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This Yom Kippur, We Must Atone for the Sins of Israeli Policy

Israel could not have sustained all these years of occupation without the political, diplomatic, and financial support of much of the worldwide Jewish community.

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And the holy day this year finds a surprisingly wide variety of opinions is in the air. More and more U.S. Jews every day are beginning to raise questions, criticize Israeli policies, and confess that far too many of those policies are both a strategic and a moral error. A growing number would even call it a sin.

We can expect to hear that kind of message even from some synagogue pulpits this year. Nearly 600 rabbis have joined the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street, the nation’s most prominent Jewish pro-Israel, pro-peace group. The Cabinet is circulating a letter that acknowledges Israel’s “dangerous behavior,” cites the biblical injunction to “rebuke your kin,” and calls for the Israelis to make “difficult compromises and mutual sacrifice.” That’s a message hardly any rabbi would have dared endorse publicly just a few years ago. Now an impressively long and growing list of rabbis, including nine former presidents of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, have signed the letter.

In the same letter, the rabbis declare themselves “deeply committed to free and open dialogue about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” -- also something that would have been impossible a few years ago. If the Jewish dialogue is indeed free and open, the rabbis will hear some congregants tell them that even J Street does not go far enough in acknowledging the sins of Israeli policy.

In some of the pews, and even in a few pulpits, there will be new lines added this year to the traditional confessional, lines like these:

For the sin that we have committed by ignoring the suffering of Palestinians for so long
For the sin that we have committed by rejecting the Palestinian demand for self-determination
For the sin that we have committed by supporting a cruel military occupation
For the sin that we have committed by tolerating the expansion of West Bank settlements
For the sin that we have committed by approving the economic strangulation of Gaza
For the sin that we have committed by accepting our own government’s biased “special relationship” with Israel
For the sin that we have committed by lobbying for more U.S. military aid to Israel
For the sin that we have committed by ignoring even the most egregious Israeli abuses
For the sin that we have committed by remaining silent for so long in the face of injustice

For all these and more -- for the supposedly “pro-Israel” sins we have not yet recognized, but some day will -- oh God, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

The confession is supposed to bring a sense of spiritual cleansing as long as it triggers a sincere commitment to change one’s ways, to do the right thing in the coming year. I know plenty of Jews who have already expressed the need for such cleansing and made such a commitment when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This Yom Kippur I trust that they will spread the word and share their experience with their fellow congregation. In fact they must, because the confession is worded in the first person plural: “For the sin that we have committed.”

In this case, a collective guilt feeling is hardly pathological. In fact it’s totally realistic. It’s not just this or that individual Jew who has supported the Israeli oppression of Palestine. It has been a communal sin. Israel could not have sustained all these years of occupation without the political, diplomatic, and financial support of the worldwide Jewish community, especially the Jews of the United States. And Jews have based far too much of their group life on the foundation of a blind “support for Israel,” creating a monolithic bloc that has dominated U.S. government policy on the Middle East conflict. So it’s the whole community that must shift its attitude.

 
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