I am grateful for a cease-fire following 11 days of devastating violence between Israel and Gaza. But the end of fire does not bring the end of insecurity or the end of injustice. Polarized extremes remain. The recent military conflict ignited by and benefiting extremists and leaders who abuse power harms efforts toward a shared society and forges deeper divisions of politics and of humanity.
I do not believe that my unwavering bond with Israel and the Jewish people contradicts my commitment to the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. My dedication to Israel’s security and to Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish spiritual homeland, a safe haven, and as a democratic state, and my devastation that my Israeli siblings were days ago hiding in bomb shelters under siege from hundreds of Hamas’ terrorist rockets, does not negate my dedication to the Palestinians’ right to statehood, dignity, and justice, and my mourning the loss of life in Gaza.
In fact, my commitment to the sanctity of all life is an expression of my Jewish values.
When we oversimplify rhetoric and use polarized expressions of loyalty to Israelis or Palestinians, we are creating a false binary that lacks complexity, morality, and empathy. Legitimate and just opposition to Israel’s policies — such as occupying the West Bank — has been manipulated into a completely different position, deceptively conflated into opposition against Israel’s very right to exist. Furthermore, protest against Israel’s existence is leveraged as an excuse to deny Jewish history and to promote anti-Semitism in our own country and around the globe.
Any positions that entirely demonize one side or the other miss the humanity in both; any positions that entirely affirm the pure right of one side or the other miss the responsibility in both. Devotion both to Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, as taught by Reform Zionism and by many moderate and social justice initiatives, is not often appreciated by the far right or the far left. Moderation does not lack a stance; it denies the extremists and rejects a false binary model, holding space for multiple narratives and histories.
Over and over the Torah, the Jewish sacred text, speaks of the stranger and teaches us how to overcome the fear, defensiveness, or isolation that can accompany the anxieties we might feel about the other: love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Any group that has been marginalized brings the perspective of the stranger and with that perspective has the capacity to shed light on injustice. Jews know what it is to be the other, countless other groups know what it is to be the other, and that understanding must inspire empathy.
Rabbi Jill L. Maderer is senior rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.