From teaching children a basic principle in Hebrew school that the Sages cherish disagreement for the Sake of Heaven; to welcoming converts to Judaism who are transformed by the religious notion that Asking Questions is an essential precept of faith in relationship to God history, we proudly embrace this idea of Sacred Dissent. Is there a greater exemplar of this than the Biblical patriarch Abraham, who famously challenges God over the potential for loss of innocent life at Sodom and Gomorrah, "shall the Judge of all the Earth not rule with Justice?" Not only do we Jews argue, we argue with God!
In the modern era, the early Zionist movement was an expression of Jewish democracy in action, spanning Jews from across Europe coming together in unity to come home, giving voice in the parliamentary political system they established to the voices across Jewish life--from the fundamentally religious to the radically secular, while also proudly extolling the equal rights of Israel's Arab citizens as well.
These are the pillars of a certain narrative that present circumstances may be rapidly eroding. While it's clear that this supposed objective reality gives way to a more realistic portrayal of a Jewish life and civilization--unified at times during threats to our very existence but more often than not, expressing a tenuous hold on notions of internal Jewish unity at a time of great crisis: the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.
A lack of Jewish communal unity on this very question has created the kinds of corrosive divisions that lead to such outrages like the "Boycott Law" passed by Israel's Knesset or the Jerusalem Mayor, Israeli Finance Minister and leading companies showing up to support a major Haredi economic conference while tacitly supporting the repression of women.
For sake of argument--since this is an internal Jewish matter--we're going to leave out of this brief any justified claims against Palestinians for their own failures these last decades. Let them clean up their house while we clean up ours.
Some rabbinic authorities burned Maimonides books; Spinoza was excommunicated; internal Zionist strife led to the assault on the Altalena, probably the most famous example of modern, internal Jewish political strife, until Yigal Amir murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in part, with the rabbinic approval of Rabbi Dov Lior, back in the news these days.
These are the ugly parts of our history--the painful, deeply damaging parts of our history--that we nonetheless face because to be "a light unto the nations" means demonstrating not only the good that God demands of us but by righting the wrongs we do as well. Making an account of who we are for all to see. Chosenness, if you will, comes with a price.
I'll be the first to admit the inherent contradiction in my argument; even the infuriating stance of a comfortable Diaspora Jew pronouncing on Israel's direction as a tourist, a visitor abroad. There is no question it's an issue. The critical mass of Diaspora Jewry that may have pushed for a more democratic Israel; that would have voted to restrict the Haredization of Israeli religious life; that would have pushed the government on the issue of stopping settlement expansion, has, for the most part, fought from the sidelines and it's undeniable how this annoys or inflames certain Israelis. In delusional moments of hope, I dream of a mass Aliyah of progressive Diaspora Jews, taking up the justifiable position of every Prime Minister I've ever heard speak: You want to change Israel? Move here.
They're not wrong.
And so we in our pain and embarrassment sit here; while there, things seem to be up in smoke.
I'm against the Boycott Movement. But in the great annoyance of having to engage it in my home neighborhood of precious Park Slope, I justify the engagement by arguing that such a dialogue at least strengthens the democratic fabric and therefore core legitimacy of the Jewish state. Hopefully, God willing (we need all the strength in this debate about dissent we can get) the Attorney General and Supreme Court will overturn this odious law, so we can get back to arguing for the Sake of Heaven.