Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jews Rethink Israel

After every conversation concerning Israel/Palestine, the question arises. Is it getting any better? Is there any hope?

Well, not from the prospect of those of us who live in the United States. We have a biased media which, for whatever reason, seldom even acknowledges the real problem of occupation and brutality. We have a gutless government afraid of AIPAC and its powerful lobby, and we hear on television day and night the idiotic and unbiblical views of the Christian Zionist who tell us that Jesus cannot come again until Jerusalem is purged of non-Jews and the temple rebuilt. There are days when it seems as though there is no hope.

However, something is changing that may have a most significant effect on Israel’s imperialism. That is the changing attitude of the American Jew.

For many years, I have tried to pay attention to the American Jewish writers who were seeking to hold Israel to the moral standards of their Jewish faith and theology. My reading was limited to Marc Ellis, Michael Lerner and Noam Chomsky. In spite of their heart felt attachment to biblical Israel and the security of identity, these powerful critics kept calling Israel to accountability. In previous blogs, I have referred to each of them. Typical is Michael Lerner, editor of the leading Jewish magazine, TIKKUN:

Israel’s attempt to regain control of the refugee camps by denying food to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, by raiding homes and dragging out their occupants in the middle of the night to stands for hours in the cold, by savagely beating a civilian population and breaking its bones---these activities are deplorable to any civilized human being. That they were done by a Jewish state is both tragic and inexcusable.[1]

This Jewish writer amazed me. Then I read Marc Ellis:

Can Jewish Israelis continue to torture and kill Palestinian youth ad infinitum? Can North American Jews continue to support these horrible acts?[2]

Noam Chomsky was more specific in spelling out Israeli atrocities.[3]

All of these were writing twenty to twenty-five years ago.

These leaders spoke to me but they seemed to make little impact upon their own Jewish community which continued to give Israel a pass on any treatment of its neighbors, no matter how abusive.

Now, suddenly, Ellis, Lerner and Chomsky have company. There are more Jewish writers than I can keep up with, such as:

Joel Kovel, who writes on the very first page of his book, Overcoming Zionism, published in 2007, “I write this book in fury about Israel and the unholy complicity of the United States and its Jewish community that grants it impunity” He goes on to condemn Israel’s theology and practice for its imperialist behavior.

Normal Finkelstein seeking to cut through the myth of ‘Purity of Arms,’ quotes the former director of the Israeli army archives, “In almost every Arab village occupied by us during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murder, massacres, and rapes.”[4]

Tanya Reinhart writes, “Israel can continue to imprison the Palestinians, to bombard them from the air, deprive them of the means of substance, steal their land in the West Bank --- and still be hailed as the peacemaker in the Israel-Palestine conflict.”[5]

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian writes, “The 1948 War of Independence involved one of the largest forced migrations in modern history. Around a million people were expelled from their homes at gunpoint, civilians were massacred, and hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed. Denied for almost six decades, had it happened today it could only have been called ‘ethnic cleansing’”.[6]

Last Saturday, I attended a conference in Atlanta and met Mark Braverman, the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew who spoke of the “civil war” taking place in the hearts of many Jews, a war between their love for Israel and their recognition of the price paid by Palestinians for Israel’s “right to exist.” Growing up in Pennsylvania, he visited family in Israel for the first time as a teenager and was devastated by what he saw. After holding that pain inside for decades, with courage and scholarship, Braverman writes about Israel’s destruction of Palestine. “A growing number of Jews in Israel and outside the state see this, and for us the effect has been shattering; the shock, horror, and crisis of identity I experienced as a Jew witnessing the crimes being committed in my name are not unique.”[7]

I scratch my head and think, Wow, what is going on?

Then, the latest issue of THE NATION features as its cover story: American Jews Rethink Israel:

This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel. In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israeli writings about the “rot in the Diaspora,” and it’s little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.[8]

All this is new. Several years ago, I was invited to speak about the history of Zionism to a study group in Jacksonville, Florida. I had just begun when suddenly I was interrupted by a loud and dynamic voice. “Politics! This is all your politics and I resent it. I have a Jewish friend and if he were here, you would not be saying these things.”

He may have been right. I may have been intimidated if there were a Jew sitting in the room. However. I would have been wrong to be silent. What Israel was doing then and is still doing now is wrong and we are equally wrong to remain silent while it’s being done.

These authors are brave and they pay a great emotional and personal price for speaking out even when their concerns are for and not against Israel. They need our support.

Also, there are many authorities on Middle East affairs who tell us that unless something is done to curb Israel’s expansionism, Israel may be dragging us into a long disastrous war with the Muslim world that we are not going to win.

By the way, Marc Ellis has just published a new book. Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, which I have not as yet had time to read.

Thomas L. Are
October 27, 2009

[1] Michael Lerner, The Occupation: Immoral and Stupid. Cited in: Rosemary Ruether and Marc Ellis, Beyond Occupation, (Beacon Press, Boston, 1990.) p. 99.
[2] Ibid., p.116.
[3] Check out his, The Fateful Triangle.
[4] Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict. Second Edition, Verso, 2003,)
p. 110
[5] Tanya Reinhart, The Road Map to Nowhere, (Verso, 2006.) p. 143
[6] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oneworld, Oxford, England, 2007.) Jacket blurb.
[7] Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace, (Synergy Books, 2010) p.25
[8] Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, American Jews Rethink Israel: A New Generation, and a New Lobby, Challenge Old Attitudes, The Nation, November 2, 2009. p.13.

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