Why I Joined J Street’s Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet

Rabbi Robin Podolsky Image
Rabbi Robin Podolsky
on January 13, 2017

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

These are critical times. Great fault lines of division within American society have been exposed by our recent election. It used to be that we who object to religious and ethnic prejudices such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia had to be on our guard to discern this social poison – which was expressed in code – to keep track of the mutating memes, phrases and other dog whistles by which bigots signaled and gathered. Now, these bigots feel free to declaim their hatreds overtly. The alignment of forces made possible by our last presidential campaign has made the legitimacy and even the humanity of Jews and Muslims matters for public discussion.

For eight years, we had a president who combined a deep love and respect for the Jewish people and uncompromising support for the state of Israel with a clear commitment to a two-state solution. He has been replaced with a billionaire turned rudderless, neophyte politician who began his campaign with a promise to be “neutral” on Israel/Palestine. Since then, he has appointed an ambassador to Israel who refers to pro-peace Jews as “worse than kapos,” would be a boon to settlement movement and denies the need for a Palestinian state.

And now the United States is transitioning to a yawing, unpredictable and generally far-right-wing administration. Israel, its greatest ally in the region, that small bit of west Asian land on the Mediterranean coast which contains the hopes and aspirations of so many people, is threatened with a devastating descent into bloody crisis.

In the context of this situation, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for the “cessation” of Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territory because it is “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” The resolution also called on all parties, including all Palestinian governments, to “[comply] with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism.”

The United States abstained from voting on the resolution, allowing it to pass. Immediately following the vote, UN Ambassador Samantha Power denounced the UN’s long history of “treating Israel differently” than other countries. She also said that the US could not vote against a resolution that reflects the “facts on the ground” and that “the United States has consistently said we would block any resolution that we thought would undermine Israel’s security or seek to impose a resolution to the conflict. We would not have let this resolution pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians such as terrorism and incitement to violence…”

This resolution and our government’s response divided America’s Jewish communities. Several organizations were opposed to the abstention, arguing that the resolution should have been blocked. J Street was among those groups which expressed a more measured view. J Street’s statement, “welcome[s] the decision today by the Obama administration to abstain from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution, which reaffirms the need for a two-state solution and calls for a halt to actions by both sides that serve to undermine the prospects for peace.”

Here J Street demonstrated its ability to address complicated and controversial issues with political sophistication rooted in firm values. Their response to the UN resolution was clear-headed, respectful of complexity and flowed naturally from J Street’s commitment to a peaceful solution that addresses the claims of both Israelis and Palestinians. It also emerged unmistakably from J Street’s grounding within the Jewish world.

J Street has built an effectual organization that is heard by elected officials and grassroots activists alike. It demonstrably respects the narratives and claims of both Israel and Palestine, and it provides a platform for progressives who genuinely care about Israel to articulate political positions that they believe will actually benefit and protect that country.

The question of Israel/Palestine is one of the key issues facing Jews of our generation, morally and existentially. It is imperative that we all contribute to just and durable solutions for the sake of healing human suffering and healing the Jewish soul. I believe that we, as rabbis, cantors and chaplains, ought not to settle for speaking out as individuals. We should look for ways to unite our voices and political efforts as efficaciously as possible. It is not enough to place ourselves on record. After our election, the possibilities for peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are more imperiled than ever. This is a critical moment, and each of us is called to respond.

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