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Looper: Byrne misses mark on Israel

By Rabbi Scott Looper, Montgomery’s Temple Beth Or

What does it mean to be a true friend? Does it mean always saying, “Yes, you are right?” I do not believe there is a successful marriage in which one spouse or the other is always right. Good, healthy relationships are based on give and take. They are supportive, critical, forgiving, challenging, and honest.

The claimed “friendship” between the United States and Israel, by contrast, is disingenuous. It is not based on real love, but on self-interest. President Donald Trump does not truly care about Israel. He cares only about his base which feeds his ego. Furthermore, evangelical Republicans who claim to love Israel do so for eschatological reasons that have nothing to do with the everyday realities of the people who are born, live, and die there.

I have two married sisters who live in Israel. I have five nephews and one niece in Israel, all who have served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I have two great-nieces and one great-nephew there. My parents lived in Israel for 20 years. I have spent years of study in Israel: summers leading tours, supervising archeological digs, and introducing high school students and congregants to Israel.

As I am a true lover of Israel, I am critical when she fails to live up to the values inherent in the Jewish faith. I am frightened when she is attacked militarily. I, without question, believe in the right of Israel to exist. I believe in her as a democratic nation true to the ideals of equality. I am a true friend. My attachment is unconditional but not without critique. A true friend is not a friend out of self-interest or hidden motive.

Congressman Bradley Byrne claims to be a true friend of Israel. As a symbol of his fidelity to Israel, as an ally, he parrots the Israeli political Right, referencing the occupied territories captured during the Six Day War as “Judea and Samaria.” These are biblical names which claim ownership by Ancient Israel, God’s promised land. The current Israeli government employs and exploits these terms to justify and make present claim to these lands, but they belong to Israel as much as Crimea rightfully belongs to Russia – which is to say, not at all. They are occupied territories whose Palestinian population suffers under Israeli rule.

I may not agree with Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in their support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement (BDS). I do, however, recognize them as representatives of our democracy in which freedom of speech is enshrined as a constitutional right. The demonization of these two members of Congress by Republican elected officials is a tool to sow hatred and dissent. It is a thinly veiled and pernicious attempt to gain electoral support from America’s Jews.

What the Republican party and some Democrats fail to recognize is that the American Jewish body politic are American citizens. We are concerned about the social safety net for the poor, ending centuries’ old racism, enacting gun control, protecting civil rights, abortion rights and voting rights, ensuring economic opportunity for all, confronting the disconcerting rise of Anti-Semitism and white nationalism, maintaining freedom of the press, and, with deep concern, guaranteeing our own safety.

Pandering to Israel, especially with the expectation and wrongheaded belief that America’s Jews will abandon the Democratic party en masse, is insulting and alarming. We may love, cherish and unconditionally support the right of Israel to exist, but we are citizens of this country. Our vote is conditioned by our values. We are not a monolithic voting bloc. We vote for Republican and Democratic politicians based on our beliefs and values, not our Jewish identity.

Israel is facing an existential question. Will it remain a democratic nation, extending equal rights and freedoms to all citizens and those under its military rule, respecting international law? Or, will it become a state of two populations, unequal under the law? BDS is not the answer to force Israel to remain a fully democratic nation to all its citizens. But if America, Israel’s ally, fails to act as a true friend and call out her mistakes, we leave her exposed to a fate far worse than accepting justified criticism of a loving friend.

Rabbi Scott Looper leads Montgomery’s Temple Beth Or, a historic Reform temple formed in 1849.


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