According to a Midrash of the Exodus, the sea did not split until Nachshon ben Aminadav waded into it up to his nose. In another story of the Exodus, Dathan and Abiram led a rebellion against Moses in an attempt to get him to turn back.
The Torah is full of stories of courage and cowardice in the quest for the Promised Land. We Jews have a history of grumbling and griping, but also of courage in the face of adversity. The Torah tells us that Dathan and Abiram were swallowed up by the earth, while Moses and Joshua led their people to the land they had been seeking for 40 years.
All of this is brought to mind by Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to bring about a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and by the critics who seem to be springing up everywhere to ridicule it. John Podhoretz, in the New York Post, calls Kerry “stupid” and “clueless.” David Horovitz, in the Times of Israel, invokes the so-called “definition of insanity” (to repeat the same actions with the expectation of different results) to characterize Kerry’s efforts and writes that “such negotiations can only lead to the same failure they have yielded in the past.”
This kind of cynicism and negativity is cowardly and unhelpful. What good does it do to carp in this manner and what harm is there in attempting to do important things despite their being fraughtwith obstacles and the possibility of failure?
If Kerry fails, he will not look foolish as the critics suggest; he will look courageous for attempting that which is difficult. Furthermore, things are not as dire as the cynics portray them. Yes, Netanyahu and Abbas are profoundly doubtful of each other’s good will (not without cause) and concerned about appearing weak to their electorates, but if Kerry can find the formula to bring them to the table, I think we may find that the hardest battlehas been won and that they are, in fact, not as far apart as we may think. The contours of the two-state solution have been known for years, and the Israeli and Palestinian populations both know it isin their best interests to achieve it.
Yes, it is difficult. But since when have we advocated avoiding doing that which is difficult? How many times must Theodor Herzl have been ridiculed as a dreamer before he was provoked to exclaim “If you will it, it is no dream”? If the original Jewish settlers and the founders of the State of Israel had listened to their mockers, there would be no State of Israel.
So now it is our turn to decide where we will stand. Will we stand with Secretary Kerry in his pursuit of a solution that will finally ensure that Israel remains secure, democratic, and Jewish in character? Or will we be the Dathans of our day? What kind of Jews will we be?
Martin J. Levine
The writer is a member of the steering committee of the Northern New Jersey Chapter of J Street and of J Street’s New York and Northern New Jersey Communications Committees.