by: Rebecca Vilkomerson on February 28th, 2014 | 14 Comments »
The inherent contradictions between American liberalism and support for Israeli policies are on a sudden, public, collision course. Until very recently, it was easy to identify as someone who cares for human rights and equality, while in practice avoiding forms of activism that impose any consequences for its actions on Israel. Those days may be drawing to a close.
Omar Barghouti’s recent op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, the ultimate prize in opinion piece placement, made a cogent, thorough, and, most importantly, principled argument for BDS based on the values of equality and fighting against oppression. Also taking a clear stance against anti-Semitism, his piece was a clarion call for support to the prototypical liberal readers of the New York Times. And, in fact the letters to the editor printed in response to his piece were overwhelmingly positive.
During the same period, two BDS-related campaigns were making headlines around the world. When Scarlett Johansson became the spokesperson for SodaStream, a company with its main factory in an Israeli settlement, the worldwide pressure resulted in her being forced to choose between being a spokesperson for Oxfam, a human rights organization, and her SodaStream gig. It seems that no one, not even A-list celebrities, can be considered humanitarians or human rights advocates any longer if they have anything at all to do with the settlements, which, of course, are illegal under international law.
This will be a short one as I only choose to make one point. I make it as someone who absolutely supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) as applied to the West Bank. Even if I deeply desired a seltzer machine, I would not buy the one manufactured in occupied territory.
However, I do not support boycotting Israel itself because, although I have no problem at all about applying collective economic punishment on settlers and the loathsome settlement enterprise, I do not feel that way about Israelis in general. I am not anti-Zionist. I am, for lack of a better term, a liberal Zionist. I want the Jewish state to survive and prosper which is impossible so long as it maintains its colonial and oppressive regime in the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza.
But all that is beside the one point I need to make today.
by: Mary Grey on February 14th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.
I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.
A person angry at Israel, now angry at Starbucks too. Credit: Creative Commons
Back in 1995, while studying abroad in Jerusalem, an American Jewish friend and myself were invited by a Palestinian friend to go to a pop music concert at Bethlehem University in its outdoor arena. The female Arab singer was fabulously talented and charismatic, and of course she sang all the songs in Arabic. At one point, she led a song with her fist high in the air, repeating a rhythmic chant, with the impassioned audience repeating the chant, fists high in the air. Again, all in Arabic. Because it was so rhythmic, my Jewish friend and I joined in. When there was a break in the music, I turned to a Palestinian next to me who spoke English and said to him, “That was really great! Oh, and by the way, what were we chanting that whole time?”
He said, “Kick the Jews out!” Of course, that meant all of the land, not only the 67′ lines.
Memories of that Bethlehem episode came flooding back after reading Omar Barghouti’s op-ed in The New York Times today titled, “Why Israel Fears the Boycott.” It seems that at least some of those who reject Israel as a Jewish state for the Jewish people – a people who have endured milennia of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust – have finally seen the limited public relations range of fist-pumping exhortations of ethnic cleansing, and have instead gone all Madison Avenue on us. In fact, tobacco companies still holding out hope that they can get 5th graders addicted to cigarettes through all manner of subliminal messaging ought to read Barghouti’s op-ed. They could use some new pointers.
(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.