In the last week, we have witnessed a rare demonstration of Jewish unity regarding Middle East politics. From the Zionist Organization of America to AIPAC to the Association of the Reform Zionists of America to J Street have come calls to oppose a United Nations vote for Palestinian statehood. The reasons may have differed for the various groups that participated in this coordinated effort, but the goal was the same: to keep attempts to forge a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict totally in the context of face-to-face negotiations. It is unclear, after the events of these last few days, whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas are prepared to, once again, sit at the same table, but officials from within the leadership of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will only make progress through direct communication or, at least, active and persistent mediation by a third party.
As I wrote my remarks this morning, I was trying to keep up with the flow of news from the United Nations. President Abbas submitted the Palestinian application for statehood to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and then spoke to the gathered delegates. Prime Minister Netanyahu also spoke about how the United Nations casts Israel as a sole villain and offers cover to many nations that violate the human rights of their own citizens. I still remember well the events of October 10, 1975, when the United Nations passed the resolution that equated Zionism with racism. I see that event as an insidious strategic move through which the Soviet Union and Arab nations joined together, with their respective definitions of Zionism, to portray the State of Israel, and Jews and Judaism by association, with hateful words and images. Even with that 1975 resolution rescinded, the hate continues in many corners of the world, whether through the words of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad yesterday at the United Nations or on the Arab street as Spring turns to fall. In Israel, many people in recent demonstrations offered harsh words for the Prime Minister, bordering on name-calling, but they did not resort to violence or blaming any another nation for their issues. Many people found their voices in an internal debate about Israel’s economic policies and knew they could speak their mind within a democratic state.
Whether for the benefit of leaders among many nations, or for those individuals who hope for peace in the Middle East wherever they live, a message from this week’s Torah reading offers a watchword for the future. Moses spoke to Joshua as he was about to step down as leader of the Israelites and charged him with the words: “Be strong and resolute.” He reassured Joshua that God would be with him, but that was only a beginning to leaving his legacy. The Torah says that “Moses wrote down this Teaching – this TORAH” – perhaps the book of Deuteronomy, perhaps the entire Torah – and gave it to the priests. He told them to read the entire teaching every year during the holiday of Sukkot so that everyone of every generation would hear the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, moving from slavery to freedom. This recitation of the teaching had the potential to make all of the Israelites partners with one another and staunch supporters of Joshua, their leader-to-be. Remembering where they came from and recognizing where they were going provided the Israelites with a vision of their future, one that would enable them to respect Joshua as he shephered them to their promised land.
And so, there were two speeches today at the United Nations presenting differing views, perspectives and visions. What is the promised land which they seek? It is not only physical land at all – it is a time of peace, one that would bring together people from the entire political spectrum on both sides. It is memory and a rehearsing of the past that fuels the narratives of the peoples of the Middle East. But their goal should be to seek the possibility of creating one Torah and one story – of how two peoples came together to successfully work out their differences – where they are strong and resolute not in relation to the past, but to the future, and not in the perpetuation of disrespect and hatred, but in engendering and teaching understanding and mutual acceptance. The united voices of Jewish and Zionist groups of which I spoke before are, for the most part, strong and resolute not just in their opposition to this week’s attempted political move but also in their dedication to advocating peace as an ultimate goal for the Middle East. May the coming year, 5772, bring even small steps to that goal of SHALOM in the Middle East and throughout the world. And may we do what we can to be advocates of paths that can lead to constructive discussion, negotiation, and a true and lasting peace. So may we do – and let us say amen.