The Sins of the Left and the Right on Israel
Note: This piece by Rabbi Yoffie was published on September 13, 2022, in the Brandeis Jewish Experience.
At this time of year, we Jews are called upon to repair our conduct and change our ways. It is not easy.
We can only do so if we are honest with ourselves, recognizing our sins and taking responsibility for our actions.
And the High Holiday liturgy does not let us off the hook.
In the Al Het prayers, the traditional confession of our collective sins repeated 10 times on Yom Kippur, the language is not abstract or philosophical; it is direct, harsh, and unyielding:
“We have sinned against you by fraud and by falsehood, by scoffing, by haughtiness, by dishonesty in business.” (Al Het means “for the sin” in Hebrew.)
It refers, in other words, to the specific vices to which we are all so prone — deception, slander, envy, gossip. Our tradition teaches that the issue of sin must be confronted directly and discussed in a practical and realistic way. Absent such a discussion, there can be no moral judgment and no forgiveness.
And what is true for all our actions is true as well for our actions on Israel.
Inevitably, this will be a difficult process. When it comes to Israel, emotions run high, and confronting our sins and scrutinizing our innermost thoughts are especially challenging.
But it is essential that we do this, nonetheless.
Given all that is at stake when it comes to Israel’s well-being, let me suggest some additions to the Al Het prayers for Jews of the left, Jews of the right, and for the entire Jewish people.
For Jews of the left:
We have sinned against you by minimizing Israel’s virtues, blaming Israel for the sins of others, and expecting too little from Israel’s adversaries.
We don’t always remember that Israel is a miracle. The Jewish people need a Jewish state, a Jewish army, and a place of refuge for Jews everywhere.
We are rightly appalled by the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza but forget that the Palestinians have not done their part in bringing the occupation to an end. We do not hold Palestinian leaders to the same moral standards that we expect from other peoples and nations, and we downplay their incitement and tolerance of terror.
We minimize the dangers posed by the rogue regime in Iran and by the fundamentalist fanatics of Hamas. We fail to distinguish between those who thoughtfully criticize Israel and those who do not want Israel to exist. And we often refuse to recognize the faults of those who identify as on the left, remaining silent when they say false and outrageous things about Israel.
For the Jews of the right:
We have sinned against you by denying Palestinians basic rights, ignoring their suffering, encouraging hatred, and forgetting what the Torah teaches about relations with the stranger.
We turn our eyes from the harsh realities of the occupation, banishing from our minds that for more than half a century, millions of Palestinians have been deprived of basic rights. We do not fight to improve their lot and remain shamefully silent while extremist settlers such as the “hill youth” attack and torment them and sometimes kill them.
We talk of peace but offer no vision of the future. We take refuge in comforting stereotypes, implying that all Palestinians are terrorists and falling into the trap of generalized hatred for the Other. And we often completely ignore the faults of those in our own camp, accepting the support of right-wing radicals in Israel and elsewhere who applaud us when we call for settlement rather than separation.
For all Jews:
We have sinned against you by failing to remember that the road ahead for Israel is full of terrible dangers, that we must be committed to peace but without illusions, that Israel must be prepared for concessions and withdrawals, and that Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core.
For all these sins, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.