Not again

Note: there are lots of links in this post.  All the articles are worth reading.

Bombing in Jerusalem.  Calls for Intifada.  Murder of Israeli citizens.

I think the author of this essay is more right-wing than I, but I really appreciated what he wrote:

I have a feeling that years from now Palestinians will look back and wonder: How did we allow ourselves to become that?  If and when that happens — thought not until that happens — Palestinians and Israelis will at long last be able to live alongside each other in genuine peace and security.

(Bret Stephens, “Are Israeli Settlers Human?” March 15, 2011 — reprinted and included in an invitation I just got from Israel Bonds to an upcoming event, and originally published in his column in the Wall Street Journal.)

On the other hand, Israelis should be asking the same thing of themselves.  Actually, many are; see for instance this op-ed piece in today’s HaAretz by Gideon Levy.  OK, he’s not actually asking the question “how did we get here?”, but he’s really pointing out where “here” is.

A litany of what’s happening:

J Street is being investigated by the Knesset to see if we’re really Zionists or “leftist extremists.”  If they think we’re leftist extremists, they haven’t seen Neturei Karta (which is Orthodox) or the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.  Here’s J Street’s statement on the subject.  And here’s a front-page article in the New York Times about it!

And here’s J Street’s condemnation of the bombing in Jerusalem.  I’ve been wanting to post that because of a quote in it:

“We remember at this moment the advice of Yitzhak Rabin that we must fight terror as if there were no peace process, but pursue peace as if there were no terror.”

(Note:  I can’t get and J Street pages to load at 9pm Eastern time on 3/24/11.  I wonder if J Street’s server is down, if somebody’s overloading or jamming it somehow. Their Facebook page keeps freezing too.)

A law has been passed which would permit (require?) the state to reduce public support of entities which participate in activities “contrary to the principles of the state.”  Originally, it was written to make public commemoration of the “Nakba” (or Naqba) illegal; so far, it only says that it can’t be funded with public money.  (See interview with Yisrael Beitainu MK Alex Miller.)

“The Nakba” (The Catastrophe) is the Arabic name for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  Israeli Independence Day is observed as a day of mourning in many Palestinian families and communities.  (Again, see the interview.)

Consider how Native Americans have challenged the celebration of Columbus Day, and you have roughly the equivalent — except it was only 63 years ago, not 600, so in living memory for many.

Consider the likely difference between how the 9th of Av was celebrated by Vespasian and Titus in the year 70 and how it felt to Jews to watch the Temple burning (if they hadn’t been rounded up to be shipped off to the Roman slave markets).  It’s still commemorated by Jews yearly.

The idea that alternative points of view may not be taught by public schools — or investigated by publicly-funded universities — is a shonda.  A disgrace.  As is the fact that a bill was proposed barring Israeli Arab Citizens from publicly remembering what 1948 means to them.

Though see this interesting editorial which suggests that the very existence of the law acknowledges and publicizes the fact that there is more than one narrative about those events.

A bill was just passed permitting “Acceptance Committees” to bar new members from small communities on state-owned land (of which there are many) on the vague basis that they “don’t fit in.”  This common discriminatory practice is now officially legal.  Guess who gets barred?  First, Arabs, and then people that the Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination against here: people with mental or physical disabilities, different skin color, same-sex couples (actually I don’t know if we’re covered), single parents, poorer families…

Strangely, half of the Knesset wasn’t even present for these votes.

It’s all in this op-ed piece by Bradley Burston, and this one from Debbie Gild-Hayo (director of public advocacy for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel), also from today’s HaAretz.

The first piece is titled “The New Self-Hating Jew” and begins:

This is the message of the new self-hating Jew: There is no place for the likes of J Street, Jews who oppose the occupation, or Jews who believe that non-Orthodox Judaism is valid and important.

It brings together the themes that are driving my writing right now.  On the one hand, murder in Jerusalem and Itamar is not acceptable.  The scary renewal of violence this month has me on edge.

But the political climate in Israel scares me too.  A lot of the legislation that’s being pushed by right-wing parties is awful.  The  public face of what Israel’s doing to its own citizens and people in territory under its control is not ok — and neither is what it’s trying to do to me, reaching out to target J Street in particular!

These themes are linked, but not in any direct cause-and-effect way.  Fear and anger, self-righteousness and reactivity are driving behavior in many sectors.

To paraphrase Rabin:  We must fight internal attacks on Israel’s democratic, Jewish, ethical and moral character as if there were no international discrediting of Israel and no terrorism.  We must fight terrorism as if Israel had already achieved democratic, Jewish, ethical and moral character throughout.   And we must fight those who would undermine and discredit Israel because we believe that Israel truly CAN achieve democratic, Jewish, ethical and moral character throughout.

Remember, these are “chastisements of love.”  This is the loyal opposition, something every democracy needs.   Thank God there are Israeli and other Jews who believe both in Israel and in democracy, in tsedek (justice) and mishpat (the rule of law) and chesed (deeds of lovingkindness) and rachamim (empathy), and who act accordingly.

When I was Sunday School age, I remember hearing my rabbi say that we shouldn’t criticize Israel in public.  I accepted it; he was the Rabbi, of course.

In the last 10 years we have heard public discourse in the American Jewish community shift and open in ways that were unimaginable 40 years ago.  We are able to talk openly about a 2-state solution, and acknowledge that there’s a diversity of opinion among Israeli Jews themselves.  These are seismic shifts.

Now — and it’s understandable why — it seems like within Israel and in America as well, dissent is being stifled again.  In Israel it can be enforced politically, though thank goodness there is rampant freedom of the press (so far).  In the US, it’s more personal and social pressure, communal rather than political enforcement.

It’s part of why I continue to speak up.   Because if I, as a rabbi, can’t speak the moral truth as I understand it in light of our Jewish tradition, who’s left? If I do speak, I may lose credibility with some, but I hope that I will provide a little more breathing (and speaking) room for others. And if you know me personally, you should know that, even if you think I am misguided, I am sincere.

I started out by talking about Palestinian violence.  So why did I segue into Israel’s disintegrating democracy?  Because while I/we have to cope with Palestinian violence, it’s not something we can solve.  It’s only something we can do our best to limit.

But our own house, we are responsible for cleaning.  And I’m sorry it has to be done in public, but the time for pretending everything is all right is over.