As an American Jew, I feel compelled to speak the unspeakable: It is in Jewish best interests, morally and pragmatically, to rethink the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.
Imagine what a new Israel could be, an Israel for all peoples. If all the young lives, Jewish and Arab, cut short by this violence could instead be harnessed to irrigate the desert, desalinate the sea, create music and translate love poems into each other’s (very similar) languages! Now that would be an Israel to inspire the world.
Nineteen years ago, I rehearsed a play with Israeli and Palestinian teenagers at Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine. Forging a script both sides could stand behind took perseverance. But at our cast party, Arabs and Jews leaned on each other and sang songs. It gave me a glimpse of what could be.
I contrast that hopeful moment with the appalling news coming out of Israel and Gaza. While Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli forces were firing on (mostly unarmed) Palestinian protesters gathered along the fence between Gaza and Israel, killing at least 60, and injuring more than 2,000.
Israel defends its response, claiming that the demonstrators were trying to breach the border. But the absence of any casualties on the Israeli side proves the response was grossly disproportionate. This is not an isolated incident, but an ongoing saga since 2007, when Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza following Hamas’ election victory. Nearly 2 million Gazans are squeezed into a virtual prison one-ninth the size of Rhode Island. Israel and Egypt control the borders and access to water, fuel, medical supplies and electricity. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to see that Gaza has become a concentration camp, and the demonstrations at the border are a desperate response to a humanitarian crisis.
Some Jewish intellectuals, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and scholar Norman Finkelstein, have condemned Israel’s stranglehold on Gaza, while still defending the Zionist premise that Jews deserve a homeland. Although a few Israelis on the far left and right, such as journalist Gideon Levy and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, support a one-state or binational solution for both Jews and Arabs, this view has rarely been voiced in American Jewish circles. As an American Jew, I feel compelled to speak the unspeakable: it is in Jewish best interests, morally and pragmatically, to rethink the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.