Blogging my AIPAC Rabbinic Mission – Day 3

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As another incredibly intense, challenging day on my AIPAC mission comes to a close, I find myself struggling to meaningfully synthesize what I heard, saw, learned, and wrestled with today. Starting at 6:00 this morning, we spent almost half a day encountering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the Bethlehem checkpoint (or, if you prefer, border crossing) at the boundary of the West Bank to deep within Palestinian territory, talking with several key figures within Palestinian society. The second half of our day, more or less, was spent discussing the proposed accord between Iran, the United States, and five other Western powers.

At this late hour, and with another long day looming, I am not sure how I can meaningfully discuss all these issues. And, by the way, I do not mean any of these communications – whether this note, previous notes, or future ones – to be rabbinic directives. Rather, they are simply my candid (and, frankly, unrefined) reflections and questions based on what I am seeing and learning. I offer them for your edification and as an opening for deeper conversation once I return.

But over the course of the day, one consistent theme kept emerging for me: How is progress possible when parties in a dispute each believe that the world is exactly the opposite of how the other side sees it?

With regard to Israel and Palestine, today reinforced to me that many on both sides of the divide believe in a narrative in which one side is entirely the victim, and the other side is entirely the villain. How is peace possible in that kind of context?

With regard to the Iran deal, the dispute in worldview extends beyond President Obama’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s, which is evidently significant and perhaps irreconcilable, to a perhaps deeper divide in worldview between American Jews and Israeli Jews. How is the American-Israeli partnership, and ultimately both the important place of Israel in the hearts of American Jews and the security infrastructure Israel enjoys as a product of a positive American-Israeli relationship, sustainable in that context? And if it is indeed unsustainable in such an environment, what will that mean for both American and Israeli Jews in the long-term?

One final word with respect to the Iran deal: I know that there will be serious, perhaps even heated, conversation about this issue in the Jewish community in the weeks ahead. For good or ill, this agreement will have potentially serious consequences for the U.S., for Israel, for the Middle East, and for the world. And while we have no choice but to do our best to anticipate outcomes, none of us can fully predict the future. For those reasons, I believe it is crucial for us all to be open, thoughtful, and, above all, respectful to each other as we seriously consider its merits and limitations. Let us engage seriously with perspectives that we may not instinctively identify with, listen resiliently to arguments from people on all sides of the debate, and forge, each of us, our own informed and reasoned opinions about what will be best for America and for Israel. We all want peace. We may disagree on how to meaningfully achieve it. But I encourage us to at least have our disagreements in the spirit of that peace for which our tradition impels us to yearn.

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