Few days ago, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream Co. issued a statement that they “will end sales of our ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” This ice cream announcement generated a flurry of responses from public officials and media outlets (not to mention a bevy of terrible ice cream puns): some applauded the company’s decision to draw a distinction between Israel proper and Israeli settlements in the West Bank (illegal under international law) others denounced this decision — together with all other instances of BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) — as anti-semitic; still others insisted that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t go far enough in that the company plans to continue a business relationship with Israel at all. American Jewish organizations from every part of that spectrum… piped in with calls ranging from calling to “urge Ben & Jerry’s to reject hate and oppose BDS” to another inviting “Get a pint with us” and then go on…
Erez Israel’s Jewish sovereignty is inherently complicated, because the modern State of Israel’s rebirth and continued existence was seen as the greatest miracle of 20th century’s GeoPolitics – and yet it is that same thing which has now become the single greatest source of controversy and challenge for the 21st century Jewish people all around the world.
Obviously, I don’t think that the author of Deuteronomy would be the least bit surprised by this claim. In this week’s Torah portion, we hear the ancient version of warning on precisely this topic:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that God swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assign to you – great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget the Lord who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage… Do not try the Lord your God as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commandments, decrees and laws that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you and that you may be able to possess the good land that the Lord your God promised on oath to your fathers…”
In this short passage, the text of Parashat Vaetchanan acknowledges the privilege and complexity of residing on land that someone else previously inhabited, and thus it calls on the Israelites to remember who they are and where they’ve come from;.
It insists that they follow God’s instruction and maintain strong alignment of values and ethics; it hints that failure to do so will result in an end to sovereignty in the land.
Today, these exhortations of Deuteronomy feel as relevant as ever. Even as Jews living in the U.S., we are part of the “people of Israel” and thus have a stake in the experiment that is Jewish statehood. From our place here in the diaspora, we must continue to insist that Jews of all stripes in the land of Israel learn to treat one another with decency and respect. (From my vantage point, what happened at the Kotel looks an awful lot like sinat chinam, baseless hatred, which is the classical rabbinic explanation for why the second Temple was destroyed!) And, moving even beyond that internal Jewish community work – itself no small task – we must also insist that the State of Israel strive to build a shared society that offers dignity and justice for all, Jew and Palestinian alike, on both sides of the Green Line.
Challenging as it is not to get swept into shouting matches about ice cream and politics, I believe we have an obligation to stick with these hard conversations about what the sovereign State of Israel can be and should be.
From my vantage point, what happens today all around us, looks an awful lot like “sinat chinam” (baseless hatred) which is the classical rabbinical explanation for why Jerusalem and her Temple, as well as the State of Israel, were destroyed by the Roman empire…
And perhaps it is equally important for us Americans to remember the same principles on this vast promised land that we gainfully occupy, enjoy and hopefully preserve for the generation to come…
Seattle being the ancestral home of the Duwamish people — that are today considered extinct — is a good example of our connection to the past and our negation of the future of the First peoples, today right here in our home lands… as they and their ghosts walk besides us.