Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Real Peace Process

On this blog, I try my best to steer clear of politics. However, the defense of Israel is an existential issue - not a political one (or at least it shouldn't be). Following their recent meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained to President Barack Obama why Israel cannot accept some of his administration's demands. Whether it's the return to the 1967 borders or dealing with the Palestinian refugee problem, Israel cannot be forced to commit suicide.

The "peace process" that is often imposed on Israel is completely disingenuous. There can't be peace if one side in the conflict remains committed to destroying the other side. While this continues to be the central impediment to Israeli-Arab relations, there's a different peace process that has nothing to do with Arabs. It should go without saying, but we can't pit ourselves against fellow Jews to the point where we are out to destroy one another. Otherwise, peace among Jews will be just as impossible as peace with our enemies. Luckily, life and goodness are central to Jewish culture, so the building blocks are there. We just have to cultivate those values.

During each of Israel's wars of survival, individual Jews figured out a way to overcome their differences for the sake of the Jewish people. In 1948, then in 1967, then again in 1973, and yet again during other perilous times, we came together purely for the sake of our brothers and sisters. Religious and political differences were irrelevant. Personal gripes and grudges were cast aside. And then the unity ended . . . until the next war reared its ugly head. There's a pattern here.

It appears as though we're heading for yet another difficult predicament. It's only a matter of time. Most of the world remains against Israel, and some radical groups are actively pursuing the destruction of the Jewish people. So what exactly are we waiting for? Our own peace process should begin long before circumstances on the ground put us in a position where we have no choice. And this time around, our character has to be strong enough to sustain the peace long after the most recent threat to our existence subsides.

The importance of peace is not only logically compelling, but can also be found throughout Jewish literature. Shalom, the Hebrew term for peace, is ubiquitous in Jewish life. Every major prayer ends with it. Every decent person yearns for it. Among other things, shalom is used:

- to conclude the Oral Law

- in the final blessing of Shemoneh Esrei

- to end Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing)

- to end Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals)

- as the essential word in our greetings to one another (e.g. "Shalom Aleichem")

- as the last description for the different times of the season (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

Peace must be more than a word. It must be a value we try to inculcate into our lives. It means striving for tranquil interactions with each other - even those with whom we strongly disagree. Differences of opinion are not the primary obstacle; acting indecently because of those differences is. If you happen to find it difficult to overcome a particular disagreement with another Jew, you don't have to force yourself to love them. First, avoid hostility by exercising some self-restraint. Then, over time, work on a more positive attitude. It's a peace process.

Our tradition has it that every nation on earth is designated with a guardian angel - except for Israel. God Himself is the guardian of the Jewish people. While members of the Israel Defense Forces deserve tremendous credit and gratitude, Israel exists "not by might nor by power" (nor by the generous support of the United States), but "by the spirit of God" (Zechariah 4:6). Peace in the Middle East is certainly a laudable goal, but it remains a task that is beyond the scope of any particular government or human being. So what are we, as Jews, to focus on instead? Aim to please an audience of One. And nothing pleases God more than seeing His children at peace with one another.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu -- "It's not going to happen!" regarding the Palestinian refugee problem-solution of creating a state within Israeli borders. What might be most likely to happen is an ascent of nations to Israel to try to make that happen, aka, Milchemes Gog uMagog. I hope the process of that war follows the prophecy of Yechezkel over Zechariah! Let the people of Israel do sincere teshuvah to influence our course of history on the side of merit and earn a geulah b'rachamim. Amen.