Friday, September 30, 2011


My rabbi became a fellow blogger this year, I'm excited to report, so it is now possible for anyone to find his intelligent spiritual as well as social and political commentary on his site. Rabbi Rosove's Rosh Hashanah sermon yesterday was about Israel, of course, given all that is happening now in that part of the world. But it opened up broader themes than that. He talked about the difference between using a crisis model to view the world, as opposed to a values model. The crisis model, which is what we seem to adopt at times of war or stress, tends to view the world in either/or terms. You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists, in George W. Bush's formulation. In Israel, this mentality manifests itself in attempts to restrict criticism of the government's hard line approach to its relationship with the Arab world. In the US, we fell under the grip of a crisis model after 9/11, and during earlier war times and other stressful times in our history. Many of us view the world in those terms right now. And Congress at the moment certainly reflects a crisis model.

By contrast, a values model allows for dialogue among people of different views. In Israel, the value of security, for example, is entirely legitimate, and widely shared. But so is the value of social justice. And people with different views on policy questions, whether those questions concern housing policies that have sparked some recent protests, or settlement policy, or the treatment of Arabs both within Israel and the occupied territories, or the country's response to rocket attacks or to the possibility of negotiations with Palestinian Arabs, need to be able to have a conversation about those issues. The only way they can do that without demonizing or trying to silence people of opposing views is to frame the conversation in terms of values.  For example, if people can agree that security is a legitimate value, then they can talk about whether a wall provides better security, or whether increasing efforts at achieving social justice might provide even better security.

People also need to recognize the difference, the rabbi told the congregation yesterday, between criticism from love and criticism from hate. We recognize criticism from hate in the fiery speeches of Iran's leaders, for example, and those hateful statements should be condemned. But sometimes the Israeli government and its defenders respond in almost the same way to well-meaning criticisms.  It is going too far to try to silence critics who support the fundamental interests of the country, simply because they disagree with current policies. Such critics should not be equated with the real enemies of the state. The trick is to determine whether critics are really acting out of love, or out of hate.

We face the same task in dealing with the Obama administration's critics in this country. We should probably have more sympathy and respect for any criticism that comes from love, even if that criticism comes from Tea Party protesters with whom one might have substantial policy disagreements. (I'm not saying most Tea Party protesters are acting out of love, of course, but a few of them might be.) We should condemn all criticism that acts out of hate, whether it is from the right or left. I haven't made up my mind, for example, about whether the ongoing Wall Street occupation movement  is a useful thing or not. The answer probably should depend on whether that event is generating more positive than negative energy, and on whether it is allowing for a constructive dialogue about how to achieve values we share.

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