From the Editor

Respectful disagreement

We don’t have to be disagreeable when we differ.

A Jewish friend once asked me to interview him for a story in this publication. During my conversation with him I casually asked, “What is the Jewish position on [a topic I’ve since forgotten]?” He sat up straight in his seat and replied, in a tone that wasn’t quite righteous indignation, but came close, “My good Sir, I’ll have you know there is no such thing as ‘the Jewish position’ on anything! Jews have a spectrum of views on any topic you can name.”

For a moment there I thought I was talking with a Lutheran. But the difference was, I quickly came to realize, that Jewish thinkers, as widely divergent as their views may be, have found a way to differ with one another without showing disrespect.

In that context, I was a bit amazed, but not really surprised, to discover a truly remarkable article in the local Twin Cities Jewish newspaper (April 22) arguing that Israel should stop receiving aid from the United States. For many in the American Jewish community, it is Gospel not to be challenged that the U.S. owes Israel ongoing (unending?) financial support. In recent years the U.S. has sent $4 billion annually to Israel, the only nation to whom it is provided with no strings attached.
Now comes Larry Derfner, whose Jerusalem Post commentary was reprinted in the Twin Cities based American Jewish World. Said Derfner, “We [Jews] get oceans of money from American taxpayers simply because we can get their elected representatives to give it to us. The Israel lobby in Washington is much too powerful for Congress to turn down, and Israel is, after all, something between an ally and a satellite of America’s, so they give us the money, no questions asked.”

But then comes the hard question [from Derfner]: “How can we — we Israelis and the American Jews and evangelical Christians who lobby for us — possibly justify asking for this money anymore?”

Says Derfner, “Once we were a poor country. We haven’t been for nearly 20 years. This is a shiny, prosperous, dynamic country we’re living in. Yet we’re still the biggest welfare recipient of any nation on earth.” He continues, “If welfare is bad for an individual, why is it good for a country?” He pushes the envelope with the politically incorrect question, “American taxpayers have to pay for our mistakes, for settling a few thousand Jews in the middle of a few million Palestinians? We can’t afford to fix this ourselves? The Israeli economy made $120 billion last year and it will make more this year [and] we can’t come up with $500 million to house our own citizens? No, American taxpayers are going to pick up the tab while Israelis travel overseas this summer.”
With a flourish, he concludes, “We can’t accept it anymore. It isn’t right. It isn’t decent. And it sure as [heck] isn’t Jewish.”

Whatever you think of Derfner’s line of argument, you have to admit, this is one feisty Jewish commentator. Did he get vilified for his views? Probably. Was he kicked out of the Jewish club? Absolutely not. Derfner is still writing commentary for the Jerusalem Post. And, because there is no official “Jewish point of view” on anything, others in the club are speaking their minds as well.

The Lutheran question is, “What does this mean for us?” Lutherans, and other Christians, need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. They can be as passionate as they want to be. In the ELCA, the fight this summer is about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to be ordained while living in committed relationships. In the LCMS, the battle rages about whether the denomination’s Board of Directors should have more authority than the national president.

We can disagree. We can wave our flags. Can we do it without becoming disagreeable?