This week we had the privilege of hosting on both campuses Shachar Chanan, the CEO of an Israeli non-profit organization called “My Truth” (http://mytruth.org.il/team_member/). “My Truth” is made up of IDF reserve soldiers who seek to share the values, moral dilemmas, and experiences of Israeli soldiers.
What should be the IDF’s plan of action, for example, in the following circumstance? The home and location of a known terrorist has just been discovered in a neighborhood in Gaza. From his home, this man has been planning bombings, meeting with accomplices, supplying belts for suicide bombers, and storing up weapons. However, the residence is also occupied 24 hours a day by the man’s wife and children. What type of attack is permitted in a situation where the terrorist uses his own family as a human shield?
These are the kinds of complicated dilemmas that IDF soldiers face. The vast majority of soldiers strive to meet the highest ethical standards of any army in the world. Most meet these standards; some fail. The recent decision by the military court finding an Israeli soldier guilty of manslaughter for killing a neutralized terrorist is a case in point (http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.762927).
I appreciate the fact that at TanenbaumCHAT, we don’t hide the flaws, foibles, or failings of Israel or its citizens or soldiers. In our Grade 12 Arab-Israeli conflict courses, for example, teachers will present a series of events that took place in Israel’s past or present and then ask students to look up how five different newspapers portray those events. The political left or right, the anti-Zionists, the settlers, the religious, and the secular community all look upon the same events but interpret them differently. We want our students to see the nuance and complexity. This is how we ensure that our students don’t feel that we present only one side of the very complicated issues Israel deals with on a daily basis.
In my experience, our students don’t benefit from being shielded from the complexities of Israel’s history or contemporary reality. We won’t succeed in helping them develop a deep connection with Israel if we stifle debate, suppress doubt, or deny Israel’s failures. Israel is a country filled with the best a nation has to offer (high tech, individual freedoms, infinite opportunities) and with problems that all other countries possess (illegal immigration, religious conflicts, racial tension.)
As a Zionist myself, I view every imperfection as an invitation to get involved in building this phenomenal Jewish enterprise called Israel. The American Jewish author Cynthia Ozick put it well: “Israel is imperfect…Because she is imperfect, she is always building. Because she is always building, she is eternal.” This is the attitude I hope our students cultivate as well.