The first time I traveled to Israel was when I was 16, and I spent six weeks touring the country with 45 other teens from the San Francisco Bay Area. Before that trip, the only connection I felt to the country was through the education I received from Religious School. In fact, I was the first one in my family to visit our "homeland."
Since that trip, I have been back twice, once as a three-week seminar as part of my graduate studies program at Hebrew Union College and when our Jewish Federation led our first community trip in 2012. As you might expect, my connection to the land and the people intensified after each trip. And that connection has also increased for me as the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.
Since its establishment as a country 75 years ago, the vast majority of Jewish have tended to be extremely protective of Israel. Jews all over the world were Israel's greatest defenders. However, as the years have passed, that feeling has dissipated for many, especially following recent decisions made by Israel's government.
In April, I interviewed Dr. Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel, for a May cover article for JLife SGPV. During our conversation, he and I discussed the duality Jews must face because of Israel. No other people are so uniquely tied to a country as Jews are to Israel. Even Jews without connection to Israel are almost always seen as being in "lockstep" with Israel. However, as recent studies have shown, more and more American Jews are more critical of Israel and its leadership's decisions than ever before.
Because of this duality, I struggle with the criticism Israel faces on the world stage. Is it possible to be critical of a country's decisions (that have no impact on you) and simultaneously be a staunch defender of the same country when others criticize it? Is it only okay for Jews and Israelis to disapprove since it is our "homeland," or can others also voice their objection? If the latter is the case, when does it go too far and cross the line?
Israel is held to an unenviable standard than any other country. Israel gets blamed for defending itself because they do it "too well" when missiles target its citizens. Israel gets blamed for being a racist nation (like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.) said last month, even though every single Israeli citizen is given the same rights as another. When any disaster occurs anywhere in the world, Israel is one of the first nations to arrive on the scene, and yet, Israel's motives are almost always questioned.
And, of course, anytime Israel does something "wrong," inevitably, there is an uptick in antisemitic incidents. This direct correlation of being blamed for something we, as American Jews, have no control or say in is unfair and unjust. It often feels like the Israeli government shrugs its shoulders as if it were to say, "Oh well" it's not our problem.
I wish the leadership would recognize or even consider their decisions and actions' impact, not just on Israelis or the perception people have of Israel but also on Jews living outside the country, including here in the greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.