by: Curated by Tikkun Staff on July 22nd, 2016 | No Comments »
Abdullah Issa was a Palestinian child living in Syria (family of refugees after the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by Israel). He was captured and accused of helping the Syrian government. He had injuries and was thought to be also treated for thallasemia. Pictures show the bandaged boy of perhaps 10 or 11 years old with a catheter in his arm. His captives had him in the back of a pick-up truck (perhaps having taken him from his hospital bed). As he pleaded with them they ignored him and directed their message to the camera against Syrian government then slit the throat of this child. The killer militia shouted Allahu Akbar as the boy was mercilessly murdered. This group is funded and/or supported by the governments of the US, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They were considered by those four governments as “moderate rebels”.
On the same day that Abdullah was beheaded, a Palestinian boy roughly the same age (Mohyee Sedki Tbakhi) was shot by the Israeli occupation forces. I could not help note the similarity between the two as they looked like twins. As happens, only by intensifying our efforts are we able to cope with such tragedies. Coincidentally I accepted an invitation by the US Consulate in Jerusalem for Independence Day celebration (the event was held July 20th rather than July 4th here). Such trips to Jerusalem (without an Israeli permit) are always painful for me but the contradictions and conflicting emotions here were high. The area is in West Jerusalem long since transformed to a “Jewish city” the only real remnant of Palestinian next to the consulate is a cemetery (Mamilla or Maman Allah). But development is even eating away at that space and what is left of it is treated as a garden park.
The man walked into the courtroom wearing a fine suit. He was handsome and poised. It was August 18, 1955 and the man, Pete Seeger, was testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, asserting that he would not comply with the Committee and have his First Amendment rights stripped from him. We all know how this story ended; Seeger, who was one of scores of activists and artists who were blacklisted for alleged communist affiliations, was indicted for being in contempt of Congress in what is now recognized as one of the lowest and most fearful points in American democratic history.
Though the Red Scare has since been packed away in history textbooks, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated something disturbingly similar: an executive order that forces state entities to divest from businesses and organizations linked to boycotts of Israel and the larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. The order requires the creation and publication of a list of companies and institutions that support BDS, a tactic of intimidating pro-Palestinian voices and silencing critical discourse around Israel reminiscent of McCarthyism.
The BDS movement represents a call in 2005 from Palestinian civil society to pressure the State of Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands taken in 1967, recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens, and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution #194.
NOTE: As a non-profit, Tikkun magazine does NOT endorse any candidate or political party. Nor does Rabbi Lerner. This article is a response to distorted media coverage of Sanders’ appointment of prominent progressives to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee whom the NY Times, the Jewish Forward and other media are describing as anti-Israel. Some of our readers support Bernie Sanders, some support Hillary Clinton, some support Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and there may be other candidates that some of our readers support. This article is not meant to enter into that debate, but only to challenge the media coverage of Sanders on Israel.
I wasn’t surprised when the NY Times on May 26th made a front page story out of the alleged damage Senator Bernie Sanders was doing to the Democratic Party by placing among his 5 representatives on the Democratic Party’s Platform committee a few people who might support Sanders’ view that the US needs to be “more even-handed” in the Israel/Palestine struggle.
The New York Times has consistently turned its news pages into the loudest cheerleader for Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination. If mentioned at all, they bury deep in their paper, Bernie Sanders’ primary wins and the many polls that indicate he’d be more likely to win against Trump than Hillary. So it’s no surprise that when Bernie won permission to appoint 5 of the 15 members of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party Convention, the Times focused the story on the possibility that 2 of these appointees, James Zogby and Cornel West, would turn the convention into a debate about US policy towards Israel, and thereby weaken Hillary’s capacity to fight off Trump in the general election. There was nothing in the story to confirm that these appointees had any such intention, but that didn’t keep the N.Y. Times from making this front page story a way to once again stir worries that Bernie’s vigorous pursuit of the nomination (as Hillary Clinton herself had done in 2008 against Obama even after it was clear she would not win the nomination) was going to hurt Hillary’s chances in the Fall election–thus creating the story should Hillary lose that it was really all the fault of that socialist Jew from Vermont!
The Times ignored the important Bernie appointments of Congressman Keith Ellison, a leader of the Congress’ Progressive Caucus, a supporter of social justice for middle income people and the poor, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, and an opponent of Obama’s use of drones, Rebecca Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State, who is likely to emphasize rights for indigenous peoples and criminal justice reform, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org who is likely to push for a tax on carbons and other aggressive policies to save the planet’s life-support system. To turn the discussion solely to Israel, and suggest that somehow Sanders’ very mild call for an even-handed policy that took into account the needs of the Palestinian people is a threat to Israel’s existence is irresponsible and ludicrous.
The Labour Party has become embroiled in a row about anti-Semitism. Why the row? After all, the Labour Party is committed to challenging racism and anti-Semitism – which is a particular form of racism. It’s a row because the anti-Semitism in question concerns anti-Zionism – and not everybody in the Labour Party agrees that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. At the heart of the current row, a tweet re-tweeted by Labour MP Naz Shah, which suggested that Israel be relocated to the United States. For those who shared the tweet, it seemed fair comment, given the support of the United States for Israel – and the fact that the second largest Jewish population in the world resides in the United States. Of the 14.2 million Jews living in the world today, six million live in Israel and over five million live in the US.
The tweet was anti-Semitic for at least two reasons. Within living memory, the Jewish communities of Europe were made Judenfrei, ‘Jew-free’, or Judenrein, ‘clean of Jews’, as the Jews who lived in them were systematically deported to ghettos, concentration camps and death camps in Eastern Europe. The ghettos themselves, where hundreds of thousands were penned into walled areas of cities, were simply holding places, from which the Jews were sent on to the death camps. After the defeat of Hitler, those who survived became displaced persons, the majority of whom were collected into camps – most notably on Cyprus – with nowhere to go. To suggest that Israel, which became the principal place of refuge for the Jews who survived the Sho’ah, should be relocated elsewhere suggests either an inane forgetfulness or a shocking indifference to the annihilation of six million Jews – at the time, one third of the world Jewish population – which took place in the space of just six years from the onset of the violent persecution of the Jews of Europe on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.
The tweet was also anti-Semitic in the context of the way in which, again and again, regardless of the oppression of peoples across the world by numberless nations, Israel is singled out for special condemnation because of its on-going oppression of the Palestinians. Where is the protest against the murder of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan regime? Where is the protest against China’s occupation of Tibet? Why is it that these nations and others like them have not been subject to boycott and disinvestment campaigns? Of course, the anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli government must be challenged, and support must be given to the Palestinian people, in their struggle for self-determination, and the establishment of an independent state of Palestine. Equally, the regimes of China and Sri Lanka should also be challenged, and the Tibetans and Tamils should be supported in their struggles for self-determination.
Dear American Jewish Community,
This is a love letter. And we mean LOVE in every sense of the word. The type of love that draws you close, makes you want more and yet can hurt you so deeply. This is the type of love we and other members of IfNotNow DC brought to a mass public seder at the doors of Hillel International on the morning of April 19, three days before Passover.
This love is complicated and disturbed by our community’s support for the inhumane occupation of Palestinians. For both of us, our Jewish identity has at times come into deep conflict with our desire for justice in Israel/Palestine.
We were raised to believe that Israel was a utopia and solely a victim and it was our duty as diaspora Jews to protect and defend the state. Then we learned a more complicated tale, a tale that included the horror and daily nightmare of the occupation for Palestinians. That’s when the heartbreak began. We felt betrayed by the American Jewish community, and we felt that everything we had learned about repairing the world came into contradiction with the community’s support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Our hearts broke and it was hard to look at you. It was hard to believe that you would support a state without question that contributed to the suffering of the Palestinian people. It was hard to believe you could do such a thing. Through our community’s history of trauma and persecution, could we really be the perpetrators of oppression ourselves?
What lesson did we learn from our pain? That no group of people should suffer based on its identity? Or that Jews should militarize and try, futilely, to use domination to push the fear away?
In the war to silence criticism of Israel, the Palestinian voice is the ultimate target.
Last week, progressives celebrated Senator Bernie Sanders’ appointment of Simone Zimmerman, an activist opposing Israeli occupation, as the Jewish Outreach Coordinator of his presidential campaign. Their celebration would be short.
Right-wing blogs scoured her Facebook page for incriminating information, and institutions purporting to represent the Jewish community demanded she be fired. Just two days later, the Sanders campaign suspended her.
Celebration became outrage. The hashtag #IStandWithSimone trended on social media and thousands signed a petition demanding Zimmerman’s reinstatement. Articles and op-eds condemned Sanders and the Jewish institutions that pressured him, rightfully pointing out that Zimmerman’s politics on Israel represent a generational shift in the U.S. Jewish community. But most of the conversation failed to link Zimmerman with a broader Palestinian-led movement that is systematically silenced, especially those engaging in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel.
We have met several times before, in a very different era, when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and then again when Apartheid had just ended and the world seemed so full of hope, including in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The first time we met was at a mid-1980s concert of yours at The Pier in New York City, when you let my friend and I climb on stage and hang a huge banner we’d made calling for freedom for Nelson Mandela. Later, when we met at Woodstock ’94 and had lunch together before your show (I was there helping direct the house band of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe), we talked about how beautiful it was that banner was no longer needed, and hoped that the world would keep moving towards the peace, love and humanity your music has always represented.
When I helped arrange and perform on Ozomatli’s 2005 Grammy-winning album Street Signs, bringing together Moroccan Gnawa legend Hassan Hakmoun and French Jewish Gypsy band Les yeux noirs with Ozo, it was your amazing collaborations with other artists that inspired me. Perhaps most important, my lifelong commitment to human rights, from setting up a college chapter of Amnesty International to working with the global anti-music censorship organization Freemuse, emerged out of your honesty and spirit of love and commitment to social justice and human rights globally.
It’s no understatement to say that I cannot imagine my life as a musician, professor, human rights activist or father without you and your inspiration. And so, with the profoundest possible respect and belief in the rights of all peoples to have their full measure of justice, peace, self-determination and freedom, I am begging you: Please don’t perform in Israel this July.
I write these words with a very heavy heart. I’ve lived, studied and worked in Israel most of my adult life. The first language I ever dreamed in besides English was Hebrew. The greatest music I’ve ever played has come from there, and I enjoy nothing more than working with the many Israeli artists I’ve come to know and respect. However, none of this holds a candle to the suffering of the Palestinian people, which I have seen up close time and time again for the last 25 years. Carlos, you don’t have to believe me, talk with Archbishop Tutu, who I’m sure you know and can easily reach. As he wrote in 2010: “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” The next year Bishop Tutu came out in support for BDS, as I urge you to do now.
One point of agreement between American liberal Jews and their Israeli Reform and Conservative counterparts is the need for equal rights for Orthodox, secular, and liberal Jews in Israel. We agree, as Union for Reform Judaism head Rick Jacobs put it in a speech after the Israeli government agreed to construct a space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall), on “being for an israel that is inclusive, that is pluralistic,” and the Kotel is a powerful symbol of that.
The Kotel agreement “would not have happened had it not been for strong, growing pressure from American Jewry,” says Rabbi Uri Regev, president of the Israeli religious-equality organization Hiddush, in The New York Times. But the Kotel is not our Israeli liberal friends’ top priority. As symbolically important as the Kotel may be to American Jews, Israelis suffer tangibly in their daily lives from government policies that unjustly favor Orthodoxy.
Until I spent a year in Tel Aviv as part of my rabbinic training, I had no idea how hard it is to be a Reform Jew in Israel. During my year in Israel, I learned how our people can’t get to our synagogues because (unlike Orthodox Jews) we only have one or two synagogues in any city, and the buses don’t run on Shabbat. (Which, by the way, is not for any shortage of secular Jewish or Arab drivers who could use a job.) Each week I baked a cake or two for my Reform synagogue in my toaster-oven, so that people would stay to socialize after services, and I spent the whole year hiding my cakes from the kashrut enforcers, who would be sure to find something wrong with the kitchen of the hotel we met in if a Reform congregation stepped out of line. I learned how Israeli Jews can’t get married in Israel without the permission of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate — heterosexual and same-sex couples alike. I learned that there is a whole industry of “wedding tours” whereby Israeli couples escape ultra-Orthodox control by flying to Cyprus for a day. (Trivia question I’ll answer in the comments: why do you think the homepage of weddingtours.co.il is in Russian?) In a Jewish democracy, citizens shouldn’t have to fly elsewhere to get married.
Whether it be the rush of pro-Israel rhetoric touting Israel as a principled democracy, or whether it be the language barrier causing different conversations to happen in Hebrew than in English, we Americans too often miss our Israeli compatriots’ suffering. This isn’t about right and left; it’s about right and wrong. Israel was founded as a haven for all Jews. To the extent we are Zionist, American Reform and Conservative Jews can ill afford to let Israel become a haven for Orthodoxy only.
If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.
But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”
Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?
I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.
As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).