not citizens of that nation-state. We all have the option of becoming citizens of Israel. But those of us in this room, for the most part, have chosen not to. We must defer to the democratic political process in place in that vibrant, open and divided nation.

Israel can hold its head up high, when one looks at the neighborhood in which it lives, and the degree of democracy and free speech there. A democratic nation — even one we love — has the right to make its own decisions, and even its own mistakes.

As American Jews, we must not take sides on Israeli political issues. When the Israeli right was in power American Jews who supported the Likud governments of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir urged those American Jews who disagreed to remain part of the consensus. Now some of those same American Jews are urging others publicly to criticize the Labor government of Shimon Peres and even to lobby against some of its positions.

On the other side of the spectrum are some American Jews who opposed the Begin and Shamir governments publicly but who are now arguing it is wrong for American Jews to undercut the Peres government's ongoing peace process.

I am urging not only consistency — though that is important — but far more important, consensus. We are strong only when we are united.

When we speak to our president, to our Congress with two voices, we speak with no voice at all. Yes, dissidents within the Jewish community should lobby. They should lobby effectively and strongly, but they should lobby within the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They should try to persuade AIPAC to support their point of view. AIPAC is the democracy, and it should be the place in which these issues are debated.

Today, we do not know how the Israeli elections are going to turn out, any more than we know how the U.S. elections in November will turn out.

And so I urge each of us to make a pledge to ourselves and to each other: Whatever the outcome, we will support Israel. We will respect each other's point of view. And we will speak with one voice.

No matter what the outcome of this coming election in Israel, Israel will receive my support. I think each of us has the right and the obligation to argue, to advise, to implore, but our public face must be the face of unity. We must have productive diversity within, and powerful unity without. On this centennial of Herzl's old new Jewish state we must commit to an old, new Jewish state of mind.

The writer is a professor at Harvard University, lawyer and author. This piece is excerpted from an April 28 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.