Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On Pressuring the Israeli Government: How much pressure is justified?

Imagine your brother owes one million dollars, doesn’t have the means to re-pay it, and stands to lose his home. You, for your part, don’t have the million dollars to help him; you give him tens and twenties whenever you can, you offer lots of moral support, but you just can’t afford anything more.

Then your brother comes up with an idea: He owns a family heirloom of great value. He wants to sell it, to pay off his debt. You are horrified; your brother inherited the heirloom, but it’s significant to the whole family! Perhaps it's the sefer hayichus (book of lineage) documenting your family's link to Dovid haMelech - something truly crucial to the family as a whole.

To make matters worse: Your brother thinks he'll get a million dollars for the heirloom, and so escape debt. You, on the other hand, think he won't get that price, and that in any case your brother will just land in more debt afterward.

When you protest - based on your personal investment as well as your suspicion that the sale won't be worthwhile - your brother asks, “So tell me – should I lose my house because you won’t let me pay my debt?”

The Torah-observant Diaspora Jewish community disagrees with the Israeli government all the time on issues halachic and political, matters of religion as well as matters of security. Every time these disagreements arise, the major bodies representing Diaspora Jewry ask themselves, “May we pressure the Israeli government through public dissent?” And our tendency, albeit with notable exceptions, is to shy away from public disagreement. Basically, the rule has been that we toe the Israeli government’s line until we don’t.

The question of Ehud Olmert’s Annapolis offer has raised this issue again.

Our brother is broke, and stands to lose his home; dare we insist that he not sell the family heirloom, even as we stand by and watch him lose his home? Dare we take out ads in newspapers, make critical statements to the press, and otherwise exert pressure upon him for the sale he is legally entitled to make?

The OU has decided that yes, it is legitimate to publicly demand your brother not sell the heirloom. Rabbi Hershel Billet has taken that stance as well in a column in the New York Jewish Week. Rabbi Michael Broyde has opposed this stance, writing against it as a matter of public policy.

I have two points to add to this discussion:
1. Yes, Diaspora Jews understand the issues in Israel, travel to Israel, and support it. But that's not the same thing as living under terror attacks.

To me, we are in the position of the person who will not pay his brother’s debt, and will not permit his brother to hock the family heirloom, either. We will not expose ourselves to direct terror and to economic disaster by living in Israel, but we won’t permit Israelis to try and solve the problem for themselves. The fact that we choose to live outside of Israel means that we abdicate the right to make certain decisions.

I have my reasons for being in the golah, and I feel they are strong reasons, but whence my license to demand the Israelis do what I am not personally willing to do?

2. What sort of pressure is justified?
More importantly, where does this license-to-protest lead?

How much pressure may I put on my brother? Newspaper ads? Gossipping to his friends? Challenging the sale of the heirloom in court? Picketing outside his house?

Do we stop praying for the Israeli government (with or without ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו)?
Do we discourage congregants from purchasing Israel Bonds?
Do we discourage people from attending the Salute to Israel parade - or do we tell them to show up at the parade with protest signs?
Do we picket outside the Israeli embassy?
Do we protest outside venues where Israeli government representatives speak?
Do we implement what amounts to Sanctions?
If the OU has decided that opposition is justified, how much opposition is justified?

In truth, we have always opposed Israeli government stances; it's only a matter of what we have done to demonstrate that opposition. And to me, that last is the real question.


  1. I think it's a problematic analogy, especially since concessions offered by Israel just keep fueling the Arab appetite for destroying Israel.

  2. Mathguy-

    Agreed, and I have now modified the analogy to reflect your point. I think the overall point stands, in any case.