American Jews Gaza Strip Israel Palestinians Progressive Jews

Wrestling with American Jewish Realpolitik

Richard Silverstein, Jerry Haber and Verso Books are striving to obtain signatures for an impassioned attack against Israeli behavior in the Gaza Strip.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to sign the statement and then post it on Realistic Dove. The rationales for not associating with it were the same rationales that for decades have prevented left-leaning American Jews within the organized community from saying what they actually believed and felt. I offer a small sample of what buzzed around my mind not because what I do or what I think matters very much, but because it will shed some light on the liberal American Jewish psyche:

o–Don’t do it! A statement that rails angrily against Israeli behavior is so far beyond the pale of kosher discourse that it might as well be an anarchist manifesto. You don’t want to be too far out “in front of the community” because no one will listen to you anymore, no one will take you seriously.

o–Don’t do it! What will you say to L at the next board meeting? He will be really angry. What will you say to F or B in Organization X when they email you and tell you it is beyond the pale?

o–It doesn’t matter what “Jewish progressives” say or do. They are not politically relevant. Clever, calculated realpolitik that maintains allegiances with liberal groups in the President Conference is all that matters, because some day we will need the members of those groups to provide a counterweight to the conventional Israel lobby.

o–It doesn’t balance every criticism of Israel with a criticism of Israel’s adversaries. That is an inviolable law of the pro-Israel peace camp’s hasbara, which you have been practicing for decades.

o–It doesn’t begin to capture the nuances and complexities of the conflict. It leaves out Argument B and Historical Fact C and Historical-Assertions-That-May-Or-May-Not-Be-True D, E, F, M and Y.

But, in the end, I signed it. And I will share it. Even though I might have preferred that certain ideas be phrased differently, even though it doesn’t explicitly express compassion for the people of southern Israel, even though it doesn’t acknowledge that Israel had to do something about the Hamas rockets, it is very compelling. It speaks truth to power. Above all, it is angry. And anger is the most rational response to the Gaza assaults.

“We Shall Not Be a Party to Their Counsel!”

As human beings, we are shocked and appalled at the mass destruction unleashed by the State of Israel against the people of Gaza in its current military operation, following years of Israeli occupation, siege, and deprivation.

As Americans, we protest the carte blanche given Israel by the US government to pursue a war of “national honor,” “restoring deterrence,” “destroying Hamas,” and “searing Israel’s military might into the consciousness of the Gazans.”

As progressives, we reject the same justifications for the carnage that we heard ad nauseam from the supporters of the Second Iraq War: the so-called “war on terror,” the “clash of civilizations,” the “need to re-establish deterrence” – all of which served to justify a misguided and unnecessary war, with disastrous consequences for America and Iraq.

But as Jews of different religious persuasions, from Orthodox to secular atheist, we are especially horrified that a state that purports to speak in our name wages a military campaign that has killed over 1,000 people, a large percentage of them civilians, children, and non-combatants, with little or no consideration for human rights or the laws of war.

While the moral and legal issue concerning Israel’s right to respond militarily in these circumstance can be debated, there is near-universal agreement that its conduct of the military operation has been unjust and even criminal – with only the usual apologists for the Jewish state disagreeing.

As Jews, we stand united with another Israel, the patriarch Jacob, who cursed his sons Simeon and Levi for massacring the people of Shechem in revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah. Like Jacob, “we shall not be a party to the counsel of zealots. We shall not be counted in their assembly. (See Genesis 34. 49: 5-7).

As Jews, we stand united with the Jewish sages who rejected the zealotry of the Jewish “terrorists” at Masada, those who masked ethnic tribalism in the cloak of “self-defense” and “national honor.”

As Jews, we listen not only when the sage Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” but also when he says, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Hillel’s closing words also ring true in this hour of decision when a ceasefire is demanded of both sides: “If not now, when?”

Finally, as American Jewish progressives, and as human beings, we condemn Hamas and Israel for violating the human rights of civilians on both sides, although we do not necessarily declare these violations to be morally or legally equivalent. We affirm the rights of both Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination and self-defense, as we affirm the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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