By Eli Burg
Way back in January at our opening conference in Herzliya, I set a goal for myself to explore my relationship with Israel, which before this semester I had never spent much time thinking deeply about. As the semester progressed I made myself comfortable living in Jerusalem doing everything from the mundane like using public transportation to run errands to finding deep meaning in truly living the Jewish calendar, such as the cyclical nature of the race to Shabbat every week. With every passing month I was finding my love for this place grow, but as April came around so to did our unit on Israeli politics as well as the elections which took place the Tuesday after our Alon Shvut Shabbaton
Our assigned reading from Nachshon, Like Dreamers, served as my in for exploring my relationship to this land which manifested my interest in religious Zionism. This was a surprising seemingly right turn for this California native. But as the election grew nearer and nearer I found a great amount of moral discomfort because I found the conversation about peace missing from Israeli Right’s platforms. Seemingly these parties only interest lay with keeping the status quo and how to ensure security. I find the theological foundation of religious Zionism rooted in Tanakh as intriguing yet I don’t see that camp extending an olive branch to their Palestinian neighbors. Rabbi Zeff and Rabbi Cohen presented the Israel unit with the Alon Shvut Shabbaton at its core as a survey of the political landscape in Israel, but almost every speaker we heard from identified with the Right. It’s crucial to point out that this is the nature of the political landscape in Israel today which is dominated by the right. However, we did have the opportunity to learn with Brian Reeves from Peace Now.
Our session learning about Peace Now, the state of the peace camp in Israeli politics, and the reality for Palestinians in terms of their lack of self-determination and Israelis need for security while ensuring democracy came in stark contrasts when compared to the rest of our speakers. While theologically I’m curious and drawn to the religious right Brian Reeves was the only voice I heard during our politics unit which advocated for radical change to the current situation. My assessment of the political situation is that the right out of the very real existential fear for the nation’s security chooses not to acknowledge the dual narratives which exist in this tiny piece of land in a way which gives Palestinians dignity. While the religious right does not represent the whole non-left Israeli politics they lay in direct opposition to the work Peace Now is trying to carry out. While I agree with their premise that this land was promised to the Jewish people by God, today’s reality does not allow for the full sovereignty to be realized.
What Peace Now advocates for is mutual recognition; for any long-lasting peace to work in they say that both Israel and the Palestinian leadership need to acknowledge the right to self-determination of the other. Only then can both sides move forward with the details of borders, security, and the question of Jerusalem. Assuming that both sides can manage that our Peace Now representative Brian Reeves laid out an intriguing option called the Geneva Initiative which states; the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and Gaza with a 1 to 1 exchange of some land, a shared capital in Jerusalem, and a non-militarized Palestinian state.
Peace Now gave me a moral grounding in a political spectrum where I see a lot of disdain for “the other.” My love of this country now runs deep and is rooted in my religious connection to the land of our ancestors, and our return home after 2,000 years of exile is indeed miraculous. But our greatest triumph as a people cannot come at the expense of another nation. In my view, Israel cannot occupy another people and in today’s political reality Peace Now was the only group from the peace camp represented. Israel has swung so far to the right that I hope the state does not lose its moral character. I commend Peace Now for the work they do but I’m worried about how much it is for their camp to do.