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Navigating Israel-Palestine with Lea Mühlstein

Rabbi Lea Mühlstein helped us get political on Sunday, 16 April, by decoding the current political crisis in Israel. Rather than a dispute over Palestine, Israel is seeing unprecedented protests — some 1 in 10 are estimated to have taken to the streets — over proposed judicial reforms. Jewish Israelis who have grown increasingly indifferent to questions of how to deal with the occupation have been shaken from their apathy by a threat to Israeli democracy that would touch all of its citizens.

This uniting concern is actually not the issue that affects most diaspora congregations, of course. A senior rabbi at The Ark Synagogue in London and International Chair of Arzenu – the political voice of Reform, Progressive and Liberal Religious Zionists — Mühlstein has developed a specialty in helping congregations navigate divergent views on Israel-Palestine. She set the stage at IJC by talking about three general categories or zones of disagreement: pluralism, tolerance and deviance.

Pluralism is a difference of opinion that doesn't really matter. What color do we paint the walls? We might disagree, and have to live with someone else's choice, but who cares?

Tolerance. Most disagreements on Israel in progressive congregations fall into this category. We each might think we're right, and those who disagree are wrong. We won't convince each other. But we can coexist with this disagreement.

Deviance: Divergent views are so anathema to our values that they can't be tolerated. In our community, expressing racist views, for example, would face social sanction.

We discussed a bit how some of these categories played out in IJC, before moving on to an extended explanation from Rabbi Mühlstein about the current situation in Israel. She offered insights into the motivations of Israeli voters and protesters, as well as an analysis of the different political movements at the moment. We won't reproduce that here — you kind of had to be there, as they say.

And that led to the concluding discussion: How communities like IJC can/should weigh in on what's happening in Israel. We discussed potential ways of expressing solidarity with the protesters, even if there isn't 100 percent consensus in the congregation, such as having the board express solidarity with the Progressive Judaism movement in Israel, or by writing privately to the ambassador.

Rabbi Mühlstein made a few points relevant to making sure we all stay "tolerant" going forward. First, it's actually better to find a way to have these discussions rather than putting a lid on disagreements, to avoid them boiling over. At the same time, it's not necessarily reasonable to expect a small community like ours to have a running dialogue on this topic. For those who want their views taken into account, it's crucial to engage in opportunities like those presented by Rabbi Mühlstein's visit.

Rabbi Mühlstein acknowledged that it's very difficult to keep track of the state of play in Israel, but for those seeking a neutral perspective, she suggested the Times of Israel.

By Sarah W.

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