Sunday, December 8, 2013 was a day of reflection upon the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa who died December 5, 2013 at age 95. As I reflect upon the meaning of this extraordinary life, I return again and again to his dignity and to the power this sense of self bestowed upon him, even before the South African people elected him to lead them.
Mandela was born into an African royal family, and he was groomed from an early age to be an advisor to kings. And so he was. He became an advisor to world leaders and rose to be the leader of his country and a moral example to the world. This all came to be because of his unyielding determination to be respected as a human being and not to rest until his people were also respected as free and equal human beings. The goal of the end of apartheid [apart hate] in South Africa was constantly before him.
Since Mandela’s death, I have heard many commentators speak of his dedication to non-violence. They marvel at his willingness to forgive both personally and politically. As a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, some have placed him in the pantheon of heroes and sheroes who dedicated their lives to a cause larger than themselves, who worked diligently for peace. Make no mistake, Mandela deserves this recognition.
At the same time, it is more accurate to place him next to El Hajj Malik el Shabazz (the post Mecca Malcolm X) than to Martin Luther King, Jr. or to Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela was a radical humanist in the mold of Malcolm X. He makes a cameo appearance at the end of Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X reciting Malcolm’s famous declaration:
“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, in this day which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
Mandela was willing to achieve his goal of human dignity for all “by any means necessary.” This included violence against a violent and vicious system and through forgiveness and reconciliation at the moment of transition from an [apart hate] society to a rainbow society where all races are treated equally in custom and in law.
Jews love and loved Nelson Mandela. He inspired us with his insistence that the old regime of apartheid would crumble more quickly and fully when faced with revolutionary love and compassion than when faced with anger and violence.
Mandela also challenged us to think deeply about whether the current situation in Israel/Palestine reflects the ethic of compassion that is so central to Judaism.
Credit: Creative Commons/Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”
Yet Mandela showed us the opposite – that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”).
Mandela with Desmond Tutu
Back in the early 1960s, black South African lawyer and activist Oliver Tambo was asked to describe a colleague who had just gone to prison for resisting white minority rule in that country. He replied that this man is “passionate, emotional, sensitive, quickly stung to bitterness and retaliation by insult and patronage.” Tambo was talking about his law-firm partner, Nelson Mandela – remembered today for his grace, humor, and empathy, as well as his remarkable courage and leadership.
What happened to Mandela in prison, what changed him so radically, is still a bit of mystery in my mind. He was often asked about a slice of this question – how he let go of the anger he felt specifically toward whites – and his responses were usually of a fairly standard therapeutic variety. Bill Clinton, in an interview aired last night by CBS Evening News, related one such exchange with Mandela.
Why the enduring “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel? Cultural historians, who look at symbols and stories more than politics and policies, say a big part of it goes back to the late 1950s, when Leon Uris’ novel Exodus reached the top of the bestseller list and was then turned into a blockbuster film, with an all-star cast headed by Paul Newman.
Scholar Rachel Weissbrod called it a “Zionist melodrama.” M.M. Silver devoted a whole book to the phenomenon: Our Exodus, with the subtitle, The Americanization of Israel’s Founding Story.
A preeminent historian of American Judaism, Jonathan Sarna, came closest to the truth in his blurb for Silver’s book: Exodus “consciously linked brawny Zionist pioneers with the heroes of traditional American westerns.” The protagonist, Ari ben Canaan (“lion, son of Canaan”), is the Jewish Shane, the cowboy of impeccable virtue who kills only because he must to save decent people — especially the gentile woman he loves — and civilize a savage land.
It’s been clear to me for about ten years that the primary problem the United States faces in crafting Middle East policy is not so much the Arabs or the Israelis. It is the Israel lobby (led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC but consisting also of all the major Jewish organizations that include Israel in their portfolio.
Writing about the lobby’s influence (from the perspective of someone who had spent 20 years dealing with AIPAC as an aide to a senator and several House members), I initially felt like a voice in the wilderness. Yes, there were always people pointing to the power of the lobby but many of those had no use for Israel to start out with. For them, attacking the lobby is a subset of attacking Israel in general.
Don’t get me wrong. Although I support a secure Jewish State of Israel, I despise the policies of the Netanyahu government and any and all Israeli policies that are designed to either preserve the occupation or (and this is most relevant now) prevent a diplomatic resolution of the stalemate over Iranian nuclear development. Even if the lobby didn’t exist, I’d be vehemently condemning those policies.
Of course, if the lobby didn’t exist, the United States government would not have to spend much effort getting a country that is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in line, just as the bank who holds the mortgage has considerably more say than a property’s nominal owner. Not only do all other foreign recipients of U.S. aid have to comply with conditions set by Washington, so do all states and municipalities here in the United States. Only Israel gets what it wants, no strings attached.
[Editor's Note: November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and virtually all major TV channels, magazines, and other media outlets are planning specials, documentaries, articles with historical analyses and personal retellings of where people were at the time of assassination. Also, Oliver Stone's 1991 Oscar-nominated film JFK challenging the conventional theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman and suggesting that there may have been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy will be shown this month in over 250 theaters nationwide. To put the Kennedy assassination in a historical perspective that is both spiritual and political, we here reprint Peter Gabel's brilliant article on the subject, "The Spiritual Truth of JFK (As Movie and Reality)," originally published in Tikkun in March/April 1992 in response to the original release of Stone's film. Gabel's piece is an example of the kind of historical analysis we are trying to develop in Tikkun - locating the critical event of JFK's assassination in the context of the repression of our collective spiritual longings for a loving world that characterized the 1950s, and what he calls the "opening up of desire" represented by JFK. In defending Stone's film against its critics, Gabel also shows how the conflict between hope and fear, between the desire for an erotic, loving, and caring world and the forces seeking to deny and contain that desire, is central to understanding the meaning of historical events. His analysis also implicitly helps explain why this month there is such an outpouring of memory, pain, longing, and loss in recollecting the assassination fifty years later.]
(JFK, an Oliver Stone film/ CC-BY-NC-SA by www.impawards.com)
Oliver Stone’s JFK is a great movie, but not because it “proves” that John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. Stone himself has acknowledged that the movie is a myth — a countermyth to the myth produced by the Warren Commission — but a myth that contains what Stone calls a spiritual truth. To understand that spiritual truth, we must look deeply into the psychological and social meaning of the assassination — its meaning for American society at the time that it occurred, and for understanding contemporary American politics and culture.
The spiritual problem that the movie speaks to is an underlying truth about life in American society — the truth that we all live in a social world characterized by feelings of alienation, isolation, and a chronic inability to connect with one another in a life-giving and powerful way. In our political and economic institutions, this alienation is lived out as a feeling of being “underneath” and at an infinite distance from an alien external world that seems to determine our lives from the outside. True democracy would require that we be actively engaged in ongoing processes of social interaction that strengthen our bonds of connectedness to one another, while at the same time allowing us to realize our need for a sense of social meaning and ethical purpose through the active remaking of the no-longer “external” world around us. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the isolation and distance from reality that envelops us is a cause of immense psychological and emotional pain, a social starvation that is in fact analogous to physical hunger and other forms of physical suffering.
The Guardian’s recent article, “How President Obama can achieve a nuclear deal with Iran,” speaks about why a nuclear deal with Iran is urgently needed, and what Iran must give up. This Guardian piece is a little weak on what the United States and the Western powers must offer as part of the deal. When read by itself, it repeats the “tough-minded” and largely blind to emotional nuance approach that has made the West’s dealings with Iran so fruitless. Here’s what author Tom Rogan writes:
In the cause of peace, the clock is ticking.
Western Intelligence services have delayed a nuclear Iran. Still, the evidence on the ground is unmistakable. Iranian nuclear activities increasingly point to a weaponization agenda. Of most concern: Iran’s soon-to-be plutonium production facility at Arak. As David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security note (pdf), claims of an inherently peaceful nuclear program cannot easily co-exist with a heavy water reactor. Correspondingly, in last weekend’s P5+1 negotiations, the French Foreign Minister suggested that allowing Arak to remain in operation would represent a “sucker’s deal”.
Credit: Creative Commons
Tom Pickering is a living legend of American diplomacy. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Persian Gulf War. He has also served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Israel, India, Jordan, Nigeria and El Salvador. Pickering’s last State Department post was as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs during President Clinton’s second term.
Now 82-years-old and active as ever in U.S. foreign policy discourse, Pickering brings to bear his decades of experience to answer some questions about the seemingly endless array of Mideast policy challenges facing the United States, including the effort to secure a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
Ambassador Pickering, thank you for granting this interview.
Before getting to the specific questions about some of the major challenges facing the United States, I found something very intriguing in your bio that I’d like to ask you about. Your bio states that when you first started out in college at Bowdoin, you wanted to pursue a career in ministry.
Can you share with Tikkun Daily readers a bit more about your early interest in ministry? What did you have in mind back then as a young man? Relatedly, would you characterize your ultimate decision to pursue a career in American diplomacy as a kind of alternate manifestation of your interest in ministry, perhaps by endeavoring to make the world a safer place for all God’s children?
My interests then did not seem to be a real “calling” and so I shifted my goals and aspirations. It is certainly true that neither profession makes much money and I was not interested in that kind of return.
Perhaps my early interest in church things somehow conditioned me to think in terms of rewards through public service. I believe that public service can be very rewarding in the cause of improved safety and security for the public and in the search for peaceful solutions.
According to your bio, you turned 82-years-old last week. Are you more or less worried about the outbreak of a nuclear war somewhere in the world today than you were when you began your career in the diplomatic corps back in the 1960s?
by: Robert Cohen on November 6th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
This month the Jewish American writer and Israel/Palestine activist, Mark Braverman, publishes his second book ‘A Wall in Jerusalem’. It follows ‘Fatal Embrace’ in 2010 which quickly established Braverman as an important new voice in the Israel/Palestine debate. Below you can read Braverman’s first interview to mark the new book’s publication given exclusively to Micah’s Paradigm Shift.
Braverman, who has deep family roots in Israel, has developed what he describes as a ‘calling’ to speak to the Church in a spirit of Christian teaching that sees Jesus as a radical Jew rebelling against the Jewish establishment and the Roman occupation of first century Palestine. In his new book he successfully straddles Jewish and Christian theological thinking to create a shared dialogue of justice and compassion. Braverman is determined to articulate a Christian approach to Palestinian solidarity that counters evangelical Christian Zionism while remaining rooted in the teaching of Jesus. He also challenges the phenomenon of Christian post-Holocaust guilt that leads to a reluctance by the Church to confront Israeli injustice against the Palestinian people for fear of disturbing Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue.
by: Kelsey Waxman on October 17th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
Two weeks have passed since the culmination of the fourth annual J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. Two weeks have also gone by since our congressional leaders failed to come to a compromise regarding the future of our national budget, resulting in a complete shutdown of governmental affairs. The three days I spent representing Tikkun magazine at the nation’s largest “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” gathering have left me conflicted about the American call for progressive peace in the region, but have reassured me that those who are committed to fighting for it are headed in the right direction.
From my exhibitor’s table in an isolated area of the Washington Conference Center, my perception of the goings-on of J Street was much different than the average delegate. I’d like to share my own individual analysis of the conference – please take note that the statements and opinions I’m offering here are purely my own and do not represent those of Tikkun or any other entity.
To refresh our memory, J Street, founded in 2008, is a Jewish-American political advocacy organization that markets itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” The organization promotes a vision for security and stability in Israel/Palestine through its lobbying in the form of an American-brokered two-state solution.
(Tikkun's J Street Table/ Credit: Kelsey Waxman)
It should be noted that with “exhibitor” status, neither Tikkun nor I were technically invited to participate in the J Street conference, but to stand quietly on the sidelines as “Jewish allies” of J Street and hand out our literature. While several other exhibitors, organizations, and publications submitted materials to be handed out in conference “swag bags,” Tikkun‘s magazines seemed to mysteriously not make the distribution cut. This disappointed me because J Street markets itself as an organization committed to the open facilitation of peace dialogue, but the exclusion of different perspectives on Israel/Palestine issues contradicts that very principle.