The Torah of Dissent

Makom Shalom is proud to be a diverse community with a range of views in current affairs and matters of faith. The views I present on this blog are my own and not a statement on behalf of the Makom Shalom community. I encourage you to share your views here in the comment section on this blog. I welcome respectful and engaged dialog.                                                                                                            Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis 

I am a citizen of three countries: the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States.  I have passports to all three countries, although my British passport expired some years ago and I never got round to renewing it. I was born in England grew up in Israel and have made my home here.  I have the right to vote in all three countries. Yet, I only vote here in the U.S.

My family is here, my future is here. I vote here and only here because I live here.

In the 20 years since moving here from Israel I made just one exception to this rule. This was in March 2015, the last general election in Israel. My mother was about to sell her home of 35 years, the home that I grew up in just outside Jerusalem. She asked me to come to Israel to help her with the move to her new home in a retirement community. It so happened that the day I arrived in Israel was election day. When I arrived at her home I got the message that she had just headed out to the polling place at the local school. I know the way very well. When that school opened, my family was one of the founders of the synagogue that prayed in its gymnasium until we built a permanent building. I went over to the school to greet my mother. Once I was at the polling place, I decided to vote too.

I was thinking about my Israeli vote this past Monday when I saw the reports of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit Israel.

The day before, on Sunday, I taught at Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe. Rabbi Bruce Elder asked me to speak to his congregation about how to have the conversation about Israel. As you know from my High Holyday sermons, this is an area of interest for me.  My concern is twofold: the tension the topic of Israel places on family ties and friendships and the silencing of the conversation through legislation and “shunning.” 

Recent actions by the U.S. and Israeli governments against Palestinian solidarity are of personal concern to me and hundreds of thousands of other Jews. In the U.S., Congress is in the process of imposing criminal sanctions against Palestinian solidarity. According to Senate Bill 720 “Section 8a”:

“Whoever willfully violates [the anti-BDS law]… shall be fined not more than $250,000, or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

In Israel, two weeks ago, the government banned 20 organizations from entering the country, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Although, as an Israeli citizen, I may still enter Israel freely, most of my fellow activists, Jewish and not are now banned. If the Senate and House bills become law we will all be in legal jeopardy for speaking our conscience.

At Congregation Hakafa I was asked what my vision for peace was. I replied that it’s a threefold plan:

  1. Equality under the law. All the laws that favor Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians need to be rewritten in accordance with a non-discriminatory constitution.
  2. End the Occupation. Israeli’s military rule of the West Bank needs to end.
  3. Resolve the Refugee Problem. 750,000 of the 900,000 Palestinians were forced out when Israel was established. For 70 years they have not been allowed back in to their country on a tourist visa. This issue needs to be resolved too

These are reasonable demands. None of them met with opposition by the members of Rabbi Elder's congregation.. 

What I did not say was that this threefold call is otherwise known as the much vilified BDS call. While people may disagree on the validity and effectiveness of the boycott, If you have no problem with this plan then you support the stated goals of BDS and the boycott Israel program.

On Monday, a single image from Vice President's visit went viral. The picture was taken inside the chamber of the Israeli Knesset. All the members of the Knesset were present for the festive occasion, the hall is decked with bouquets of flowers. This is one of the rare occasions when the President of the State of Israel presides. The US Vice President had been given the honor of addressing the Israeli parliament.

When Vice President Mike Pence started to speak, the 13 members of the Joint List (Israel’s only political party not led by Jews) stood up with signs. They were protesting a key part of Vice President Pence’s speech,  the planned U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Knesset guards immediately ran down the aisles, snatched the signs from the parliamentarians’ hands and manhandled the elected Palestinian representatives. It was a rowdy tussle and  in marked contrast to the solemnity of the occasion and the dignity of the chamber. Mike Pence stood at the podium silently watching the eviction of the Palestinian Members of Knesset as the rest of the chamber, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, gave the Knesset guards a standing ovation.

This is a tableau that tells the whole story in one picture. The U.S. and Israeli political leadership united in silencing the Palestinians and evicting them from their rightful place.

The official names of the two major parties (and most of the others) include code words for Jews-only. Words like “Zionist” (Labor), “National” (Likud) and the straightforward “Israel” or “Jewish” (the far-right parties). 

The Joint List is the only one (of the Knesset’s 14 political parties) that puts forward a democratic vision for the State of Israel. 

The Joint List is the only party that speaks plainly for democracy not a Jewish ethnocracy.

I believe in the Torah’s mandate of Torah Achat (one law) for the Israelite and the non-Israelite.

The Joint List is the only party that advocates for full equality under the law.I believe in democracy.

The image of the forced eviction of the Joint List Members of Knesset in the presence of the entire Israeli legislature under the eyes of Vice President Mike Pence tells the story we have long known: the U.S. and Israel do not support democracy in Israel. 

That is why the Congress is in the process of criminalizing support by U.S. citizens for a peaceful, democratic  resolution.

That is why Israel has banned Jews who support a peaceful, democratic resolution from entering the Jewish State.

I dissent.

That is why, in March 2015, I voted as an Israeli citizen for the Joint List, the only Israeli political party that stands for Torah achat, one law for Jew and non-Jew in the State of Israel.