It started with the disturbing U.N. resolution that, by America’s calculated abstention, was disgracefully allowed to pass.
“Abstain.” It sounds harmless. But it was precisely what the anti-democratic, autocratic leadership of the U.N. needed.
What did we do? We came home, and standing with the reflection of the glass windows before us showcasing the bare cold wintry world outside, we lit a candle.
It seems like every day since that resolution, more and more upsetting news stories are being churned out quicker than you can read them. And with each one, we come home as night sets, strike another match, and light another candle.
A Chanukah candle.
I wish it weren’t so, but to me this Chanukah doesn’t feel limited to celebrating a past historic event. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic. I feel so grateful for the freedom of our times; how blessed we all are. Yet somehow, if even subtly, this Chanukah feels different.
I will leave it to the political pundits to analyze why, despite the US vetoes at the U.N. during the Obama and previous administrations, this time was different. I will simply say that I listened to Secretary John Kerry’s speech, in which he attempted to justify the controversial move at the U.N., and I am flabbergasted.
Leaving everything else aside that is deeply upsetting about what that abstention means —the sense of personal betrayal of Israel and the Jewish people…
Leaving aside the sideshow of an administration attempting to ram through its “vision” for Israel in a last-ditch effort to acquire a legacy in this area and eclipse its profound humanitarian failure in Syria…
Leaving aside, pragmatically speaking, how incompetent Kerry’s speech came across, when it comes to the actual issues of safety and security on the ground for Jerusalem and the West Bank…
Leaving aside how imbalanced the speech was despite its woeful attempt at moral equivalency between the Israeli and Palestinian narrative…
Leaving all that and so much more aside, the thing that struck me the most was how out of touch with reality Kerry’s speech was.
Kerry said that the desire for a two-state solution is the expressed opinion of the majority of the people. He spoke of how crucial it is to rush to the finish line of making a deal for two states, while that option is still with us, before instability and conflict intensify in the region. Seriously?
If anything, the U.N. resolution has fanned the flames of conflict by giving justification to Palestinian methods for achieving a state: violence, not negotiation; and refusal to recognize Israel as a permanent Jewish state.
Israel is the locus of instability in the region? Really? That instability lies in Syria and surrounding nations. Israel, thankfully, has been an island of calm and prosperity, able to extend aid in the crisis, not acting to exacerbate it.
It’s hard to take Kerry’s words to heart when it feels like he might as well have said: “We’ve watched Syria’s half a million civilians murdered. We’ve watched ISIS. We’ve seen the failure after failure in the region for the last eight years. So now, in the eleventh hour, please, let us tell Israel what is best for Israel.”
There still is an Israeli minority for whom a two-state solution remains alive and well. But for most, it’s not. That is why Netanyahu won. Because after the unilateral and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza — of which Kerry conspicuously made no mention — Israelis have learned what happens when settlements are no longer there.
Kerry emphasized that the settlements are an extremist ideological issue, which for some no doubt they are. What he failed to mention was that for most, settlements are a pragmatic security issue.
Israelis don’t want another terrorist state next door, like the one they got in Gaza (only this time, even closer). Ater Israel’s various iterations of rejected offers for Palestinian statehood, the concept seems dead.
Kerry’s reality is a wishful, artificial reality that has long since stalled.
That word, abstention. In our tradition, it carries a message. It is not as neutral as it might sound.
The Talmud recounts Pharaoh in Egypt discussing the problem of the Hebrews with his government ministers Balaam, Jethro and Job. Balaam advocated the Hebrews’ destruction. Jethro, despite endangering himself, advocated on behalf of the Hebrews. Job remained silent. Abstained, if you will.
Abstaining is a choice, the creation of a vacuum that allows evil to thrive.
You don’t have to get your hands dirty to be complicit.
I’ve acknowledged with gratitude when the Obama administration gave support to Israel. But time and again, its instincts and its foreign policy of “abstention” has, unfortunately, wrought a lot of damage.
But, readers, last week was Chanukah, and night by night we continued to light our menorahs. Not just for the past, but for the present.
And for the future too.
As a friend tweeted from the Metropolitan Museum this week, “Hi from the Met, graveyard of our enemies.”