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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 »

American Jews and Israel: A Yom Kippur Sermon

Posted by rabbibrian on September 21, 2010

Here is an excerpt from a Yom Kippur sermon on American Jews and Israel that I gave at Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca New York.  I have just taken a position as part-time rabbi at this congregation.  Please feel free to share the sermon with others and I welcome your response.  May it be a year of justice, compassion and peace.

Increasingly we, liberal American Jews find ourselves in an agonizing conflict between our loyalty to the Jewish people, our wish to support Israel, and our concern and/or our opposition to the disturbing trends in Israeli society and the policies and  actions of the Israeli government. Liberal Jews are increasingly troubled about Israeli policies and actions.  It is painful, sometimes even unbearable, for us to listen to the stories like the demolition of the two Palestinian villages that I described.   It is very painful for me to talk about them.

The conflict for us is between core values   We believe in human rights, in open debate, in democracy.   They are the very values we hold dear in relation to our own country and every other country in the world.  We criticize our own country’s profound racism, prejudice, inequality, and militarism.  And, we are proud of the role many American Jews played in the civil rights struggle, in the peace movement, as advocates for justice on many issues.

If you want to read the entire text of the sermon, here it is:

I want to start my sermon with a kavvanah (spiritual intention) of two quotes, one from the Psalms and the other from Arundhati Roy a contemporary Indian writer.

First, Arundhati Roy: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There is no innocence.  Either way you are accountable.”

The Psalms:

L’maan achai v’reyai adaberah na shalom bach.

L’maan beyt Adonai eloheynu avaksha tov lach.

For the sake of my brothers, my sisters and friends

I will speak of peace.

For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may I seek  goodness and blessing for all.

Ir Amim

During our stay in Israel this year, we took two tours with Ir Amim (City of Nations), a non-profit Israeli organization that educates the public about the reality in Jerusalem.  The first tour was in English and included many people from around the world; the second was in Hebrew and we were the only foreigners.

On both trips, we saw with our own eyes the huge Jewish neighborhoods that have been built since 1967 that encircle East/Arab Jerusalem: from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Gilo and Har Homa in the South.  We saw bypass roads for Jews and a special underground road for Palestinians.  We saw the huge Separation Wall.  Most shocking, we saw armed Jewish enclaves in the middle of  Palestinian neighborhoods such as the Ras El Amud, Sheikh Jarrah, Mt. Olives, Jabal Mukabber and others.  These settlers receive full support from the Israeli government.  We drove by the expanding settlement created in Ras El Amud that is sponsored by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire.  The tours were educational, enlightening — and devastating.

After seeing the reality on the ground, the Israelis on the second tour were all very disheartened; a sense of hopelessness and despair was palpable in the bus.  One man was particularly distressed.  “What is the solution?” he demanded of our tour guide. Our guide, who had retired after serving many years as a police officer in Jerusalem, insisted that his task was to show us the reality on the ground, not to suggest a solution.  Agitated, the man  turned to his fellow passengers with the same question.  “What do you  think? What is the solution?”  What emerged was amazing.  They all agreed that the only hope was intervention by the United States and the international community.  To our astonishment, this group of Israelis all agreed that the only possibility for a resolution was if America put pressure on Israel to relinquish the settlements and to make a peace agreement based on territorial compromise.

For us, as American Jews, it was an enlightening moment.  We were close to the end of our stay in Jerusalem and the new American Administration had made the most serious effort yet to do just that, to insist that Israel end all settlement activity. Yet, in response to outrage and massive pressure from the America Jewish community and the Israel lobby, the  Administration had backtracked and agreed to a temporary partial freeze on settlements that will end in eight days’ time.

Biden’s visit

In March, Israel welcomed Vice President Biden’s visit with the announcement of new construction in one of the very settlements we had seen on our trip.  “Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital,” Prime Minister Netanyahu told the cheering crowd at the AIPAC conference, forgetting to point out that close to 40% of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinian and that, while vast new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem had been built encircling Arab/East Jerusalem, not one new Palestinian neighborhood had been built and Palestinians are routinely are denied new building permits.

Many of us were so hopeful to see the new Administration push for a complete freeze on settlement activity, the most basic change needed for any serious negotiation.  When the administration backtracked again, it illuminated just how powerful an influence the American Jewish community – our community – has on U.S. policy on Israel.  It is our relationship to Israel as American Jews that I want to explore today.

Peter Beinart

In June, Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic, a magazine with a centrist to right wing perspective on Israel, wrote an article entitled, “The Failure of the Jewish Establishment” in the New York Review of Books that stirred controversy and an important ongoing debate in the Jewish world.

Beinart argued that  “for several decades the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

Beinart pointed out  that the mainstream Jewish organizations base their argument for American support for Israel on the idea that Israel is a democracy that shares American values. Then the Jewish establishment ignores or downplays the disturbing long-term anti-democratic trends in Israeli society and silences those in America who speak about them.

Beinart pointed to many indications of this anti-democratic trend in Israeli society. Among them:

* The most extreme right wing government in Israel’s history

* An intolerant settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the army

* An ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, and a large Russian immigrant community (Both these communities are particularly prone to anti-Arab racism.)

* A poll that shows that  56% of Jewish Israeli high school students and more than 80% of religious high school students would deny Israeli Arabs (i.e. Palestinian citizens of Israel) the right to be elected to the Knesset

* Another poll that indicates that  53% of Israeli Jews, and 77% of those from the former Soviet Union, support encouraging Israeli Arabs to leave the country.

* A  coordinated public attack led by members of the ruling coalition against Israeli human rights organizations as traitors to Israel

* A shocking insensitivity to Palestinian suffering

The very week last month that Beinart spoke at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Israeli bulldozers had just demolished the houses of the villagers in El Farsiya in the Jordan Valley.

This demolition was the second time that Israel had carried out a demolition in this village.  Beinart pointed out that American Jewish leadership would never mention this incident.

Israel has four times destroyed a Bedouin village of El Arakib.  The initial demolition was carried out by a force of hundreds of police officers and soldiers. Just this week, immediately after Rosh Hashana, Israel demolished this village for a fifth time.  Once the villagers are moved from their village, the Jewish National  Fund will plant a forest on the location. Several other Jewish National Fund parks have been built on the ruins of former Palestinian villages in Israel once their inhabitants were expelled.

Beinart pointed out that American Jewish leaders would never address the issue of what happened in El Farsiya or El Arakib and many other villages as a challenge to Israeli democracy.  Worse, they may defend the actions.

Stifling Debate

Leaders of our community go further.  They stifle open debate on any anti-democratic actions by Israel – like  these demolitions — by calling those who raise these issues in America and in Israel “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.” even though this means calling thousands of American Jews and thousands of Israelis “anti-Semitic.”   They have also launched a concerted public attack on the most respected international human rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, labeling them also anti-Israel.  Beinart argues that this uncritical support for Israel and the stifling of open debate  has led to the distancing of young liberal American Jews from Zionism and Israel.  “Fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists, few and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal,” he wrote.

Beinart, who is father of two young children and a devoted member of an Orthodox synagogue, focuses on alienation of young liberal Jews from Israel and Zionism.

He is talking about our children and grandchildren and he is talking about us.   Increasingly we, liberal American Jews find ourselves in an agonizing conflict between our loyalty to the Jewish people, our wish to support Israel, and our concern and/or our opposition to the disturbing trends in Israeli society and the policies and  actions of the Israeli government. Liberal Jews are increasingly troubled about Israeli policies and actions.  It is painful, sometimes even unbearable, for us to listen to the stories like the demolition of the two Palestinian villages that I described.   It is very painful for me to talk about them.

The conflict for us is between core values   We believe in human rights, in open debate, in democracy.   They are the very values we hold dear in relation to our own country and every other country in the world.  We criticize our own country’s profound racism, prejudice, inequality, and militarism.  And, we are proud of the role many American Jews played in the civil rights struggle, in the peace movement, as advocates for justice on many issues.

For us, the very core of Judaism is:

pursuit of justice (Justice, justice shall you pursue!),

equal human rights for all (God created Adam/human beings in God’s image)

and the pursuit of peace (Seek Peace and Pursue It!)

How can we uphold these core values of our faith in our own country and everywhere else in the world,  but not in Israel?  How can we turn our eyes and not face the painful reality of the oppression of Palestinians in Israel?  How can we be appropriately vocal about Sudan, China, Burma, Zimbabwe, but silent about Israel? Aren’t we responsible first to deal with injustice for which we are directly responsible?

How do we respond to Israeli attitudes, policies and actions that violate what we believe to be the core tenets of our faith?  Israel claims to act in the name of the entire Jewish people. Is it acting in our name when it demolishes Palestinian villages?  Many of us have enormous grief about what has become of Israel.  If we speak about this publicly. will we be called anti-Semitic by fellow Jews?  And we feel an inner tug of disloyalty to our people when we criticize.


Many liberal Jews – and many rabbis — have been cowed into silence by overwhelming pressure from mainstream Jewish leaders.   Over the past year in addition to calling critics “self hating,” or “Israel-bashing,”  the Jewish establishment has come up with a new term “delegitimation” or “delegitmization”, to silence this criticism .

Just before Rosh Hashana, I saw a glossy brochure for a conference on “War by other means: The Global Campaign to Delegitimize Israel.”  The conference will be held at Boston University in October, sponsored by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting.

While there are people and groups in the world who want to delegitimize and destroy Israel, CAMERA and other conservative groups use the term “delegitmization”  to cover a broad spectrum of critics of Israeli policy. Rather than focus on global and Jewish concern about Israeli policy that has led to a rise of anti-Semitism in several countries–  including our own — the leaders of Israel and of the American Jewish community want to deflect any legitimate criticism and debate by labeling all efforts to challenge Israeli policy as “delegitimizing Israel.”  It is just the latest strategy to silence the debate.  It is Israel’s illegitimate and immoral policies that lead to the “delegitimization” of Israel.

Change in America

Beinart’s article is significant because it is written by a well- known and well-respected young Jewish intellectual and because it is part of a broader change in the debate about Israel in American society.

Over the past few years, more and more Americans have dared to face the wrath of the powerful Israel lobby by raising these issues in the public realm.  They have been vilified by Jewish leaders, yet they have courageously created an environment where questions that were previously silenced are now part of the debate.  Several books have opened the debate and the Internet has played a major role.  Progressive Israeli and American bloggers tell the story of Palestinian suffering and of anti-democratic actions by Israel on a daily basis.  These reports are painful to read and profoundly disturbing. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the attack on the flotilla and other actions by Israel have also shocked many in America.

These bloggers also write daily about the efforts of the American Jewish Community, the Israel lobby and the Israeli government to stifle debate in America and about the lack of reporting on issues relating to Palestinian suffering in the mainstream press.

This change has lead to an increasingly open debate in America about Israel policy: on university campuses, in churches and some synagogues, in the press and on the Internet.   American can no longer hide from this reality, nor should we.

How do we, as liberal Jews, respond to this debate?

Beinart: Two forms of Zionism

In his article Beinart argues that there are two versions of Zionism: There is a Zionism that, in response to persecution of Jews, believes that the entire world is against us and that our only option is to exercise our Jewish solidarity and power.

And there is a liberal, humanistic Zionism that is “gasping for air” in Israel today.  It is a Zionism that understands, in Beinart’s words, that “the best way to memorialize Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.” He believes that it is this form of Zionism that will inspire our children and is worth fighting for.

The young Israelis who protest weekly at Sheikh Jarah, the Jerusalem neighborhood where Jewish settlers have displaced Palestinian residents. give voice to this Zionism as do the many peace and human rights groups in Israel.

Beinart writes: “What if we told the next generation of Jews that it faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?  What if we shared an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what israel risks becoming and in love with what it still could be”?

Beinart’s article is courageous and important to all Jews concerned about Judaism and the future of Jewish values.  Many of us are profoundly concerned about what Israel is becoming and we should all be in love with what it still could be. It is vitally important for us to support courageous Israelis of all kinds who are fighting for a just Israel.  We need to teach our communities about these efforts, take Jews to Israel to meet progressive Israelis and invite them into our communities.  For the Jewish identity of our children, we need to find a way for them to connect to progressive Jewish culture in Israel and to progressive groups that uphold our core beliefs.  We also need to  make sure that when they go to Israel they also see the Palestinian reality and meet Palestinians who are working for peace.  This is the best chance we have to foster a positive and hopeful connection to Israel. This has been the focus of my work for the past three decades and it continues to be one essential part of what we need to do.

Jews and American Policy

And we need to go beyond this.  We live in America and it is as American citizens that we need to act. The United States government provides more aid to Israel than to any other country on earth and yet our government has allowed Israel to settle half a million people on the West Bank and rarely intervenes when Israel engages in egregious discrimination such as the fifth demolition of the village of El Arakib just a few days ago.  Our government always provides diplomatic cover for Israel as it did after Operation Cast Lead and the Flotilla incident.

It is time for turn our moral angst about Israeli policy to ending the suffering of the victims.  It is time for us to address the direct and indirect responsibility that we have as American Jews for the discrimination and suffering of Palestinians.   As the Obama administration pushes Israel, it will face huge resistance from the mainstream Jewish community, the Israeli lobby and many members of Congress.

The House in Silwan

Last year I told the story of standing on the ruins of a  demolished Palestinian home in Silwan and listening to residents talk about their children who had been arrested in the middle of the night for throwing stones at the bulldozers that destroyed the house.  I turned to my colleague in Rabbis for Human Rights and said, “I can’t bear to hear the story anymore, you see many such incidents how do you stand it?  He turned to me and looked me in the eye and said,”How do I stand it?  How do you stand it?  You pay for it!

He told me that a representative of the American consulate had been present at the demolition, that America apparently didn’t have the power to stop an action of blatant housing discrimination that would horrify most liberal Americans including, maybe especially, liberal American Jews.  Liberal American Jews have played a major role in the struggle to provide equal housing opportunity in America.

Yes, we pay for it and the United States covers for Israeli discrimination and all the injustice that Beinart describes in  his article.  And the leadership of American Jewry, including many rabbis and even some of the leaders of the Reform movement, are vocal advocates ensuring that the U.S. defends Israel when it commits human rights violations. This was clear after Operation Cast Lead, in the vicious vilification of Judge Goldstone and in the response to the attack on the flotilla.   This direct role the U.S. policy has in supporting the Occupation became  clear to me on that visit to Silwan and it became particularly clear during our most recent stay in Israel.

From our vantage point of  living in Jerusalem, I could see the direct effects of American Jews’ support for the policies of the Israeli government.  Every day the Israeli government acts to further settle the West Bank, to dispossess Palestinians from their homes, to steal more Palestinian land, to squeeze them into smaller and smaller pieces of land.  Every day these actions make a peace between the Palestinians and Israelis less likely.   The silence of the American government along with the massive support that America gives to Israel is what makes this all possible.  Without this support Israel could never continue these policies.  At any point, if America were to act on our basic principles and insist that Israel as a democracy stop wholesale ethnic discrimination against Palestinians, it would stop, or at a minimum there would be a profound change.

Those Israelis on our bus were right.  Without American support Israel would not have been able to masively expand settlements: without significant and serious American pressure there is no hope for a solution.  All of it is financed and supported by American government and it is our community, the American Jewish community, that plays a major role in securing the support of the United States and in silencing the debate about American policy in our country.  Israel relies on the American Jewish community and the Israel lobby to maintain the consistent overwhelming and blind support of the U.S. Congress.

As I watched this in Jerusalem, it became clear to me that I needed to act as an American citizen to call on my government to hold Israel accountable.  We liberal Jews have been relatively quiet; some of us have supported Israeli peace groups, but we have not been as active in regard to American foreign policy.  Many liberal Jews even  join in the silencing of dissent in America.  When churches in America discuss taking a position on Israeli policy — as the Presbyterians did this summer — the mainstream Jewish community mobilizes its leaders and rabbis to warn our non-Jewish friends that taking action on Israel will threaten Christian-Jewish relations and that their action is anti Semitic.

As a liberal American Jew, I want to join with other American citizens calling for a more moral and responsible American policy in regard to Israel.   Of course, Israel is entitled to security, our people feel vulnerable and we too have suffered, but our suffering in the past does not give us any right to inflict suffering on another people.  The message of our Torah is the opposite: that our suffering should sensitize us to the suffering of others. I am a supporter of the Israeli peace groups but I now see myself as a American Jew with a responsibility to demand that my government  intervene to uphold the core values of our faith by insisting that Israel end the violation of human rights, end the settlement policy,  and make real commitment to justice for the Palestinians.

For too long have we been vocal about human rights violations everywhere in the world but silent when Palestinian homes are demolished or when Palestinians are thrown out of their homes and replaced by extremist right wing Jewish settlers who are protected fully by the Israeli government, army and police and supported by our money and political support.

How can we hold up one standard in America and another in Israel?   What we believe must happen here in America is what should happen in Israel.  It is not complicated.

American Jews are beginning to take action.

A few years ago, J Street was formed as an alternative to the Israeli lobby.  J Street defines its mission as pro-Israel and pro-peace and supports efforts by the President and the Congress to pressure Israel and the Palestinians toward a two state peace settlement.  It is an organization that  challenges the power the Israel lobby has over Congress and  it works to open debate in the Jewish community.  It supports members of Congress and candidates who are pro-peace.  In February, J Street will be holding a conference and I would encourage those of you who are interested to attend.  I believe there have also been efforts to establish a local chapter here in Ithaca.

Another Jewish organization that has been active in regard to U.S. policy for many years is Jewish Voice for Peace.  While J Street is an explicitly Zionist organization, Jewish Voice for Peace includes Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, as well as many non-Jewish Americans.   JVP advocates for peace achieved through justice and full equality for both Palestinians and Israelis.  JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.  It is a strong and consistent voice calling for a U.S. policy that promotes democracy and human rights.  Again, I believe there is an effort to establish a local chapter of JVP here in Ithaca.

Palestinian civil society has called for a global non-violent movement – B.D.S.: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to end the Israeli policy of oppression and discrimination against their people.   Many Americans, including many American Jews, are involved in this effort.  We often criticize Palestinians for violent resistance. BDS is a totally nonviolent effort to end oppression.  Going as far back as the Exodus from Egypt, there is no example in human history of a political system where a privileged group gives up its privilege without enormous pressure.  And in Israel, there is no incentive to give it up.  Why would the settlers living in beautiful homes with exquisite views on the West Bank give up this privilege without any pressure to do so (and with full funding from the U.S.)

The B.D.S. movement makes many Jews anxious.  There are many legitimate concerns in our community, especially about the academic or cultural boycott, that must be discussed. I hope that we will have a chance to do so in this community.  The Israeli government and some  in the Jewish community have decided to draw a red line, putting anyone who supports B.D.S. beyond the pale.  This is a huge mistake.   While we may oppose specific boycotts like the academic boycott or cultural boycott, many Israelis support a boycott of products produced on the West Bank.   Just this past week, Israeli actors and directors decided to boycott the new publicly funded theater in Ariel on the West Bank.  Their action is supported by 100 American playwrights including Tony Kushner, Cynthia Nixon, and Theodore Bikel.  Does this make Theodore Bikel beyond the pale?  Does it put all the Israeli actors and directors beyond the pale?  This is definitely a profoundly challenging issue but the way to deal with it is not by calling those who advocate B.D.S. traitors.  Enough of name calling. It is time for an open discussion.

And this brings me to our congregation.

We are a diverse congregation with many different relationships to Israel.  Some of us have never even visited Israel.  For some of us, like myself, Israel is a central part of my identity as a Jew.  Some of us have family in Israel.  And all of us feel a special connection to that land. Facing these questions is challenging.

I urge you as individuals and as a community to be concerned “at what Israel risks becoming and in love with what it still could be.”  What happens in Israel affects and will continue to affect all Jews.

There are many different ways to take action.  We don’t all have to do the same thing.

We have started by holding listening circles and we need to continue listening and  learning.  I personally am especially grateful to those members of the congregation who disagree with my position but have been prepared to listen.  I look forward to listening carefully to opposing points of view and to a continued respectful and sometimes difficult conversation.

We need to go beyond just listening.  We also need to take action, whether it be to challenge the the Reform leadership as our Board recently did, to support J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Taanit Tzedek, Americans for Peace, Israeli peace or human rights groups to name just a few possibilities.

“You don’t live here, you don’t understand”

We can no longer be silenced by those who say, “What right do you have to criticize Israel, you don’t live there, you don’t have to pay the price for the consequences of your actions”?

Yes, we don’t live there and the citizens of Israel must decide their own future.  Our responsibility is for the role our own government and our own community plays in Israel.

Whether we like it or not, as Americans we are directly involved in Israel.  The question is how we will be involved — as those who uncritically support Israeli policy or those who call on our government to advocate for the same values we support here in America and to support those in Israel who are upholding those values? I trust that this community will be a space of open debate on these issues and a community that will act to promote justice, compassion and equity in America, in Israel and throughout the world.

Lastly, this sermon not really about Zionism or Israel but about Judaism.  What kind of Judaism will we support: a Judaism that is based on universal human values or a Judaism that privileges the rights of Jews above the rights of other people?  Reform Judaism has a proud history of upholding the prophetic vision of Judaism with the core values of justice and compassion for all human beings.  What’s at stake in the issues I have raised this morning is our religious faith and legacy.  The stakes could not be higher.

I want to end with the same kavvanah with which I began:

Arundhati Roy writes: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it,  keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There is no innocence.  Either way you are accountable.”

We have both seen and heard and we are accountable.

L’maan achai v’reyai adaberah na shalom bach.

L’maan beyt Adonai eloheynu avaksha tov lach.

For the sake of my brothers, my sisters and friends

I will speak of peace

For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may I seek  goodness and blessing to all.

May the Source of Life bless us with the strength to seek peace for all our brothers and sisters, for Israeli Jews and for Palestinians.

For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may we seek goodness and blessing for all.

I wish you and your families a year of blessing and joy.

May we all write and seal ourselves in the book of life, blessing — and peace.

Shana Tova.

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 25 Comments »

Next Year/This Year in Jerusalem

Posted by rabbibrian on March 28, 2010

One of my favorite childhood memories of  the Passover seder is joyously singing, “L’shana Haba’ah Birushalayim Habnuyah/ Next Year in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem” at the end of the seder.  I remember singing L’shana Haba’ah at the end of our family seders and at the end of the huge “model” seder at Herzlia, the Jewish day school that I attended as a child in South Africa.   Next Year in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem! Tomorrow night my family will celebrate Pesach seder in the city of Jerusalem, a beautiful city that I love, and currently, a painfully divided city.

For me, there are two realities to preparing for this year’s seder in Jerusalem.  The first reality is the uniqueness of preparing for Passover in Israel where the holiday is part of the national culture.  Celebrating Jewish  holidays in the diaspora is so different from here in Israel where Jewish holidays and culture are the norm. The supermarkets are packed, there are “Pesach specials”, there is a festive holiday air, the coffee shops are packed and everyone is talking about the holiday.  All my neighbors are preparing for Pesach.

Today I went with my neighbors to one of the street corners near us where someone had set up a huge vat of boiling water where one could bring one’s pots, cutlery and other utensils to make them kosher for Pesach.  We spent much of our day shopping and getting what we need for our seder. Later, our whole family went to get haircuts, as there is a Jewish tradition not to cut one’s hair for several weeks starting on Pesach.  The barber told us that he started work this morning at 8 a.m. and his last appointment is at 10 p.m. tonight.

And, there is another reality.  Next year in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem! Building in Jerusalem is in the news.  In response to the recent controversy about building in Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, defiantly declared, “We will continue to build houses in East and West Jerusalem!”   What he meant is “we (Jews)” will build houses for Jews in East and West Jerusalem.   The Municipality of Jerusalem doesn’t build houses for Palestinians.  As regards Palestinians, it demolishes houses and assists in the eviction of Palestinians from their houses and replacing them with Jews.

After many years of shamefully turning a blind eye to this immoral system of discrimination, the American administration has finally demanded that it end.  In a moving piece in this morning’s Ha’Aretz  Gideon Levy writes,

If Israel had a real peace camp, if the silent majority had broken its sickly silence, if more Israelis approached the situation as a collective rather than individuals yearning for the next holiday or car, if more Israelis refused to accept blindly the deceptions of Israeli diplomacy and propaganda, Rabin Square would have been filled with demonstrators yesterday. Among the banners and flags, one sign would have stood out in this hour of risks and fateful decisions: “Thank you, friend.” Thank you, Barack Obama, friend of Israel.

Among Obama’s modest demands – a construction freeze in Jerusalem and extending the freeze in the settlements, two basic conditions for “negotiations without preconditions” and for anyone who really wants a two-state solution – there’s a demand that the Israelis themselves should have made long ago.

Obama is asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and through him every Israeli, to finally speak the truth. He’s asking Netanyahu and the rest of us: What on earth do you actually want? Enough with the misleading answers; the moment of truth is here. Enough with the tricks – a neighborhood here, a settlement expansion there. Just tell us: Where are you heading? Do you want to go on receiving unprecedented aid from the United States, do you want to become part of the Middle East, do you want to achieve peace?

I couldn’t agree more.  The question now is whether Obama will continue to insist on the modest demands he has made of the Israelis.  Will the AIPAC letter signed by over 300 congressional representatives pressure him to mute his reasonable demand?  I hope not.

So, tomorrow night, when we come to Next Year in Jerusalem, let’s give thanks to Obama and encourage the American Administration to insist in the strongest terms possible to his reasonable demands.

For Jerusalem to be a holy city it must be one where all its inhabitants are treated with dignity and equality.  It is not the ancient graves and sites that  will make this city holy.   Obama has the power to change the destructive and suicidal path of Israeli policy in Jerusalem.  He deserves our full support as long as he continues to insist that the Israeli government agree to his  modest demands.

This year Jerusalem is divided and in a city torn in conflict, hatred and violence.  Next year in Jerusalem, a city of peace, a city of human dignity and equality,  a city that honors all the children of God.

This year we are slaves, next year may we all be free!

For those of you who would like to read more about this issue  I recommend Lara Friedman and Danny Seidman’s article  and Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s post about her tour of East Jerusalem.  Both excellent articles provide solid factual information to counter “the deceptions of Israeli diplomacy and propoganda.”

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Palestinians, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 3 Comments »

Time for America to stand firm

Posted by rabbibrian on March 21, 2010

Eight days ago, I cheered as I watched Hillary Clinton’s CNN interview in which she criticized the government of Israel for insulting and undermining vice-President Biden on his visit to Israel with the announcement of a plan to build new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.  Finally, America was taking a stand against continued Israeli expansion in Jerusalem.  Finally, America was calling the government of Israel on deliberately making announcements, such as the one about Ramat Shlomo, to greet  American leaders who come here to pursue a peace settlement.   Just two moths ago, when George Mitchell came to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted his visit with a tree planting in Maaleh Adumim where he proclaimed that Jerusalem would always be the “eternal, united capital of the State of Israel.”

Much has happened over the past week since Clinton’s interview on CNN and Netanyahu is now in the U.S. about to appear before adoring fans at the AIPAC convention.   The most important question  that will determine whether this “crisis” in Israel-U.S. relations actually moves the Israelis and Palestinians towards peace, rests on the ability of the American administration to stand firm.   If the Administration insists on  an end to the massive building of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and an end to the creation of Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods, it will advance the prospects for peace.  If not, Israel will continue on its path of continued occupation and violence, that is counter to American interests and values and that, according to General Petraus, actually puts American lives at risk.

Unfortunately, AIPAC, the Israel Lobby and major mainstream American Jewish organizations are the main countervailing force to America standing firm on this issue.  Nine months ago the Obama Administration correctly called for a complete freeze on settlements in the West Bank.   The mistake of the Administration was to back off from its demand and to settle for a temporary freeze with several conditions.  If the Administration backs down again now, and there are signs that it may do so, it will leave the situation worse, than if it hadn’t raised the issue in the first place.

Most people don’t understand the realities of housing in Jerusalem.  Avigdor Lieberman dishonestly compared the American demand in relation to building homes for Jews in Jerusalem to a hypothetical scenario where Jews are not allowed to build houses in New York.   The hypothetical scenario that  Lieberman describes is in no way analogous.  In Jerusalem the problem is not that Jews are not allowed to build houses. In Jerusalem it is Palestinians who cannot build.  Thousands of houses are built for Jews every year, while Palestinians cannot even get a zoning permit to build an addition to their homes or to build a new house.

A closer analogy would be if hundreds of houses and entire neighborhoods were built with public money for one segment of the American population in New York, let’s say Jews, while another segment of the population, let’s say non-Jews, were not allowed to build or to expand housing.   The overwhelming majority of American Jews would oppose such discrimination even if it were to privilege Jews.  We would correctly argue that any form of discrimination is a violation of core Jewish and American values.   Many American Jews were and continue to be involved in the struggle against housing discrimination in America.  How come so many Jews are committed to fair and equal access to housing in America but are unwilling to support this basic principle of equality here in this holy city?

Much of the Palestinian housing in Jerusalem is illegal because Palestinians cannot get permits and because there still is no building plan for Palestinian neighborhoods. These illegal Palestinian homes,  a significant percentage of all Palestinian homes, are all under threat of demolition.  Every year close to one hundred Palestinian homes are demolished, ensuring that all Palestinians fear demolition.

My wife and I went on a tour of East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a organization dedicated to an equitable Jerusalem, the week of vice President Biden’s visit.  We saw huge Jewish neighborhoods built since 67 encircling East Jerusalem: from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Gilo and Har Homa in the South.  All these neighborhoods have been built for Jews and not even one new Palestinian neighborhood has been created during this period of time.   In 1996/7, the last time we spent several months in Jerusalem we attended protests against a new proposed settlement in Har Homa.   On the Ir Amim tour we drove though the neighborhood of Har Homa, now home to several thousand Jews.  There was a lot of construction including a new neighborhood being created adjacent to Har Homa.

Not only have vast Jewish neighborhoods been built, extreme right wing Jews with the full support of the State of Israel, have have created Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods such as the Ras El Amud, Sheikh Jarrah and others.

On our tour we drove through Ras el Amud, a Palestinian neighborhood around 1:00 p.m. on Friday as Palestinians were returning from prayers and saw the Jewish settlement in the middle of Ras el Amud that is sponsored by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire.  In the middle of this Palestinian neighborhood there is a heavily guarded series of apartment complexes with huge Israeli flags and there are plans to build a bridge that will join this enclosed area with a former Jordanian police post that will also be turned into housing for Jews.

While Jews justify the creation of settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods on the basis of Jewish ownership of the these homes before  48, Palestinians, who own thousands of homes in Jewish areas in Jerusalem from before 48, have no right to claim these homes.

This is the reality of Jewish building in Jerusalem.  A freeze on building in Jerusalem would not mean the end of new homes for Jews in the city. Homes could be built for Jews in West Jerusalem and in areas west of the city. The building in East Jerusalem is politically motivated in an effort to prevent the Arab population from outnumbering the Jews in Jerusalem.

What is happening in Jerusalem and on the West Bank is a nightmare for Jews and for all who care about the moral tradition of our people.   It is a recipe for continued conflict and violence.  It threatens the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  If President Obama and the American administration still believe in a two state solution the time to stand firm is now.  If Israel refuses to end the settlement policy, America should bring maximum pressure to bear, including the cutting of aid to Israel.

The Administration must stand firm.  As I write this, the signs are that it will not and that Netanyahu will again be successful in rejecting the fundamental American demand to end the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

If this happens many in Israel may celebrate Netanyahu as a strong leader but it will only intensify the conflict threatening everyone in the area, Jews and Arabs, and American forces who will bear the brunt of Muslim outrage at American support for a blatantly discriminatory policy.   It is time for America to become an “honest broker” in this conflict and the time is now.

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 11 Comments »

5,000 Protest in Sheikh Jarah

Posted by rabbibrian on March 7, 2010

I returned to Israel on Friday, just before Shabbat, after a five day visit to the U.S.A. where I attended the Christian Muslim Summit at the Washington Cathedral.  After sleeping many hours on Shabbat, I attended the demonstration at Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday night.  This was the largest demonstration so far (5,000 people!) and marked a significant point in the struggle to end the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.  Sheikh Jarrah is now an international story drawing attention to the ongoing activities of the Israeli authorities to settle Jews in Sheikh Jarah, Mount Olives and  Silwan, densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods east of the Old City.   These settlements complete a circle of Jewish settlement around the Old City/The Holy Basin.  In each of these Palestinian neighborhoods, the violent evictions, settlement by extremist Jewish settlers and organizations, and  home demolitions, create ongoing conflict and violence between Jews and Palestinians and inflict suffering on all the Palestinian residents of these areas.   In addition to the evictions a not unexpected result is the emigration of Palestinian residents.  If the Israeli plan is not stopped, this circle of Jewish settlement will make a negotiated settlement for Jerusalem impossible.  For more detailed information, read the comprehensive analysis on the Ir Amim website that ends as follows:

“Sheikh Jarrah is another link in the process that is transforming East Jerusalem to an arena where extremist organizations do as they please: taking control of properties in
dubious ways, administering private police with government funding, and engaging in endless confrontation with the Palestinian population.  All this is done with direct and
indirect government support, while placing obstacles in the way of the prospects of achieving a resolution in Jerusalem and the region as a whole.”

Back to the demonstration: during the week, representatives of the activists who have been organizing the resistance in Sheikh Jarah, successfully argued before the Supreme Court that they had a right to hold a demonstration in the neighborhood.  Until now all demonstrations were held outside the neighborhood which was blocked off by the police.   Even though the Supreme Court affirmed their right to protest close to the site of the evictions,  it ruled that only  300 people were allowed to enter the neighborhood, the main demonstration was to be held outside the neighborhood on a soccer field.  Following the demonstration, 300 of the protesters went into the village to the site of the evictions.

The crowd in the soccer field was vibrant, music blared from a very effective sound system, images were flashing on a huge screen.  I have attended several Israeli demonstrations but this was the first demonstration where there was a large presence of Palestinians, Palestinian flags, and speakers who addressed the crowd in Arabic.  The mixed crowd – Israeli Jews, mostly secular but some wearing kippot, Palestinian women in traditional dress, Palestinian and Israeli youth – felt wonderful, a rare experience of the reality in this country, two peoples living together on the land with two languages, two cultures and three or more religions.  It is very rare for the two peoples to share anything.   I think among the young people involved in this struggle it is truly an Israeli – Palestinian effort and their vision is one of a shared future.  One of the most prominent posters at these rallies reads: Jews and Arabs together, refuse to be enemies.  In Hebrew it rhymes: Yehudim v’Aravim, mesarvim lih’yot oyvim.

Before the demonstration, there were groups of Palestinians dancing with flags to the beat of Arabic music.  I was drawn in by their energy.  I couldn’t stay for all the speeches and performances but heard a speech by one of the evicted families, by a Palestinian leader of the organizing group, and by Daphna Golan, a longtime Israeli peace activist.   The theme of Daphna’s talk was: “We are all born free and equal” which she repeated with the crowd in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Amir Lev, Israeli singer, and Nasser, who was evicted from his home, on stage at the demonstration.

I had to leave early to celebrate my son’s birthday.  On my way back to the city I passed three young chasidim who sneered at me calling me a “leftist/smolani.”  It was a good reminder of the chasm that exists among Jews and the chasm that must be bridged in the country.  I left savoring the experience at the demonstration,  a rare few moments when Jews and Palestinians join together.  It gave me some hope for the future.

Avram Burg has an opinion piece in this morning’s Ha’Aretz. He also points to the activists of the resistance at Sheikh Jarah as examplars of integrity in an unjust city.

Once justice dwelled here. Now the settlers do, murderers of the nation’s soul.

And no one utters a word, but for a few patriots. People of truth and morals who refuse to stand idly by while the state of Jewish refugees repeatedly throws Palestinian families into the street and hands their miserable homes over to bearded, blaspheming thugs.

These people of integrity are the leftists of Jerusalem, who have been through countless clashes with the “Jerusalem syndrome” loonies. They know only too well the city’s ugly truth, its terrible teens, and will no longer look the other way. They are committed to stopping with their body the torch-bearing brutes who seek to set it on fire.

No one leads the city now, nor will salvation for it come from the country’s elected leader. Sheikh Jarrah is beyond the cognizance of Mayor Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as though the commotion has nothing to do with them, as though it is happening in Sudan or Tehran. And in the absence of leadership of the state, and the peace bloc, our children have taken on the responsibility, shaken off indifference and despair and brought us here. The circle is expanding and it is full of life, rage and hope. Israeli humanism has been reborn in East Jerusalem. We are there in the summer heat and the winter rains, shouting and calling on others to gather round, seeking both Shabbat and peace. We will not recoil from violent police officers or hotheaded harassers. We stand and pledge: We shall not be silent when Ahmad and Aysha are sleeping in the street outside their home, which has become the settlers’ domain. Is that justice? Not ours! Is that law? No, it is iniquity.”

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Settlements | 15 Comments »

Two Visits to Hebron

Posted by rabbibrian on January 13, 2010

A week ago I moved to Jerusalem for the next five months.  Over this perios of time I hope to share ocassional posts about my experience here.  This is the first.

In November 2008, I organized a tour of Hebron with Shovrim Shtika (Soldiers Breaking the Silence) that challenged my core beliefs. On Monday I visited Hebron again this time joining a Health  Human Rights Project delegation.

On my first visit over a year ago, we walked down Shuhadeh Street and saw the deserted part of the Old City of Hebron, with a line of Palestinians stores that were forcibly closed by the Israeli military.  This area of the city,  that once bustled with life and was home home to 30,000 Palestinians,  was now almost a ghost town.  The streets were empty, the stores were bolted shut, many with Jewish stars and other graffiti smeared in black paint on the metal doors.  In some of the houses that were still occupied children peered at us from a porch totally enclosed by a metal grate to protect them against objects hurled at them by the settlers.

The Israeli military had designated the street we were walking a “sterile street,” a street on which only Jews can walk!  The Palestinians who lived on the street could not leave their homes through their front doors which were also bolted by the Israeli military.

The physical experience of walking down that “sterile street” shocked me to my core.   This town is deserted, the Palestinians are not allowed to walk on their own street because a few hundred very religious (“religious”?) Jews, supported by the overwhelming power of the Israeli military, have created several settlements in the heart of a Palestinian city.

As an ex-South African, I could not help but think about Apartheid.  Apartheid was a travesty, a huge crime committed against millions of people, yet even under Apartheid, there were no “sterile streets.”  The experience made me confront the fact that this ethnic discrimination and brutality was being done not only  in the name of Judaism, by religious Jews, inspired by Jewish sources, texts and beliefs; but it was also made possible and fully supported by Israel, the state that speaks in the name of the Jewish people.  The walk down that street, a little more than a year ago, changed my life.   Having seen with my own eyes the effects of the discrimination, having walked with my own legs down that street, I could no longer avoid confronting the racism that was at the core of  Israeli government policy, at the heart of Zionism, and in parts of my own religious tradition.  I could no longer just ignore, avoid or easily reinterpret those ideas in our the sacred texts that inspired these settlers: the ideas of a Promised Land, an exclusive covenant and about destroying the peoples of the Land of Canaan.  I could also no longer ignore the privileging of the rights of Jews over the rights of non-Jews that was at the core of Zionism.

Michael Manikin, our tour leader and one of the founders of Shovrim Shtika, Soldiers Breaking the Silence, pointed out that Hebron was no different from all the other settlements on the West Bank.   The entire settlement project is based on the fundamental belief that the rights and lives of Jews are more important than those of the Palestinians.  For him as a religious Jew, this reality was far more than just a political issue, it was a profound spiritual issue, that challenged the core of his beliefs.   His Judaism was not about discrimination, it was about justice and equity.  His courageous work in Shovrim Shtika was a spiritual witness and an inspiration to me.

Two days ago I went to Hebron again and this time the tour leader was Hisham Sharabati, a Palestinian human rights activist and journalist, who was born in 1967 and  has lived under the Occupation in Hebron all his life.

We met in an open space in the town with alleyways leading into the market on all sides.  Most of the stores around us and in the streets were closed.  Hisham told us that 512 Palestinian stores have been closed by the Israeli military “to protect the security of the settlers” and countless others are closed because the of the devastating economic consequences of living under Occupation.  The stores that are forcibly closed are marked with red or black dots.

As we stood in that open space in front of us there was a metal gate and huge concrete blocks, guarded by Israeli soldiers heavily laden with military gear often with their hands on their guns ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.

On several of the nearby roofs there were Israeli military posts.   Towering above the Palestinian homes was a Yeshivah  with the words from the Torah “Kiryat Arba is Hebron.”  The settlers derive their legitimation directly from our sacred text.

We met for lunch in what was once a store front and home but like so many others was now empty.   As Hisham told us his story he mentioned that Israeli soldiers routinely walk through the town in groups their hands on their guns and stop Palestinians, often young boys, asking for their identity cards.  They then often force the children to stand against a wall with their hands above their heads while they pat them down, sometimes they take them off for interrogation.  Sometimes it is a few minutes of humiliation, other times it may last a few hours.  As he is talking, he points out that behind us the soldiers have just stopped a group of kids.  We go to watch this scene, as these soldiers in the most advanced military gear, take the identity cards of three kids and then take them one by one behind the metal gate, force them to stand against the wall and  pat them down.  It feels like a game of cops and robbers, but this is serious.

I notice that I feel ashamed.   I am a rabbi.   These soldiers are acting in the name of the Jewish state to protect some religious Jewish settlers.  What is my connection to them as a Jew?  What is my responsibility for this violation?  Why am I and my community so complacent in the face of this urgent moral crisis that threatens the very core of our spiritual tradition and is causing so much suffering to so many people?  Yes, many of us oppose the Occupation but do we really act as if it is a mater of critical moral urgency?  Do we act as if it is a matter of life and death?

Later in the day as we were walking through the market we saw another group of soldiers who had three young boys pinned against the wall with their hands above the heads.  This time the soldiers were aggressive and I saw one of them kick the child.  I and several others in our group stood and watched and the soldiers angrily told us to move.  We stood our ground and just watched.  One of the soldiers came up to me and said Lechu mipo/Get out of here and then “Let me do my job.”   What is his “job”?  To make sure that the residents know that he is more powerful, to humiliate and inflict suffering on thousands of Palestinians to protect the “right” of Jews to settle in Hebron.  After a few minutes they let the kids go.  I realized how important our presence in this situation.  I don’t know how much we changed the outcome,  but our presence definitely made it less likely that there would be more violent abuse.

Israel understands this and that is why it acts to prevent international human rights activists and observers from being on the West Bank.  Israel is threatening not to renew the mission of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).  It also regularly threatens the courageous folk in the Christian Peacamaker Team who uphold the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian residents.

Both incidents that we witnesed were relatively mild in the scheme of things.  No one was physically hurt and yet it was so profoundly shocking.  This is the daily experience of these kids.  What effect will it have on their life?  Will they one day respond with violence?  Their only experience of Jews and Judaism is the settlers and the soldiers. What do they think of Jews and Judaism?   Will they develop a hatred for all Jews?

And what about the soldiers?  They are also just young boys given a grossly inappropriate amount of power over other human beings.  While I don’t want to equate the experience of the Palestinian children, the victims, and the soldiers, the experience damages the lives and souls of both the victim and victimizer.

The rest of the afternoon we move around the town crossing checkpoints, seeing the dramatic effects of the settlers on the town including the vile debris, stones, metal, foul water that the settlers throw upon the Palestinians.

We visit the home of Hashim al Aza, who has the misfortune of living right next to the Tel Rumeida another settlement, home of some of the most violent of the Hebron settlers.  Settlers have vanalized his house on several occasions, attacked , his wife and children, destroyed his vineyards, all with the complicity of the Israeli military.   He invites us into his home to show us videos of settlers rampaging through his home, attacking school children and their teachers.  Some of these videos were part of the Betzelem camera project. The soldiers in the videos just watch as the settlers violently attack people and/or property.

We see other areas of the city that are blocked by cement blocks and fences and various checkpoints.  On one road Hisham shows us a red line that indicates that Palestinian pedestrians must stop and wait for a soldier to come check them before they can continue on the road.

Towards the end of our tour we climb on a roof to look down on the part of Shuhadah street that I walked down more than a year ago.  This time I see the rear of the houses with the passage way on the roof and the fire escape ladders that the residents use to get out of their house as they can’t exit the front door.  If they want to go shopping, go the doctor, or if God forbid they have to bury a loved one, they have to climb to the roof and then down the ladders!

This city of 200,000 people is completely devastated by the presence of about 400-600 Jews.

I leave the trip shaken to my core.  Hebron was one of the first Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and it demonstrates the urgent moral crisis of the Occupation, now more than forty years long and with no end in sight.    I would prefer to avoid the  issue of American aid to Israel, of boycott, sanctions and divestment but it might be the most effective way to shock Israel into making change.   It may be the most effective strategy for non-violent change.  We could avoid facing this difficult challenge, especially for those of so connected to Israel,  if the situation was not so dire, so desperate.  But the situation is desperate for all who care for justice and all these measures must be considered.   To avoid them, or to prevent discussion of any measure is to accept the situation as it is and as it has been now for over forty years.   And for those of us who are religious Jews, Hebron calls on us to carefully examine the teachings of our faith and to challenge the use of our sacred tradition to oppress and humiliate a whole people. As it says: “The Task is great and  the time is short.”

Posted in Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 27 Comments »

The Goldstone Commission and the Time for Repentance

Posted by rabbibrian on September 17, 2009

Tomorrow night is Rosh Hashana.   It is so profoundly sad, and yet so very appropriate, that the Goldstone Commission released it’s report on the Gaza War just 3 days before our holidays that focus on moral reckoning and repentance. The release of the report makes it clear how urgently we need time for moral reckoning and repentance.  The most important event of the past year for Jews in Israel and probably for Jews worldwide was the Gaza War.  It was a turning point for Israel and for the relationship of many Americans and American Jews to Israel.

Reading the press release of the Goldstone report and the B’tzelem report is just devastating.  Here are some excerpts from the official press release (I have bolded certain sections):

The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.

Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.

The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.

The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.

Their findings are serious enough but the last passage quoted is not really about the war, it is their considered judgement that the present policy enforced by the blockade, “depriving people of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water……could be considered a crime against humanity

This is shocking.  In the opinion of the commission, present Israeli policy in Gaza, not just the violations during the war, could be considered a “crime against humanity.”  This means that the Israeli blockade of Gaza that will be enforced today and probably through our holidays of repentance could be considered “a crime against humanity.”

And in my community, the Jewish community, and among my rabbinic colleagues there is denial and silence.

In addition to the report by the commission, B’tzelem released a report last week challenging the numbers of fatalities during the war as reported by the Israeli military.

Here is an excerpt from their press release:

B’Tselem’s figures, the result of months of meticulous investigation and cross-checks with numerous sources, sharply contradict those published by the Israeli military. Israel stated that 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation and that 60% of them were members of Hamas and other armed groups. According to the military, a total of 295 Palestinians who were “not involved” in the fighting were killed. As the military refused to provide B’Tselem its list of fatalities, a comparison of names was not possible. However, the blatant discrepancy between the numbers is intolerable. For example, the military claims that altogether 89 minors under the age of 16 died in the operation. However, B’Tselem visited homes and gathered death certificates, photos, and testimonies relating to all 252 children under 16, and has the details of 111 women over 16 killed.

Behind the dry statistics lie shocking individual stories. Whole families were killed; parents saw their children shot before their very eyes; relatives watched their loved ones bleed to death; and entire neighborhoods were obliterated.

The discrepancy regarding minors was particularly shocking.  How is it that B’tzelem has death certificates, photos and other evidence confirming the death of  three times the number of minors in the report of the Israeli military?  If the Israeli government disputes these figures, it should counter the evidence with substantive data.

As we enter the New Year the evidence of serious moral failure in Gaza is overwhelming.  The two reports are just the latest in a series of reports by Israeli and international human rights organizations including the Gisha, Shovrim Shtika, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The response of the Israeli government has been to try to block the foreign funding of Israeli human rights organizations, to attack all the human rights organizations as anti-Israel, to attack the researchers as anti-Israel, and to insist that the military actions were all appropriate and within international standards for the conduct of war.

Another line of defense is to claim that these charges don’t take into account the war crimes committed by Hamas in launching rockets into Israel.  The Goldstone Commission criticized Hamas.

Here is  a short excerpt of what they said:

The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups “constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population.  The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction,” the report says. “Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”

The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks “have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel,” as well as “loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population.”

The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Yes, the launching of rockets into Israel constitutes a war crime but this in no way justifies Israel’s behavior.

Today Israeli and American Jewish leaders are all focussing on the anti-Israel history of the United Nations, ignoring the fact that this commission was led by a Jew, who insisted that violations of Hamas be part of the investigation. Judge Goldstone is a Zionist and by all accounts a very fair and honorable judge.  I have asked  members of my family in South Africa who know Judge Goldstone and they have the highest regard for his impartiality and dedication to fairness.  Today, I believe he is on his way to celebrate Rosh Hashana with his family in Canada.  Is he also anti-Israel? an anti-Semite?

Is this the best we can get from our leaders?  Even if all of these charges against the U.N. are true, it doesn’t answer any of the substantive charges made by the Commission and by many well respected human rights organizations.

It is time for this denial by Israel and the leaders of the American Jewish community to end.  It’s time for our leaders to stop blaming others and to look inward.  It is painful to look at ourselves, but that is what we are called to do on Rosh Hashana.   Avoiding the pain by attacking others will not help us.

How many reports by well trusted human rights organizations in America and Israel will it take till we acknowledge that serious moral violations were committed in Gaza?  Since the Gaza war, many more Jews find themselves morally opposed to the policies of the Israeli government and to the direction in which Israel is headed.

The silence in the Jewish community about the war,  the blind support of mainstream organizations who are presently engaged in attacking the U.N. or Goldstone, and the silence of the overwhelming majority of the American rabbinate during the war and now is shameful.

As part of our moral reckoning in our upcoming holidays there are many questions that we need to ask ourselves.

Why was there so little dissent in the American Jewish community during the war?

Why was there so little dissent in Israel?

Why is there silence now in the Jewish community about the suffering in Gaza?

Why is our silence during the war compounded by our silence now as the Israeli blockade that makes it impossible for Gazans to rebuild and recover from the mass destruction of houses, farmland and buildings during the war?

Why are only 72 rabbis prepared to speak out against a blockade that is causing so much suffering and may constitute a crime against humanity?

What has become of us, as Jews?   Where are our moral leaders?     Are our hearts closed to empathy or compassion for Palestinians?

These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves this Rosh Hashana.

On a personal level, I must ask myself.  During the war I was part of a group of rabbis who crafted a statement against the war and we decided not to go public with our opposition.  Why was I reluctant?  Why didn’t we go forward?  Was it just fear of being isolated?  If we knew then, what we know now, would we have acted differently

In July my colleague, Rabbi Brant Rosen and I, along with a minyan of rabbis launched Jewish Fast for Gaza.   I am very pleased that 72 rabbis and over 650 people of all faiths have joined Jewish Fast for Gaza, the only rabbinic opposition to the suffering in Gaza.  Today is our third fast day and there are Jews joined by people of other faiths who are fasting all over the country.  Fasting and raising our voices is a very small act but it is better than nothing.  Unfortunately it will not alleviate the suffering of real human beings living under a blockade, being treated with such cruelty and lack of empathy.

Today the day before Rosh Hashanah, The Goldstone Comission Report presents us with a moral challenge: Will this report  move more Americans, more American Jews and more rabbis to speak out against the present policy of the Israeli government in Gaza?   Will it move more Israelis to demand a truly independent Israeli investigation into all the charges?  Will it move more Israeli Jews to ask questions and open their hearts to the suffering that the policies of their government are inflicting?  I truly hope so.  If this does not happen, I am not sure what our earnest prayers over the coming sacred holidays mean.

May we all have the strength and the compassion to confront these difficult truths and to follow the call of Isaiah: Cry out with an unrestrained voice, Lift up your voice like a Shofar.  May the sound of the shofar remind us of who we are.

Keyn yehi ratzon.  May that be our will and the will of God.

Personal Note: I will be leading services in Ithaca, New York this year and I wish all my Jewish readers  a year of joy and blessing.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

“Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods”

Posted by rabbibrian on August 23, 2009

Gideon Levy, one of the moral heroes of Israel, recently published a challenging article in Haaretz, entitled, “Obama’s America is not delivering the goods.” Levy argues that the great hope that Obama would provide the leadership for a Middle East Peace is “on its deathbed!”

Here are some of his words:

With great sorrow and deep consternation, we hereby declare the death of the latest hope. Perhaps rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase the famous quote by Mark Twain, but the fears are being validated day after day.  Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods. Sharing a glass of beer with a racist cop and a pat on the back of Hugo Chavez are not what we hoped for; wholesale negotiations on freezing settlement construction are also not what we expected. Just over six months after the most promising president of all began his term, perhaps hope has a last breath left, but it is on its deathbed.

He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit.

Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.

A settlement freeze, something that should have been understood by a prime minister who speaks with such bluster about two states – a peripheral matter that Israel committed to in the road map – has suddenly turned into a central issue. Special envoy George Mitchell is wasting his time and prestige with petty haggling. A half-year freeze or a full year? What about the 2,500 apartment units already under construction? And what about natural growth? And kindergartens?
Perhaps they will reach a compromise and agree on nine months, not including natural growth though allowing completion of apartments already under construction. A grand accomplishment.

Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington.  Once again we are at the starting point – dealing with trifles from which it is impossible to make the big leap over the great divide.”

Levy’s words were shocking to me, but they resonated with a deepening sense that he is right.  Obama has fallen into a trap set by the Israeli government that has allowed Israel to ignore the American demand for a settlement freeze and to control the terms of the debate.  Instead of insisting on a settlement freeze – “not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions” –  as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, Obama has been drawn into haggling with Israel about outposts, natural growth and other issues.   The Israeli government has managed to tie the issue of settlements to the issue of Arab recognition of Israel, a strategy that not only enables them to avoid compliance with the American demand but also gives them time to continue creating facts on the ground.  And this they have done.

While Mitchell and other members of the Administration are haggling behind closed doors with the Israelis about the terms of a settlement freeze, the Israeli government continues building settlements and expelled Palestinian homeowners in Sheikh Jarah,  a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, replacing them with Israeli right wing settlers.   The expulsion in Jerusalem is financed and supported by right wing Americans.   It was a cynical and brilliant move, one that Obama was unable to prevent.  It shifted the debate about settlements to the right of the Jewish People to rule over  Jerusalem.   In my next post I will address this issue of Sheikh Jarah that Sara Kreimer, wrote in Haaretz on Friday.

I read Levy’s article on the same day that the New York Times reported that Obama was not firmly committed to  a public option as part of Health Care Reform.   Maybe Obama’s problem in the Middle East, is related to his problem in the health care debate.  Obama has made bi-partisanship and compromise, his overriding value.   On health care bi-partisanship and compromise has  jeopardized the possibility of a meaningful health care reform.  It has not brought him any substantial support from the Republicans.   Obama’s commitment to seek common ground has made it impossible for him to counter the power of the  Health insurance lobby, the banking and financial industry,  and the Israel Lobby.  In terms of Israel, Obama has made concession after concession.

Strong American pressure on Israel is essential  for Middle East Peace.  Unfortunately the peace movement in Israel, in as much as such a thing even exists, is minute and only supported by a very small minority of Israelis.  There are many wonderful Israeli human rights and peace organizations but there is no organized peace movement.  It is possible that if Israel is forced to give up the settlements, the majority of Israelis will support this move but Israel will never give up all the economic and political benefits of the occupation without pressure.  Maybe Obama thinks he can get a freeze on settlements by consensus.  As a result,  “Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington”.

I  hope that Levy is wrong.   Those of us who supported Obama precisely because he offered a moral vision of transformation must urge Obama to exert strong pressure to end the settlements.  A freeze on settlements is essential for peace.  As people who care deeply about peace in the Middle East, we need to challenge Obama and to build a movement of American citizens dedicated to a moral and evenhanded American policy that supports justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 38 Comments »