Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fractures in the Family

I have a friend, or at least I wish he were my friend but he hesitates to talk with me because he heard that I was critical of Israel. “Ted” is Jewish. Even though he admits to not practicing any of the rituals of Judaism, such as attending a synagogue or changing his activity on the Sabbath, he is adamant in his defense of Israel. Like many older American Jews, supporting Israel is for him a substitute for being religious and a new way of being Jewish. 

There was a time when he would have represented almost the total Jewish community. There was a time when I was cautious in talking about Israel for fear of a certain rejection by anyone Jewish. Thank God, that time is no more. Ted’s tribe is shrinking. He doesn’t want to admit it but there is a huge fracture in the American Jewish family.

Many American Jews break with Israel over the killing of Americans:

Israel has directly killed and injured Americans, from the crew of the USS Liberty in 1967 – 34 Americans killed, 171 wounded, in international waters; to 23 year-old nonviolent activist Rachel Corrie, killed 13 years ago, days before we invaded Iraq; and 18 year-old Furkan Dogan, a passenger on the humanitarian vessel Mavi Marmara, who was killed six years ago. The U.N. Human Rights Council described his killing as, I quote, “summary execution,” by Israeli commandos who boarded the unarmed ship, also in international waters.[1]

Others are distancing themselves over Israeli killings, period.  According to Mondoweisss, Israel has killed at least 235 Palestinians in the past year.[2]

But for whatever reason, according to Dov Waxman, “a historic change has been taking place in the American Jewish relationship with Israel.

The era of uncritical American Jewish support for Israel – of “Israel, right or wrong” – is now long past… American Jews, especially younger ones, are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s policies with the Palestinians and are skeptical of its governments’ proclaimed desire for peace.

Waxman continues:

Surveys among American Jews show that only a minority – around 30 percent or so – feel very strongly attached to Israel, while a similar number feel distant. The rest are just moderately attached to Israel.[3]

Israel is not the idealistic, peace loving country that most older Americans believe because they read Leon Uris’s Exodus. The conflict between Israel’s policies and Jewish ethics is enormous. 

The world owes much to Judaism, not just for its commitment to monotheism but especially for having created a welfare system and ministry of justice and compassion through its synagogues at a time when Jews were a minority in a world surrounded by violence power and greed.

I would love to be able to talk to Ted about the Jewishness for which he could be proud but I fear his Jewishness only extends to Israel.

Thomas Are
October 27, 2016

[1] Huwaida Arraf, Holding Israel Accountable for the Gaza Flotilla Raid,  Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2016, p.57.
[2] Two More Shootings in Occupation Bring Number of Palestinians dead to 235 since October, 2015. Mondoweiss, Oct. 23, 2016
[3] Dov Waxman, Trouble in the Tribe, The American Jewish Conflict over Israel, (Princeton University Press, 2016) p. 4, and 22.   By the way, I played off of his title for the title of this blog. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Israel's Gaza

I learned a new word this week. Dystopia:

Dystopia, noun: an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly; an unpleasant future where people are often dehumanized; a nightmare world characterized by human misery, squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding… Dystopian societies give us glimpses into distorted societies where justice and freedom are suppressed; where deprivation is a way of life; and lives are dispensable. They ask us to imagine a society where people are pushed to the limits of what they can endure – and often killed if they can’t.[1]

Well, we don’t have to imagine. Just think of Israel’s Gaza.

The biggest strain on Israel’s legacy, image and conscience is Gaza. More than two million people now live in Gaza, that little sliver of land squeezed between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, barely 25 miles long and no more than seven miles across at its widest point. According to the United Nations, the territory could be unlivable by 2020 and Israel totally controls Gaza, as 70 percent of Gazans subsist on less than a dollar a day and 60 percent have no daily access to water.[2]

Decades of siege and three major bombardments in six years has left Gaza in a state of perpetual crisis. “We aren’t human. Our life is hell. We are living like animals,” says 54 year old Maeen Neim Maqbel, whose home was destroyed by Israel, twice.[3]  Add to that; leaking sewage systems, and electricity for barely half the day and totally dependent upon charity handouts from the United Nations to keep his family alive and you have a glimpse of dystopia in Gaza.

Unemployment in Gaza stands at 40 percent, however for those between 15 and 29 years of age, the unemployment rate is 60 percent. Poverty has increased with almost 80 percent of Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid to survive… In 2000 the U.N. was feeding 80,000 people in Gaza; today it feed over 830,000 people.[4]

The most painful part of this whole scenario for me is not the almost total indifference of  most Americans to this suffering and the eagerness of my government to support it, but the unwillingness of my church to address it.

Thomas Are
October 19, 2016

[1] Huffington Post, Gaza: The Makings of a Modern Day Dystopia, September 22, 2014.
[2] Rochelle Marshall: Has Obama Made a Devil’s Bargain with Israel.  Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December  2009.
[3] Mondoweiss, Living in the Aftermath: Palestinians in Gaza Struggle under the Siege to Rebuild, December 3, 2014
[4] Sara Roy, Deprivation in Gaza. July 19, 2014.  Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Presbyterian State

I’ve got an idea! Let’s turn America into a Presbyterian State.

Of course, we might have to fight a few wars to make it happen, but it could be done. We start by telling stories that solicit sympathy for all Presbyterians. Publish a few books and make a movie that tells of how brave and deserving Presbyterians are. Then, we start lifting up Presbyterian symbols.  We raise a Presbyterian flag.  I don’t know if there is such a thing but we could easily divert the many Presbyterian emblems into flags, banners, letterheads, and erect road signs and billboards that show anything Presbyterian.

Then we have to pass a few laws that favor Presbyterians and outlaw such things as Baptist Church sign, deny Catholics the right to do charities and question the motives of all non-Presbyterians. (Non-Ps; the unchosen)  One necessary law to make all this work would be one that allowed only Presbyterians to carry guns.  Anyone else armed would be identified as a terrorist

These beginning steps will be followed by discrimination in such things as jobs, educational opportunities, health care and the right to travel from one place to another.  We could even build “Presbyterian only” roads and erect checkpoints to make life more difficult for Non-Ps. If we treat those “others” as sub-human, they might even leave our Presbyterian country which would also leave Presbyterians even more in control.

If those who were not Presbyterian bothered us because there were too many of them to make us comfortable, Presbyterians could invite all Presbyterians from around the world to come live in a Presbyterian state designed exclusively for them.  There are a lot of Presbyterians in Korea.  Of course, they are not equal to us American Ps, but better off than those Unitarians who think they have a right to live in peace without being oppressed.  In fact, anyone who objects to this new “miracle” state… well, we have a program of demolishing their homes, or expelling them to Canada which might give them a second thought before speaking out.

It’s essential to know that Russia likes this development and is prepared to donate billions and billions in dollars and weapons to protect Presbyterians from any rebellion against the new and vulnerable Presbyterian State.

The only thing left that is needed to pull all this off is the Presbyterian State will need to develop a theology that makes it all look innocent. Presbyterians could point out that the government of the United States, built upon city, county, state and national entities is patterned after the Presbyterian form of government which builds up from Session, Presbyteries, Synods and the General Assembly.  Since the Presbyterian system was formed first, it must mean the Presbyterians were here first, therefore this is Presbyterian historical homeland simply being rightfully reclaimed.  Besides all that, everybody knows that Presbyterians are God’s chosen people, because Presbyterians said so. Our Jewish friends might object but what can they do about it?

Presbyterians will call this new state a democracy, which it will be for all who are Presbyterians. For everyone else, it will just be a Presbyterian State.

Oh, did I mention, I am a Presbyterian.

Thomas Are
October 5, 2016