Tisha B'Av: Are we victims?

Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years. She lives in Washington, DC.

Commemorating as it does the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem, Tisha b'Av is problematic for secular American Jews. The destruction of the central institution of pre-rabbinic Judaism, first by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and then by the Romans in 70 CE, both followed by exile from the land, were indeed terrible events in our history. Among observant Jews, Tisha B’Av has also been, and remains, a Jewish day of mourning, not only for these events, but also for a number of other historic tragedies which happened to fall during the late summer.

But it does make me wonder, what does the recitation of this litany do to our sense of self? Does it tell us we're victims and must always stay strong? We must behave toward our enemies the way they treated us? 

Today Israel is not a victim. It's the strongest military power in the neighborhood. Camus famously wrote: "Neither a victim nor an executioner be."  While Israel is not an executioner, its fifty years of militarily occupying millions of Palestinians portrays it as a ruthless tyrant in the eyes of the Palestinians and many worldwide. The occupation is wrong both for Palestinians and Israelis, and it must end now.

The rationale for the destruction of the Second Temple -- according to tradition -- was the baseless hatred exhibited both between and among members of the Jewish community. Do we see similarities between this ancient event and the actual situation today in America’s Jewish community? Tension is high as Jews face each other across a deep divide: Criticize the Israeli government for its anti-democratic legislation or support Israel right-or-wrong?  Is the possibility of a two-state solution dead, or do we continue pursuing a State of Palestine next to Israel even as it seems more remote than ever?  Is Trump really good for the Jews? Or was the Obama approach with its measured attempt at fairness and balance more likely to produce success?  Is support for a boycott of settlements or settlement products anti-Israel?  Or even anti-semitic?

These are reasonable questions and reasonable people can continue to debate them.  But we Jews are a fractious people and these times seem to have brought out the worst in us. The questions can't even be asked, much less debated, without tearing at the fabric of our community. Rabbis refuse to engage their congregants about Israel for fear of alienating one faction or another. Students on campus are exposed to hatred and venom by opponents of their position. Faculty members are shamed and called to account for positions voiced. Among friends, the decision to "not talk about Israel" is often now the fallback position.

Giving up and walking away from a painful situation is not tenable. This is the time to work twice as hard:  to fight back against the baseless hatred in our own community, and to fight for the mainstream pro-peace, pro-Israel organization in Israel working to achieve a two-state solution, the only solution that which makes any sense. Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) recently organized a large demonstration in Tel Aviv to demand an end to the Occupation of 50 years. Activist groups joined in to express support. At least for one night, "baseless hatred" took a back seat to the only pragmatic (and achievable) approach to end the conflict between Israel and her immediate neighbors, the Palestinians.

The Right in Israel is enormously powerful and now with its allies in the Trump administration, it doesn't feel much pressure to compromise. The cancellation of the government's commitment to egalitarian prayer at the Wailing Wall is only the latest outrage. The decision to build an entirely new settlement in the West Bank -- the first in 25 years -- is another. The Knesset is passing one illiberal law after another, including ones that are an assault on freedom of expression. The conditions are ripe for Israel to devour itself, much as it did before the destruction of the Second Temple.

We must not let that happen. Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now work both for ending the occupation and a two-state solution and for protecting Israeli democracy. Support us today to help save Israel from self-destruction.