When it comes to Israel, Im on middle ground and it feels unsettling

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News about Israel is all over the pages of this paper. Which means someone’s got to write it. These writers often are Jerusalem correspondents; other times, the stories are reported by your very own j. staff.

Since joining the paper in 2006, I often have written about Israel. Sometimes I get to report on Israelis doing creative and exceptional things in the Bay Area (see pages 19 and 20 for two great examples). These assignments I love because they’re about people, not politics.

Events such as the May 31 Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla force me into a different reporting role.

When people took to the streets in front of the Israel Consulate in downtown San Francisco the next day, I was there. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors discussed a resolution

June 15 condemning Israel for its actions, I was there.

I wept as I walked away from the June 1 protest. Why did I cry? Because these protests make me feel utterly hopeless. One side pitted against another, separated by a police security barrier. How can this ever bring progress?

I cried because people who support Palestinian rights are so angry. Furious, really. They are angry at Israel and at American Jews, and standing across the street from their chants and shouts and signs is like a punch in the gut.

Neither side of these protests is the right place for me. Standing on the pro-Palestinian side — which I do so I can get quotes from another perspective — feels wrong. I don’t think Israel is an apartheid state and I would never chant “intifada” with pride.

Standing on the pro-Israel side of the street also feels strange. I don’t support everything Israel does, and I’m not so connected to the nation that I would wave its flag to proclaim my allegiance.

I know there are many out there like me, who are  confused by their opinions and feelings about Israel or even ambivalent. But I’m not always comfortable voicing this viewpoint.

In my humble opinion, the institutional Jewish world makes us all feel we have to choose sides. Are we for or against Israel? Do we support Israel’s right to defend itself, or do we support Palestinian rights?

This makes me feel disconnected from both sides of the issue, because I fall somewhere in the middle.

I am for Israel and for its right to defend itself, but I am also for Palestinians having more rights than they currently have (while recognizing how complicated such a seemingly simple thing is). The children who live in despair and poverty in Gaza are not responsible for Hamas’ poor leadership, yet they suffer for Hamas’ actions.

I am upset that the world holds Israel to an unfair standard. But when I hear about an elderly Palestinian woman held up for 13 hours at an Israeli checkpoint, I think that’s unfair. Can I think both of these things?

Once, I heard such ambivalence described as “a tragedy.”

This is what an East Coast rabbi visiting a youth retreat I was staffing said to the high school students in attendance: that the great tragedy of modern Jewish times is that young people are less connected to Israel than ever before.

I was offended by his statement. Many people like me, who don’t feel compelled to support Israel unequivocally, are involved in a Judaism that is alive and vibrant in their local communities.

I have relatives in Israel and have been to the country three times. Each visit has shown me that I do love the land. But I don’t always love the decisions of Israel’s government (which, actually, is exactly how I feel about the United States).

For instance, I was shocked to learn that under the Obama administration, the Minerals Management Service signed off on unsafe and unchecked oil drilling equipment, paving the way for the worst oil spill in our history. No one has ever accused me of anti-American-ism when I criticize my government. Yet I have heard people who speak with disapproval about Israel’s actions automatically called anti-Semites.

Why can’t we talk calmly about this? The fact that we can’t is the true great tragedy.

Stacey Palevsky
lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected].

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.