Clueless in LA
Rabbi Sharon Brous of Los Angeles is widely hailed in the US for being a brilliant and creative personality who has inspired countless people to increase their engagement with Judaism. Growing up with no Jewish education herself, she decided to devote herself to Judaism and become a rabbi. She has led her community to grow by hundreds of families. From an Orthodox perspective, it's hard to value a radical reformation of bein adam l'Makom. But at least we can value someone's efforts at teaching people bein adam l'chavero, right?
Well, I'm not so sure.
Rabbi Brous first rubbed people the wrong way in a letter to her community during the Gaza war of 2013. She made sure to "balance" any expression of support for Israel with an equivalent message of sympathy for the Palestinians, and included such choice expressions as "We are deeply entrenched in our narratives of good and evil, victim and perpetrator." As a result, Daniel Gordis - a former teacher of Brous - issued a scathing rebuke, in an article entitled "When Balance Becomes Betrayal." Brous responded by misrepresenting the rebuke as a criticism of her for showing any sympathy at all for the Palestinians. Of course, the rebuke was nothing of the sort. Rather, Gordis was criticizing her for failing to clearly articulate that Gaza was at fault, and for failing to demonstrate more empathy for the innocent lives lost amongst her own people than for the lives of the enemy. Did Brous truly not understanding the criticism, or was she reluctant to make her position clear? I don't know.
Rabbi Brous has now stepped into Israeli-Arab politics again, with an article entitled "Let's Bet On Peace." In this article, she urges people to pressure Israel (and the Palestinians too, I guess, though one senses that this is not her focus) to show "courage, compassion and faith" and heed John Kerry's call to "bet on peace."
Brous rejects out of hand those who would say that she is "driven by a reckless combination of naivete and arrogance." (Hey, she described me perfectly!) Her reason for rejecting this accusation is that she "believes that peace is possible."
Yet how on earth is she so sure that peace is possible? Surely from an objective standpoint, one has to be at least open to the possibility that peace is impossible! After all, perhaps the maximum that Israel can safely concede from a security standpoint is less than what the Palestinian people are willing to settle for. That is something that all the political pressure in the world cannot change. How can Brous be so sure that this is not a possible scenario? In fact, all the evidence points to it being a very likely scenario!
Brous certainly has no grounds to know that peace is possible. What she offers instead is her "belief" that it is possible. Faith like this means refusing to ever accept the fact of impossibility. In practical terms, this means putting no limits on the pressure that must be exerted upon Israel.
Brous writes that "If Kerry fails, it will be because the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships could not summon the courage to take the painful steps required for peace, security and dignity." Note that the blame for failure is placed on both sides. What is the basis for such a judgment? Maybe one side is willing to take the most painful steps that it can safely take, and the other side is not willing to do likewise? Isn't that a possibility?
(Nor does it help matters for Brous to approve Kerry "honoring the narratives" of "both Israelis and Palestinians." After all, the Palestinian narrative is that there was never any Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. If that narrative is honored, then the Jews are nothing more than European colonists who have no right to live in any part of it.)
Astonishingly, then, Brous's rejection of the charge of naivete demonstrates the very naivete that she is attempting to deny. But she also demonstrates a remarkable lack of self-awareness. Predictably, in the comments to her article, residents of Israel were infuriated by her blithe talk about "betting" on peace. After all, in a bet, there is the possibility of losing. And the losers here would not be Brous, sitting in sunny LaLa-Land, but rather the residents of Israel. I am not saying that living in LA means that she is not entitled to an opinion. But where is her sensitivity to the fact that she is demanding that other people gamble their lives?! Couldn't she at least have said, "I know that this is all too easy for me to say, but still..."?
I'm sure that Rabbi Brous is a much nicer person than me. I'm sure that she does a lot of very valuable work. I'm sure that she is a deeply compassionate Jew with the best of intentions. But there comes a point where someone is so disconnected from reality, so lacking in self-awareness of how their words are offensive to others, so presumptuous in their declarations, and so refusing to face up to harmful consequences of their positions, that their good heart leads to very bad consequences.