Supporting Israel means questioning its policies
When we cease to question, we cease to hope. We must believe that Israel is strong enough, and capable, to be held accountable, and that it is possible for it to become a better place.
Last month, I met with a man who impressed me as none other has over the last 10 years. His name is David Grossman, and he was in New York to receive the National Jewish Book Award for his magnificent novel "To the End of the Land." Grossman, whose talent is enormous, has been fighting for peace in his country for 30 years.
As we came to the end of our discussion we sat as two Jews - one from North America and one from Israel - who deeply care about our mutual fate as part of the Jewish people. He looked me in the eye and said that it was important for me to openly express my ideas about Israeli policies, and that it is vital for others who question to do the same.
Grossman's comment resonated with me because Jews are a people of questioners. We emphatically question and discuss. That very Jewish form of engagement, however, is often seen as a threat rather than an asset when it comes to public discussions and criticism of Israel.
Yet, as Jews, we show that we care and are connected to each other by rigorous inquiry, not blind advocacy. Accordingly, I feel compelled to call upon Israel to redouble its efforts to bring about a two-state solution, especially as we enter spring and witness the Arab world in the midst of revolution and the possibility - however remote - of a blossoming democracy in Egypt.
This week, we also celebrate Passover, that great celebration of freedom. The Pesach Haggadah also reflects the Talmudic injunction to ask questions. As we come upon Passover, and the Seder meal, I am reminded of the example of the four children.
They are all held up as illustrations of how to ask questions, or our inability to do so, and I have come to see their legacies as a great lesson. One is wise, one wicked, one simple and one does not know how to ask, but each of them - rebelling, agreeable, silent or bewildered - participates in the act of questioning.
When I think of the four children, I am keenly aware of the responsibility - the necessity - of asking questions to continue participating in the narrative of the Jewish people. To remove yourself from the story of Israel, as the wicked child does during the Passover Seder, is the only heresy. Exploring Israel's meaning to you, as an American and as a Jew, is to firmly lock yourself onto the chain of thousands of years of Jewish history, and also claim your legacy as an American who is blessed to live in a land of freedom.
Let me be clear: I do not criticize Israel because I wish to separate myself from it. I speak up because I am a committed Zionist who loves Israel. I want it to be a country which lives up to its greatest potential, and I see its current policies on settlements and Palestinian occupation as a grave error, destructive to the heart and soul of a great Jewish country.
To believe that Israel is strong enough, and capable, to be held accountable, and that it is possible for it to become a better place. It is an affirmation of strength and a reminder that Israel must not oppress others as the Egyptians did, but aid them in their emancipation.
"We are without confidence in what we are doing and where we are heading, what our national purpose is," Grossman lamented to me. "All that is evaporating from us, because of the harshness of the conflict, because of the despair that we are in."
When we cease to question, we cease to hope. Do not surrender your freedom so easily - do not give in to despair. Remind yourself this Pesach that you are free to question, and by doing so you reaffirm possibility.
The writer is a leading philanthropist and president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation.