Rabbi Donniel Hartman: The moment requires decisive leadership

Regardless of your politics, for those of us who support the existence of the Jewish State of Israel, watching events on the world stage in the past week has been tantamount to helplessly watching your own child get bullied on the school yard.

The efforts of the Palestinian Authority to have the UN recognize the yet to be born, State of Palestine, is a reflection of the failure of leadership in both, Ramallah and Jerusalem.  Seeking the UN’s blessings for something that can only come about through a very difficult process that will require courage and significant sacrifices on both sides, is like demanding that your doctor provide you with  a painless surgical procedure without anesthesia.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

Right-wing Zionists are blaming the Palestinians for refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish State and for having never made any significant constructive peaceful gestures towards an embattled Israel that simply wants to survive in peace.  Progressive Zionists are quite sure that too many Israelis,most especially members of the current government, are intentionally avoiding making peace with the Palestinians.  Radical religious extremists on both sides are always ready to give their lives to the belief that God is on their side and the land belongs solely to “their” tribe.

One of my favorite stories from the Bible comes from the Book of Exodus.  A vengeful Pharaoh and his blood-thirsty army pin the unarmed, recently liberated slaves against the Sea of Reeds. The children of Israel are ready to lynch their leader, Moses, for bringing them out of bondage, only to die in the desert.  In a moment of anguish and fear, the greatest prophet in Jewish history prayers to God to rescue his trapped people. How does God respond?  “Why do you cry out to me? Go forward!” (Exodus 14:15)

Tradition has it, that the Sea didn’t actually part until one brave soul by the name of Nachshon, actually stepped into the water.

I can’t think of a story that better highlights what has become the classical Jewish response to tragedy:  Don’t stop and complain; come up with a solution, even if the solution defies reason.

I fell upon a Nachshon response for Israel’s current political dilemma.  It comes from Rabbi Donniel Hartman, PhD., President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

In the same spirit as God telling Moses to stop praying and go forward, Dr. Hartman says this moment in history demands that Israeli leadership stop pointing fingers and do what Jewish people have always done: figure how to now move forward.  This is a critical moment that demands decisive, courageous, creative and ethical leadership.

Hartman’s strongest condemnation is not for one cause or position on either side, it’s against those who would have us believe this is an impossible, intractable stalemate for which there is no solution.

As a progressive Zionist, I have long found myself deeply frustrated by the lack of daring leadership in the current Israeli government.  A day doesn’t go by when I don’t find myself engaged in debates with fellow Jews, many of whom are Israeli, who need to believe the situation is as black and white as saying, “we’re right, they are wrong.” The truth of course, is always in the gray-area; both sides have made mistakes, both sides have blood on their hands, both sides want a just peace for their people.  Rather than appreciate his sincere efforts to achieve a just peace, President Obama has been roundly condemned by conservative supporters of Israel for calling attention to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s incessant use of populist demagoguery in lieu of diplomatic leadership.

I doubt that there are too many people who would ever describe Donniel Hartman as being a radical when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  So it is refreshing to hear such a respected commentator and centrist demand emboldened leadership in response to Palestinian efforts to attain statehood.

The full text of Rabbi Hartman’s remarks can be found using this link.

This final paragraph of his inspiring essay sums up his key points”

Uncertainty, however, is no excuse for passivity, but the impetus for action. To recognize this is to recognize that while many things are the same, many are not. While our enemies may not have changed, we have. It is time to stop counting all the injustices, enumerating all that which is unfair, telling over and again to anyone who can hear that it is not our fault. It is time for us to take responsibility for our destiny, a destiny not necessarily defined by that which is forced upon us but which will reflect who we want to be. It is time to bring to an end the defeatist mourning for and incessant talking about what should have and could have been. It is time to stop the self-defeating and paralyzing fear and reconnect to the reality of Israel and the gift of sovereignty and to claim our rightful place at the negotiating table – the place of the leader.

It’s time for another Nachshon to take the necessary steps to move the cornered Israeli nation forward.