As the U.N. votes on Palestinian statehood, and former regional allies of the Jewish state like Turkey and Egypt turn openly hostile, much of the international community is blaming Israel for its own isolation...
This convergence of blame comes at a time of spiritual vulnerability for Jews. This is, after all, our season of contrition. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the process of self-examination intensifies. And as Jewish tradition emphasizes, the basis for penitence is apology. Before seeking forgiveness from God, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt, even inadvertently...
But in the present atmosphere Jews should resist the temptation for self-blame. Apology is intended to heal. Yet those demanding apologies of Israel aren’t seeking reconciliation, but the opposite—to criminalize the Jewish state and rescind its right to defend itself.
The temptation for Jewish self-recrimination is deeply rooted in Zionist psychology. Zionism, after all, was a revolt against Jewish fatalism. If the Jewish situation is untenable, then clearly the fault lies with a lack of Jewish initiative. If you will it, said Zionist founder Theodore Herzl, it is no dream. Israeli rightists and leftists agree, in effect, that Israel can unilaterally determine its own reality, regardless of outside circumstances. If Israel lacks security, insists the right, that’s because we haven’t projected enough power and deterrence. And if Israel lacks peace, insists the left, that’s because we haven’t been sufficiently forthcoming in offering concessions.
Both right and left, then, implicitly dismiss the Arabs as an independent factor, with their own wills and agendas. But what if the Arab world doesn’t accept Israel’s legitimacy? What if the Middle East is undergoing transformations that have little if anything to do with what Israel wills?
This Rosh Hashanah I will ask forgiveness for my own sins and for the collective sins of Israel, as the liturgy insists. But I will withhold my political apologies for a time when those confessions won’t be manipulated against me. There is no religious obligation to collaborate in my own demonization. I will not be seeking forgiveness from those who deny my right to be.