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Gaza: A Lament

Posted by rabbibrian on July 23, 2014

In two weeks time on Tisha B’Av (9th of the Jewish month of Av), Jews will read the Book of Lamentations, a bitter lament about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago.  Over the past few weeks, I have felt a lament welling up inside my broken heart.  Eicha/How? or Alas! is the first word of the book of Lamentations.  How have we, as Jews, come to the point where the state that claims to be acting in the name of our people and our ethical and historical legacy has killed, as of today, over 650 Palestinians, the majority of them innocent civilians, 160 of them children?  How do we, as Jews, face ourselves as we see the bodies of entire families in body bags, often just plastic bags, human beings that have been killed by jet fighters, tanks and navy ships of the fourth strongest military force in the world acting in the name of the Jewish people?  How do we face ourselves as we see people fleeing on carts and by foot, images that remind us of Jews in earlier times fleeing for their lives, trying to find shelter somewhere from the barrage of armaments unleashed against them on all sides?

The answer that is repeated over and over again is that Israel has the right to defend itself against the rockets launched into Israel.   Over 1,500 rockets have been launched  into Israel, killing, as of this date, 2 people.  The rockets are a terrifying attack on civilians and any country has the obligation and right to defend itself against such an attack.  Every day Israelis hear sirens and scurry to shelters and safe spaces. Everyone, especially the children, are traumatized by living with this threat of imminent danger.

However, focusing exclusively on Israel’s right to defend itself against the rockets, avoids looking at the root causes of this assault. The rockets are the desperate, and thankfully, mostly ineffective, response of an occupied people who have been subjected to an Israeli siege for the past 7 years.  It is an act of desperate resistance by a people who live in the “largest open air prison in the world.”

The bottom line is that this is not a war of defense.  This assault is a war of choice by Israel with the goal of maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza and no matter how brutal, it will not bring safety and security to Israel.  The only path to safety and security is a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians that ends the occupation of the West Bank and siege on Gaza, something Israel has steadfastly rejected.  Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that Israel would never withdraw from the West Bank and never allow the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Since before the founding of the State of Israel, Israel has believed that the Palestinian claim to their homes and homeland can be defeated by military might.  This has been the underlying reason for all of Israel’s wars.   In 1956, in a famous eulogy by General Moshe Dayan for a young kibbutznik named Ro’i Rotenberg, killed by Gazans who had crossed over the border into Israel, Dayan articulated this position.

“Do not today besmirch the murderers with accusations. Who are we that we should bewail their mighty hatred of us?  For eight years they sit in refugee camps in Gaza, and opposite their gaze we appropriate for ourselves as our own portion the land and the villages in which they and their fathers dwelled…

This we know: that in order that the hope to destroy us should die we have to be armed and ready, morning and night. We are a generation of settlement, and without a steel helmet and the barrel of a cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a house. Our children will not live if we do not build shelters, and without a barbed wire fence and a machine gun we cannot pave a road and channel water.”

It is this same belief that underlies this latest assault on Gaza, a territory that has been under Israeli siege for 8 years and has been brutally attacked three times in the past six years. It is not a coincidence that the majority of Gazan residents are refugees or the children and grandchildren of refugees from the 1948 war.  There is no military solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The only solution is a negotiated settlement.

Again, so what about the rockets?

Israel has the right to defend itself.  I have compassion for the fear of the Israelis and all those traumatized by the rockets and the sirens.  Twice in my life I have been in Israel during the time when we had to run to shelters because of rockets; during the Gulf War and another a month before the Israeli assault in 2008 (Operation Cast Lead).  I know in my bones how terrifying it is to hear those sirens and to run for cover.

However, I believe there is no moral equivalence between the firing of rockets by Hamas and other militants in Gaza and the Israeli assault.  Gaza is a land and people living under Israeli siege since 2007.  There is a myth that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza and allowed the Gazans freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Israel withdrew their settlements from Gaza in 2005 and the military force that protected them, in 2007 they placed a blockade on almost all exports and imports and on the movement of almost all Gazans.

Sara Roy, an economist at Harvard, has documented how the siege has impoverished the people of Gaza creating an entire population that is dependent on aid and has no means to develop its economy.  For a time, the Israelis even put Gazan’s on a “diet” controlling the amount of food they allowed into Gaza according to the number of calories that they deemed each Gazan would need.  There is no equivalence between the resistance of the occupied, which is an internationally recognized human right, and the assault of the occupier, the fourth strongest military on the planet.  While the Israelis are certainly suffering profound losses in this conflict, they are ultimately the occupier and oppressor.

There is also abundant evidence that this current war in Gaza is a war of choice. The prominent Jewish journalist, J.J. Goldberg, a life-long committed Zionist, recently wrote an article in the Jewish Forward describing how Israel used the kidnapping of the three teenagers to launch an attack on Hamas on the West Bank. Fearing the Palestinian unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas established after the failure of the peace process, Israel manipulated the kidnapping to launch an attack on Hamas. Israel knew the teenagers had been killed yet it hid that truth and launched a “Bring our Boys Home” campaign all over the world.  It launched an assault on Hamas on the West Bank arresting many of its leaders who had been freed in the exchange for Gilad Shalit, attacking its institutions on the West Bank and killing six Palestinian leaders.  For the most part Hamas had maintained the ceasefire agreement of 2012 and Israel violated it.

There were no rockets from Gaza until these unprovoked attacks on Hamas by Israel even though there was, and still is, no evidence that the kidnapping was the work of Hamas.   You may also want to read the article by my colleague, Rabbi Brant Rosen and the article by M.J. Rosenberg who at one time worked for AIPAC.

Rosenberg writes:

 

Listening to Netanyahu’s defenders in the media (and that is pretty much all you get as objective reporters are yanked off the air), I’m struck by how Americans are indoctrinated into ignoring the most significant fact about Gaza.

 

It is under Israeli occupation (now called blockade) and has been since 1967.

That is the cause of the “war.” Yes, Israel has the “right” to defend itself but Palestinians have the “right” to resist occupation. Those conflicting rights are leading to perdition and, in my opinion, the loss of the Israel many of us have loved and identified with our entire lives.

The oft-proclaimed Gaza withdrawal was a fraud. Although Israel pulled the settlers out, it has maintained a blockade of Gaza ever since, blocking its air, sea, and land borders, locking its people in a giant prison.

I wish we could say, “this is not our problem, let the Israelis and the Palestinians sort it out.” Unfortunately, it is directly our problem as it is our government that provides the military, diplomatic and financial support for Israel. And it is my community, the Jewish community that plays a major role in ensuring the unconditional support of our country for Israeli government.  Two days ago, the Senate voted unanimously (including the most liberal Senators including mine, Senator Elizabeth Warren) for an AIPAC sponsored resolution in support of Israel’s actions without a single reference to the suffering of the Palestinians!   As Americans and as Jews, we are directly complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians.

So where are the prophetic voices in the Israel and in the Jewish community?

There are very some brave Israelis who have demonstrated against the assault. They are the moral heroes fighting for the soul of our people.  They have been attacked physically by thugs incited by Netanyahu and other members of the government, the same thugs who roam the streets looking for Arabs they can attack.  You can read Rabbi Rosen’s blog post on this frightening phenomenon here.

And, in America, I am so pleased to be part of Jewish Voice for Peace and of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.  JVP is a bold and clear Jewish voice standing up against the Israeli assault and calling for a negotiated settlement that is based on equality, dignity and justice for all, Israelis and Palestinians. Yesterday, several JVP members,  including our visionary and courageous executive director, Rebecca Vilkomersen, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in the Friends of the Israel Defense Force offices in New York.   You can view the action here.  Their courage is a source of inspiration at this dark time.  There are many Jews out there who know in their very bones that the State of Israel is betraying what they hold most dear about our legacy and increasing numbers of us are willing to say “not in my name!”

The prophets teach us that the only source of security is justice and love.  The prophets of our time are not to be found in the mainstream Jewish community, they are to be found on the streets of America and the streets of Israel.  At great cost, they courageously speak truth to power, calling for a negotiated settlement to the conflict  based on justice, dignity and love for everyone who lives in Israel/Palestine.  It is ultimately the only way both Israelis and Palestinians will find security.

Every day brings another horrifying series of images and reports about the suffering in Gaza. Today was another such day.  Every day also brings images of people in our country, in Israel and around the world, protesting the Israeli assault.

May the ceasefire come soon, a true ceasefire that brings an end to the siege on Gaza and a real commitment by Israel to negotiate an end the occupation, the settlement program and the siege of Gaza.  If the at the end of these hostilities there is no real negotiation, we will be back at the same point one, two, or three years from now, when Israel will again “mow the lawn.”

May our lament turn into a commitment to bring pressure to bear on Israel to turn from the suicidal path it has chosen.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 14 Comments »

Scarlett Johansson: Profit over Principle

Posted by rabbibrian on February 4, 2014

As a rabbi and a long-time Oxfam supporter, I find Johansson’s decision to support a company exploiting Palestinian workers living under decades of occupation, expropriating Palestinian land at favorable tax rates, and setting back the prospects of a just resolution to the conflict to be.profoundly disturbing. 

Johansson’s decision to serve as the brand face for SodaStream, a company based in an illegal Israeli settlement, is shocking.  How could a global ambassador for Oxfam, a celebrity who has shed light on suffering and poverty around the world, be the face of a product created in an illegal Israeli settlement?  How can she justify being the face for a company that profits from the brutal Israeli occupation?

Not only did Johansson agree to a contract with Soda Stream, but she also recently defended her decision by claiming that SodaStream is a company that is “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other.”  Although this is SodaStream’s official claim, nothing could be further from the truth. 

This is an excerpt from the beginning of an opinion piece that has been published by Alternet.  You can read the complete piece here. 

Posted in Israel, Palestinians, Settlements | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

From the American South to the West Bank: Solidarity with Palestinian Freedom Riders

Posted by rabbibrian on November 14, 2011

Tomorrow, November 15, Palestinian activists will attempt to board segregated Israeli settler public transport headed to occupied East Jerusalem in an act of civil disobedience inspired by the Freedom Riders of the US Civil Rights Movement.  For more information on solidarity actions in the United States and also for updates on the events on the West Bank, click here.

Fifty years after the US Freedom Riders staged mixed-race bus rides through the roads of the segregated American South, Palestinian Freedom Riders will be asserting their right for liberty and dignity by disrupting the military regime of the Occupation through peaceful civil disobedience. Organizers say this ride to demand liberty, equality, and access to Jerusalem is the first of many to come.

Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza will stand in solidarity with the West Bank Freedom Riders with a very special conference call on the day of the demonstration. Please join us Tuesday, November 15 at 12 pm Eastern Time  to join our conversation with Ellen Broms, one of the original Freedom Riders for civil rights in the American South and currently an activist for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

During our call, Ms. Broms will talk about her own experiences as an activist/demonstrator for civil rights in the 1960′s and why her activism has led her to take a stand on behalf of Palestinian human and civil rights.

Ellen Broms is a retired state worker who resides in Sacramento, CA. Her involvement in the civil rights movement began when, as a student at Los Angeles City College, she demonstrated at Woolworth lunch counters in support of  similar sit-ins by students in the South.

In June 1961, Ms. Brom attended a freedom rally at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the keynote speech.  After hearing a freedom rider speak, she was inspired to participate in the rides herself. On August 11, Ms. Brom was arrested with other freedom riders after they sat down and demonstrated in a Houston coffee shop.

In her words:

The police arrived, having been summoned by the owner and we were charged with unlawful assembly and taken to the Houston city jail. We were fingerprinted, mugged, and classified at the city jail and then transferred to the Harris County Jail. Ironically, I was booked as a “Negro” because of my dark hair and complexion. We declined to state “race” and they classified me as “High Yellow”. Marjorie, a very fair skinned, green eyed female rider of African American descent was classified and booked as white. I was placed in the “tank” for black women and Marjorie went to the white women’s tank. If we did nothing else during that ride, we did succeed in briefly integrating the jail.

After spending eight days in jail, Ms. Brom was released. The riders were found guilty of “unlawful assembly” by an all-white jury and fined $100 each. Their case was eventually appealed to a higher court and overturned.

Ellen Broms has since been honored by Congress, the state of Texas and the city of Houston for risking incarceration and violence as a Freedom Rider. She continues to work as an activist for peace and justice, particularly in the area of a just peace in Israel/Palestine. She is actively involved in the Sacramento branch of Jewish Voice for Peace and is campaigning on behalf of the West Bank Freedom Riders.

To participate in the call:

Dial Access Number: 1.800.920.7487
Enter Participant Code: 92247763#

There will be opportunities for questions and answers during the call.

Posted in Israel, Palestinians, Settlements | Leave a Comment »

An Open Letter to our Rabbinical Colleagues

Posted by rabbibrian on April 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt

This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.

As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:

As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it.”

We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation.  Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively.  However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.

This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.

In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?

We also take exception to this assertion:

U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.

In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?

An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year.  With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.

We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.

We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.

Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?

In Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis | 7 Comments »

Beyond Liberal Zionism

Posted by rabbibrian on February 7, 2011

In 1987, I delivered a Yom Kippur sermon, “A Generation of Occupation,” about the corrosive moral effects of twenty years of Occupation on Jews and Judaism. This sermon cost me my first position as a congregational rabbi. Back then, as a liberal Zionist, I saw the injustice to Palestinians within Israel and under Occupation as moral perversions of the progressive Zionist vision — “warts” that needed correction.

Over the twenty-three years since then, I have seen many disturbing instances of blatant discrimination against Palestinians and my view has fundamentally changed. I have seen a Palestinian home being demolished and have stood on the demolished ruins of Palestinian homes. I have walked down streets restricted to Jews in what was once a bustling Palestinian neighborhood. I have replanted trees uprooted by settlers knowing they would be uprooted again. These and many more disturbing personal encounters with discrimination led me to the painful understanding that political Zionism, at its core, is a discriminatory ethnic nationalism that privileges the rights of Jews over non-Jews.

This is an excerpt from an article of mine, Reflections of a Liberal Zionist, just published by Tikkun magazine.  To mark their 25th anniversary, Tikkun asked many of their authors to share a short article about their thinking and social activism that was most relevant to the next generation and to Tikkun‘s goal of helping heal, repair, and transform the world.  In Reflections of a Liberal Zionist I articulated very briefly how my own faith as liberal Zionist/Jew has been transformed over the past 23 years since I gave that Yom Kippur sermon.

The critique of liberal Zionism is painful as from the time I was very young I have seen myself as a progressive Zionist/Jew.  It was the world I lived in and defined the work that I did.  In many ways it still is.  Many dear colleagues, friends and family are dedicated liberal /progressive Zionists.   I also have such a deep spiritual and emotional connection to Israel and my many friends there.   Most of my colleagues and friends don’t see the contradiction that I believe lies at the heart of liberal Zionism and the impossible goal of building a democratic Jewish state.  They also don’t agree that some of the actions of  liberal Zionist/Jewish organizations prolong the injustice in Israel/Palestine at the same time as claiming to be clearly opposed to this injustice.  It is my hope that the article opens a dialogue and conversation and I invite your response or questions.  You can read the complete article here.  I also recommend the many important articles published as part of the 25th anniversary of Tikkun.  Tikkun has been an important part of my own journey and understanding and I encourage you to subscribe and support the magazine.

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis | 16 Comments »

Free all the Prisoners!

Posted by rabbibrian on January 3, 2011

My friend and fellow blogger, Richard Silverstein, just shared this poster created by Michael Levin.  The singular focus in Israel and the American Jewish community on the release of Gilad Shalit is profoundly problematic.  Why is this one person’s imprisonment more important than the thousands of Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank,  including over 300 children minors held in Israeli prisons?  Gilad Shalit should be freed just as the Palestinian prisoners should be freed.  The families of the Palestinian prisoners face enormous obstacles visiting their loved ones held behind bars.   I encourage you to share the poster with others.

https://i1.wp.com/www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Fullscreen-capture-132011-11434-PM.bmp1.jpg

Abdullah Abu Rahmeh is a leader of Palestinian non-violent resistance on the West Bank;  Ameer Makhoul is an Israeli Palestinian citizen, an advocate for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

You can find  statistics on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails here.

Posted in Israel, Palestinians | 15 Comments »

The second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead: Lift the Blockade!

Posted by rabbibrian on December 22, 2010

“As an American, I do not want my tax dollars to enable Israel to behave in a manner that is so clearly counter to moral conscience, human rights and international law.  Please call upon the Israeli government to end its blockade of Gaza immediately.  I urge you to use all diplomatic means at your disposal – including the cessation of military aid – to ensure that Israel complies.”

This coming Monday, December 27, will be the second anniversary of the first day of Operation Cast Lead.  Now, two years later the people of Gaza still live in an “open air prison” subject to a blockade by Israel.

Now is the time for us, as American citizens, to call on our President to take bold action to end the blockade.  Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, a project that I co-founded with Rabbi Brant Rosen, is calling on American citizens to send a letter to the President calling on him to take bold action,  to end the blockade  of Gaza.  I invite you to participate in this campaign.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to urge you to do everything in your power to end Israel’s four and a half year blockade against Gaza.

The human toll of this blockade has become utterly intolerable. Israel’s limits on export and import has destroyed Gaza’s economy.  According to international and Israeli human rights organizations, 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.  61% of the population is food insecure and more than 10% of Gaza’s children are chronically malnourished.

Israel’s blockade has also had a devastating effect on freedom of movement in Gaza.  Gisha, a leading Israeli human rights organization, has documented that the closure of Gaza’s borders has drastically impaired family life and the ability of Gaza’s residents to gain an education and receive medical treatment.

Since “Operation Cast Lead,” 78% of homes that sustained major damage have not yet been rebuilt and scores of Gazans are forced to live in tents or other temporary quarters.  Due to the damage sustained by Gaza’s water purification plants, 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

As an American, I do not want my tax dollars to enable Israel to behave in a manner that is so clearly counter to moral conscience, human rights and international law.  Please call upon the Israeli government to end its blockade of Gaza immediately.  I urge you to use all diplomatic means at your disposal – including the cessation of military aid – to ensure that Israel complies.

I acknowledge that Hamas poses a security threat to Israel – but the collective punishment of Gaza will not bring Israel the security it seeks. True security will only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and all relevant Palestinian parties, including Hamas.

In your inspiring 2009 Cairo speech, you stated, “the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security…  Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Now is the time for you, as President, to make these words a reality.

Sincerely,

To participate in this campaign, click here.

Taanit Tzedek needs your support to continue.  Please click here to make a contribution.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, U.S. Middle East Policy | 1 Comment »

Operation Cast Lead: 2 Years Later

Posted by rabbibrian on December 9, 2010

Rabbi Brant Rosen and I have just organized the next monthly conference call for Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.  It will take place 11 days before the 2nd anniversary of Operation Cast Lead.  I have posted information about the call below.  I have learned so much from these monthly calls and often feel so relieved and inspired to be in the presence (at least by phone) of courageous individuals who have spent time in Gaza.   I encourage you to make every effort to join us.

Last month’s call with Congressman Brian Baird was just extraordinary.   With the news this week of the utter collapse of the President Obama’s ineffective effort to move the “peace process” forward, the candor and honesty of Congressman Baird about what impedes American politicians in regard to peace in Israel/Palestine, are even more important.  You can listen to the audio of the call and/or read tue transcript here.

I hope you can join the call on Thursday next week and that you make the time to listen to the call with Congressman Baird.  I would be happy  to read your comments about either call.

Here is the information about the call next week.

Taanit TzedekJewish Fast for Gaza

invites you to join a phone conversation on

Operation Cast Lead: Two Years Later

with

Jared Malsin

Young American Journalist reporting from Gaza, who was deported by Israel this year.

Thursday, December 16 at 12 noon EDT

To participate in the call:

Dial the Access Number: 1.800.920.7487

When prompted, enter your Participant Code: 92247763#

There will be a question and answer period during the call.

This conference call is scheduled on the monthly fast day of Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.  For more information and to join our fast, visit www.fastforgaza.net

Additional Information about Jared Malsin

A 2007 graduate of Yale University, Jared Malsin is a young, independent American journalist who has reported directly from Gaza since October.  Prior to living in Gaza, Malsin, who is Jewish, spent two and a half years in Bethlehem working for Maan, a Palestinian news agency.

In January 2010, while returning from a vacation in Prague, the Israeli government detained him at the Tel Aviv airport after questioning him about his allegedly “anti-Israeli” political views, Palestinian contacts, and news articles authored “inside the territories” He spent a week in jail before he was deported to the US.   His deportation was condemned by the head of the International Federation of Journalists as “an intolerable violation of press freedom.”

As an independent journalist Malsin has also contributed to The Electronic Intifada, Open Democracy, The Huffington Post, Mondowiess, The New Haven Register, and other publications. He has appeared on Al-Jazeera and as a speaker on college campuses.

He has written extensively about Gaza.  You can read his articles here.

“… As a journalist your natural inclination is to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. There’s nothing like being on the ground and seeing what’s happening with your own eyes. You can read about the settlements and the wall. It’s another thing to be in Bethlehem, the city I lived in for two and a half years, and see how the wall cuts across the main road to Jerusalem and wraps around the gas station and then cuts between two house and through an olive field and has just completely mangled the city. Something about being there, and seeing it with your own eyes — there’s truth to it that you can’t argue with. The challenge is to get that across in reporting, in writing, in photography or whatever medium you’re working in.”

Jared Malsin in interview with Christopher Lyden.  Click here for complete interview.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Young Jews challenge Netanyahu

Posted by rabbibrian on November 11, 2010

On Monday this week, five courageous and inspiring young adults interrupted the speech by Bibi Netanyahu at the  General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Council on Public Affairs.   At this meeting of leaders of the Jewish community at which they launched a 6 million dollar campaign to fight the “deligitimization” of Israel by activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, these young people interrupted the Prime Ministers speech with banners that said YoungJewishProud.org and one of the below-

The Settlements Delegitimize Israel

The Occupation Delegitimizes Israel

The Siege of Gaza Delegitimizes Israel

The Loyalty Oath Delegitimizes Israel

Silencing Dissent Delegitimizes Israel

What a brilliant action of resistance to the clever tactic of the Israeli government and American Jewish leaders to silence resistance to Israeli policies by using the term “deligitimization.”

These young people are part of Jewish Voice for Peace which has recently established a Rabbinic Council of which I am a proud member.  They also released a poetic, powerful statement that I encourage you to read and sign the petition in support of their action.   This statement is an inspiring prophetic statement that gives us hope for the Jewish future.

Lastly, the crowd was not so enthusiastic about their interruption and reacted strongly including dragging them out of the hall.  One man held one of the protesters in a choke hold.   They elicited the intense hostility that lies just below the surface to anyone in the Jewish community who challenges Israeli policy.   I encourage you to see the video.

It seems to me that this event is another critical event in the growing resistance to Israel’s policies in America and in the American Jewish community.  When asked about the erosion of support for the government Netanyahu this week said we still have complete support, “We may have lost Tom Friedman, but we haven’t lost America.”  I believe Tom Friedman responded by reassuring Netanyahu that he still is as strong a supporter of Israeli policy as ever.  The point is that even Friedman is beginning to lose his patience with Israeli intransigence.

In traditional Judaism there are prophets, priests and kings.  This week these young people assumed the role of prophet challenging the Israeli Prime Minister who we have allowed to arrogate the role of High Priest  and King.  Their prophetic courage gives us hope for the future.  I hope many more young Jews join them and that we follow their lead.  The times they are a changing!

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians | 1 Comment »

Beyond Victimhood: Jews, Power and Privilege A sermon in memory of my aunt, Ethel Walt

Posted by rabbibrian on September 24, 2010

On Rosh Hashana, I gave a sermon on Jews, Power and Privilege in honor of my aunt, Ethel Walt, an activist in the Black Sash in South Africa, who died as a result of a tragic car accident in May of this year.  Below is an excerpt from the sermon followed by the complete text.

We, American Jews, are blessed to live in one of the safest places Jews have ever lived. We live in one of the richest countries in the world and we are one of the most prosperous communities in this country. In the context of the world as a whole, our material blessings and privileges are staggering.  We also have the freedom to advocate for the needs of our community and have significant power in the American political system.

In the other major center of Jewish life, Israel, Jews have one of the most powerful armies in the world and exercise control over the lives of millions of Palestinians.

Neither in America nor in Israel, nor in many countries of the world, are Jews oppressed or victims.  Anti-Semitism is on the decline.  We do face the challenges of being a minority in every country (except Israel). But in most countries, we enjoy the blessing of safety and privilege.

We have privilege and power, yet we see ourselves often as victims and our tradition speaks of our people as victims.  We sometimes use our status as victims in the past to justify the oppression of others.  This is particularly true in Israel where the Holocaust is often used to justify the the oppression of the Palestinians.

The spiritual question we face is not how we free ourselves from our oppressors, but how we use our power and privilege ethically. What we need are religious teachings that speak to the ethical use of power and the ethical response to privilege.


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Apartheid, Goldstone Report, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians | 8 Comments »