(Ariel Sharon/ Credit: Creative Commons)
The media has no problem focusing on the petty offenses and sexual infidelities of public figures but seems unable to acknowledge when some have engaged in or abetted human rights abuses or inflicted pain, violence, or murder on civilians. So we’ve been subjected to the iconization of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and — since his death earlier this month — of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Of all the murders he ordered, the one that sticks out most in my mind is the first set, in which he ordered his clandestine military unit in the early 1950s to take revenge on Palestinians who had been crossing the Armistice lines of 1949 in order to reclaim land that had been theirs before the Israel’s military victories that pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes. To terrorize the Palestinians, his unit entered and massacred a Palestinian village, setting fire to homes in which primarily women and children perished.
What is equally egregious is the media’s repeating of the lie that Ariel Sharon was on the verge of reducing West Bank settlements when he died, a follow-up to his supposedly peace-oriented move to remove the Israeli settlers from Gaza. But as Sharon’s close assistant and adviser Dov Weinglas explained to the leaders of the Settlement movement, the withdrawal of 5,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza was a strategic move aimed at undermining international pressure to remove settlers from the West Bank. But how could Sharon be sure it would play out in that way? Simple: instead of negotiating the withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority, he would insist that there was “no one to talk to” among Palestinians, and that therefore Israel would simply unilaterally withdraw, thereby assuring that Hamas, which had taken control of Gaza by eliminating the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, would then be in control of Gaza. Yes, from the standpoint of undermining international pressure on Israel to end the settlements, this was a brilliant cynical move. But it was the opposite of a move designed to bring peace. With Hamas in charge of Gaza, the rage of Palestinians would be given full expression, and then Israel could say, as it subsequently did, “see, we gave the Palestinians Gaza and all they did was to use it as a base to attack Israel.” A fuller discussion of this appears in my 2012 book Embracing Israel/Palestine. But the central point is this: Ariel Sharon was the father of the settlement movement, and his ideological and practical political moves were all about holding on to the West Bank as part of Israel. He was not a closet peacemaker, and the attempts in the media to portray him as such were nothing short of bizarre.
Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival in 2007. Credit: Creative Commons/Anthony Pepitone.
I could scarcely believe my ears when staff members at Tikkun told me that Pete Seeger had just called to ask if he could perform at the first national Tikkun conference in New York City in 1988. I had raised my son on Seeger’s music, and had myself been moved by some of his radical songs. He was already a legend, and I was already a fan when I was in high school.
Seeger understood that the kind of Judaism we espoused was rooted in the universalist and prophetic tradition that had led so many Jews to become deeply involved in the movements for peace and social justice – not the chauvinist nationalism that was becoming dominant in large sections of the organized Jewish community – and he told me that he had followed my case in the 1970s when the Nixon White House had indicted me (at that time I was a professor of philosophy at the University of Washington) for organizing anti-war demonstrations. The trial was called “The Seattle Seven,” and eventually all charges were dropped after spending some time in federal penitentiary for “contempt of court” – a charge overturned by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals court.
Seeger became a fan of Tikkun and a supporter of our activities, and his appearance at our conference was one of the highlights of the event. Even Jewish folksinger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also performed at that conference, told me he felt joy and awe at Seeger’s presence at the Tikkun conference.
Credit: Partners for a Progressive Israel
Shula Aloni was the most principled Israeli elected official I ever met, a champion of the downtrodden and a fearless fighter for the rights of Palestinians. So I was very delighted when she agreed to speak at Tikkun’s “Strengthening the Peace Forces” conference that we convened in Jerusalem in 1991 and a subsequent conference in 1994 which we convened at Columbia University. As the preeminent leader of the Ratz (later Meretz) political party, the primary electoral vehicle for the Israeli peace movement, Shula was perceived to be the spokesperson for all of us who sought peace and reconciliation with Palestinians.
Sadly, Shula had an understandable but, in my view, counterproductive religiophobia that led her to antagonize not only the ultra-orthodox, but also the “traditional” Israelis who, while rejecting the extremism of the ultra-orthodox, nevertheless felt a deep commitment to Judaism. In this she was completely aligned with the majority of people in the Israeli peace movement who shared her disdain for “the religious” and never made any attempt to articulate their peace and justice message in the language of the Jewish tradition, though that tradition had a wealth of peace and justice traditions upon which they could have drawn to show that reconciliation with the Palestinians and social justice for all the citizens of Israel were goals mandated by Judaism itself, and provided a foundation for a rigorous religious critique of the West Bank settlers and ultra-orthodox fundamentalists. Without this dimension, the Israeli Left (and the same could be said of most of the Americn Left) dug itself into an isolation far greater than the isolation it would have in any event generated simply by championing the rights of Palestinians and fighting for social justice for all Israeli citizens (For a different view of Meretz, read Ronit Matalon’s article praising Meretz). It should also be said that I have great respect for Meretz and for the moments that it has been one of the few Jewish voices in Israel with any kind of broad support that has been willing to stand up unequivocally for peace and justice.
Peter Schrank of The Economist
This week the Anti-Defamation League issued an important press release condemning a patently anti-Semitic cartoon published in the globally-renowned magazine The Economist. As you can see above, the cartoon characterizes President Obama being shackled by Congress – and the congressional seal has two Jewish Stars of David.
As ADL National Director Abe Foxman said of the cartoon:
This was nothing less than a visual representation of the age-old anti-Semitic canard of Jewish control. And it conjures up yet another classic anti-Semitic myth — the accusation that Jews have “dual loyalty” and will act only on behalf of Israel to the detriment of their own country. This is the stuff of the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” recycled for a modern-day audience with a wink and a nod to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt and Jimmy Carter.
As the media spotlight shines on U.S. negotiators talking with Iranians and Syrians, the Israeli-Palestinian talks have faded into the background. They’re still grinding on, slowly, with several contentious issues unresolved.
One of those issues doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in U.S. media. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has catapulted to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements,” the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren recently reported: “a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as … ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people.’”
The Palestinians are resisting the demand, fearing “that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens [and] undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees,” Rudoren reports. Israeli leaders respond “that the refugee question can be resolved separately and that the status of Israel’s Arab minority can be protected.”
Credit: Creative Commons
As the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen reveals in this article on the Vatican’s response to the never-ending atrocities in Syria, it’s not just the “family values” politicians who manipulatively exploit the warm sentiments that many associate with family life. It’s Roman Catholic prelates too.
But before getting to Allen’s must-read article and the too-close-for-comfort relations between the Vatican and the Assad regime, here is this opening paragraph in a New York Times report today about that regime’s so-called local “ceasefire” initiatives, which vividly describes Bashar al-Assad’s truly demonic use of food to attack his own people, be they rebel fighters or innocent civilians:
To the starving residents and rebel fighters in the bitterly contested suburbs of Damascus, the offer from the Syrian government can be tempting enough to overcome their deep mistrust: a cease-fire accompanied by the delivery of food supplies, if they agree to give up their heavy weapons and let state-run news media show the government’s flag flying over their town.
But as The Times reporter Anne Barnard chronicles in the same article, the offer of food is merely a ruse used by the Assad regime to get locals to hand over rebels:
The government rains aerial attacks on areas that refuse cease-fire offers. People in places that accept can find themselves facing new demands: to turn over wanted men, give up their light weapons and accept a military governor. Food is delivered piecemeal to retain the government’s leverage.
The government has repeatedly given permission for aid convoys to enter, then blocked them, as people continue to suffer and even die from a lack of food and medical care.
International aid workers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect aid projects, say that the government has shown little commitment to the politically neutral delivery of aid. Many contend that the government uses the truces more as a tool of surrender – starving people and luring them into one-sided deals – than as building blocks of compromise.
Now enter Pope Francis and the Vatican’s handling of the Syrian atrocities.
That New York Times story today about AIPAC’s obstruction of President Obama’s effort to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb without a war is having an impact.
The National Journal, the most elite publication covering Congress, runs a piece by its top writer Ron Fournier that begins:
This paragraph from a New York Times story on proposed new sanctions for Iran sent a chill down my spine: Behind these positions is a potent mix of political calculations in a midterm election year. Pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, have lobbied Congress to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, and many lawmakers are convinced that Tehran is bluffing in its threat to walk away from the talks. I’m ambivalent about the debate over Iran: President Obama is pursuing an agreement with Tehran to suspend its nuclear program (sounds good), while many lawmakers don’t believe Iran can’t be trusted to comply with any diplomatic accord (makes sense). But I don’t want U.S. foreign policy swayed by lobbyists and politics.”
Nobody I know is interested in talking about Israel anymore.I think that may be because virtually all my friends are essentially pro-Israel and have supported Israel their entire lives. Now their attitude is “what’s there to say?” as if Israel was a friend with an alcohol problem who, despite everyone’s best efforts, simply chooses drinking to excess over being sober. You know the alcohol is killing him but you also know that it’s his considered choice to drink. He’s weighed the risks and chosen alcohol. There isn’t anything anyone can do.So you stop talking about him, other than the occasional sigh at the mention of his name. It’s wrong, but essentially you stop actively caring.That is the way it is with Israel. Nobody wants to discuss the new conditions Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps adding in his effort to defeat not the Palestinians but Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to achieve peace. First the demand that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state.” Then allowing the fanatic settlers in Hebron to remain along with the satellite outposts populated by the violent “settler youth.” Then there is keeping troops in the Jordan Valley, along the border with Jordan, thereby ensuring that any Palestinian state in the West Bank would be as sovereign and viable as the ghetto Israel created in Gaza. The latest: Netanyahu is hard at work trying to prove that President Mahmoud Abbas, who Netanyahu himself credits with preventing terrorist attacks against Israel, is, you guessed it, an anti-semite.
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”).
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.