Below are two perspectives both of which deserve to be taken seriously even though they differ in tone and direction. Tikkun has always supported open debate and disagreement among those committed to healing and transforming the world. Or as the Jewish tradition said, when rabbis Hillel and Shamai appealed to the heavenly God to resolve which position was most in accord with the divine will, the voice from heaven responded “this one AND this one are both the words of the living God.”
Zionism has Become an Existential Threat—to Jews
by Mark LeVine
With each new death in Gaza the Israeli government is not only sealing the judgement of history as to the irredeemably racist and violent core of Zionist nationalism, it is also flashing a giant red light at Jews everywhere, warning us that the movement started ostensibly to protect and normalize Jewish existence has become an existential threat—to Jews.
What else can one reasonably conclude when a new American embassy is opened to great fanfare in Jerusalem, its inauguration “blessed” by two pastors who openly call for the eternal damnation of the Jews as Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders beam with pride and sip champagne, while sixty miles away young Jews, in the name of their religion, massacre dozens of unarmed Palestinian women, men, children, elderly and young with utter inhumanity and impunity.
The increasingly fascistic Jewish nationalism of the State of Israel and its supporters in the organized Jewish communities of the Diaspora is widening a split within world Jewry, one that won’t be reconciled through dialog and understanding precisely because the choice is so stark and grounds for compromise non-existent. Globally there is a Jewish population of some 15 million souls. Well over half of them (about a third of American Jews, most Israeli Jews and the large majority of other Diaspora Jews) more or less enthusiastically support an unending and brutal colonial Occupation and Apartheid regime, an illegal and unconscionable dispossession of the colonized population of its lands and resources, the unremitting if spasmodic ethnic cleansing of the land, the increasingly genocidal rhetoric of the political leadership, and the insidious transformation of Jewish history, culture and faith these policies both demand and inevitably produce.
Those opposed to these policies, comprising a small percentage of Israeli Jews, a somewhat larger percentage of the global Diaspora, and the (sadly still too silent) majority of American Jews, have little power and even less room for manoeuvre, as they are squeezed between a rising tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism in their home countries and a Judaism in practice that is completely alien to the humanistic values of justice, mercy and equality which they always assumed represented the core of their identity.
We are quickly facing a moment of rupture potentially as great as that which split Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad or Christianity after Luther’s challenge to the Church. But with well over 1 billion adherents each, Christianity and Islam are simply too big to fail, even if they have literally split over core issues of theology and power. With comparative so few adherents Judaism is in a much more precarious position and cannot easily survive the kind of split that fundamentally divided the other Abrahamic faiths into competing and often warring factions. Quite simply, when the Prime Minister of Israel and the Jewish children of the President of the United States openly cavort with Christians preaching eternal hellfire for Jews and Muslim monarchs who’ve spent untold billions to spread the most viciously anti-Semitic ideology since Nazism then the Jewish people are in mortal danger indeed.
To be sure, many might celebrate the performance at the Embassy as the ultimate act of realpolitik, with each side winking to its own faithful as they clang their champagne glasses in celebration of their mutual power and interests. But as the crematoria remind us, hell fire doesn’t need the End of Days to descend upon us. (In fact, American evangelicals are literally giddy with the prospect that the violence in Gaza heralds the Apocalypse.)
Undaunted by the hatred of their most ardent Christian supporters, the fascist axis that has hijacked Judaism sees little reason to compromise or reconcile with their fellow Jews, never mind Palestinians. They are too drunk with power even to acknowledge the opposition, other than to attempt to crush it. Netanyahu, Kushner, Adelson & Co. firmly believe that they are the tail wagging the American dog, as American professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt famously claimed, who can bend America to Israel’s will and ensure US support for even the most atrocious policies and wars.
But these claims have always betrayed a confusion of cause and effect. Make no mistake, Israel is the tail wagging to the American war dog’s rhythm, for whom the Jewish state’s worth and function have ultimately been as a conduit for untold billions in profit from arms deals, wars, high oil prices, a hyper militarized global order and the “shared values” that protect and expand them all. In fact, Israel is more like a salamander’s tail than a dog’s; it can be sloughed off the moment it stops being useful, has fulfilled its purpose, or gets the US caught in a particularly unpleasant or dangerous situation. When that happens the Jew-hatred will return unfettered, and those with whom the Netanyahus and Kushners supped while Gaza bled and burned will turn their knives towards us.
In retrospect, it is still shocking how liberal and progressive Jews have for so long enabled such intense racism, oppression and violence in their name with so little resistance. How easily and tenaciously they’ve clung to the notion that underneath all the harm wrought by Zionism something remained that could be redeemed; that the idea of a democratic and Jewish state was still possible if only Palestinians could make the hard compromises necessary to allow the Occupation to end. So strongly has this lie been been accepted by generations of Israeli and Diaspora Jews that despite massive human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by Israel, by Jews against Palestinians, Lebanese, and the citizens of dozens of dictatorships and war-torn countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia whose murderous rulers have routinely counted on Israeli aid and counsel, Jews have held fast to the Jewish state as if its purity and innocence remained untouched, all that blood simply running off, disappearing and forgotten, into the earth.
Of course, this belief was never anything but a willfully ignorant fantasy, as could be easily seen by anyone, Jew as well as gentile, who cared to look. The internal logic and goals of Zionism, as an openly, self-described settler colonial movement, were and remain based on the conquest of territory and the removal of as many of the indigenous population as possible in order to ensure permanent Jewish sovereignty over it. Everything else has been little more window-dressing at best, smoke and mirrors at worst.
Yes, Zionism has been and could always be many other things as well—hi-tech start-ups, medical miracles, avant-garde dance troupes, biblical scenery, Oriental heavy metal, to name just a few—just as the United States, Australia or any of the other European settler colonial states that emerged in the last two centuries could be and have been many other things besides ruthless colonial enterprises. But they couldn’t be those things without ethnic cleansing and genocide, the sine qua non for their creation, expansion and continued existence. America’s own “manifest destiny” and “exceptionalism” tell us as much, without apology. The ongoing Nakba is Israel’s manifest destiny.
It is also true that there has always been a surface tension within Zionism about the two faces of Jewish nationalism. The historically dominant Socialist Zionist movement did everything possible to mask the urge to conquest within a civilizing mission that successfully portrayed the inevitable conflict as the result of the ignorance and intransigence of the natives and the perfidy and hatred of their leaders for a people who only wanted to make the desert bloom and bring modernity to a benighted land. Revisionist leaders, starting with the movements’ founder, Ze’v Jabotinisky, at least had the decency to be honest, declaring in 1937 that “apart from those who have been virtually ‘blind’ since childhood, all the other moderate Zionists have long since understood that there is not even the slightest hope of ever obtaining the agreement of the Arabs of the Land of Israel to ‘Palestine’ becoming a country with a Jewish majority… The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.”
And so when Golda Meir infamously claimed there was no such thing as a Palestinian people, she wasn’t just denying their peoplehood, she was denying their humanity, making any sort of violence necessary to secure Zionist goals legitimate. Indeed, from the pre-1948 era and particularly after Zionist leaders understood that the surest path to victory was to dehumanize Palestinians through violence to the point where the only response they could produce was a far more feeble, but in fact quite useful, attempt at dehumanization in return, with whatever violence they could deploy merely serving to justify even more violence (and more to the point, more settlements) by Israel.
Similarly, when Ehud Barak declared that if he were Palestinian he would join Hamas, he was not admitting to a sin but rather letting us in on a strategy. He understood as well as anyone that the way to continue to hold the world’s grudging sympathy or at least indulgence was to push Palestinians past the point of any possibility of peaceful resistance so that they turn to the exact kind of dehumanizing violence that would trigger Israel’s (self-righteous) “purity of arms” in response. So well has this discourse worked that even as Palestinians have always, and today continue, to engage in innumerable and creative acts of non-violent resistance, the continue to be jailed, tortured and murdered on an almost daily basis without comment or concern by the majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jews, never mind Israel’s “allies” and defenders around the world.
What the present moment reminds us is that true liberal or progressive values simply can’t coexist with racially, religiously and/or ethnically grounded nationalisms. They are two very different epistemological and even ontological systems; when they interact, it is the latter which almost always triumphs, as Trump’s path of destruction of whatever remains of the liberal American state attests. Similarly, Zionism’s myriad sins are not accidental; nor are they mistakes or excesses of a basically (or at least originally) moral enterprise. Rather, they are original to the movement, coded into its baseline programming from the start—the same “conquest of land” and “conquest of labor” that guided Zionist policies in 1909 produced the Nakba in 1948, the Occupation in 1967, and the rise of Greater, fascist Israel in the last generation.
Other than quite literally selling all their land and embracing Zionism as a savior—as Herzl imagined would happen in his novel 1902 novel Altneuland (Tel Aviv)–there was nothing Palestinians could do, a century ago or today, to prevent this history from unfolding. Indeed, if Americans, with our vast territory, wealth and security still cannot own up to the costs and continuing toll of African slavery and native American genocide, how can we ever imagine a small country like Israel, still engaged in an all-out struggle to secure and control the territory it claims for itself, will ever be able to do so?
The situation today presents a very troubling question: What are Progressive Jews, those who still put the core Prophetic ideals of our religious and cultural heritage, and our shared humanity with Palestinians and the broader non-Jewish world, ahead of the idolatrous worship of territory and brute power represented by Zionism and Israel, supposed to do? Who can we look to for support if our leaders and institutions have largely sold their souls? As attested by the near miraculous expansion of anti-Zionist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now and other movements who have built upon the moral witness and foundation of the Prophetic voices such as Tikkun and other Jewish Renewal groups, the Jewish community itself seems finally to be choosing sides—or rather, progressive Jews are in increasing numbers choosing to make a decisive break with Zionism as it presently exists and could conceivably exist in the foreseeable future.
Whether in Occupied Palestine or the US, Jews, especially the younger generation, are standing in radical solidarity with Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, African Americans, and other oppressed communities, as it becomes clear that Zionism and Israeli policies are not just untenable on their own terms, but are inseparable from a much broader set of pathologies at the heart of the world system—whether its Saudi Arabia’s murderous rampage in Yemen, Assad’s genocide against his own people, Trump’s white nationalist renaissance, or dozens of other violent, autocratic, racist and hyper exploitative regimes across the globe.
The power of this solidarity has the potential to offer an unprecedented challenge to the Zionist hegemony within the American and perhaps even Diaspora Jewish communities. That’s precisely why, from the fields of the West Bank to American college campuses, the Israeli state and organized Jewish community leadership have declared an all-out war against any kind of solidarity activism, from BDS to joint actions against land expropriations, illegal detention, and once again, mass slaughter. It’s also why Israel’s greatest admirers today can be found among the likes of white nationalists and Arab wahhabis.
The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, facing odds at least as overwhelming as those faced by anti-Zionist Jews as he struggled against a still young Italy’s movement towards fascism, railed against what he termed the indifference that allows chauvinistic ideologies to take root and spread. “Odio gli indifferenti”–“I hate the indifferent”–he declared, explaining that “I believe to live means to be a partisan” for one side or another. He would ultimately pay for his choice with his life; his martyrdom, like those of Palestinians at the Gaza border fence, remind us that ultimately, we are all making a choice, whether its indifference or complicity, oppression or resistance.
The cries of Gaza’s Palestinians remind liberal and progressive Jews that for too long the choice has been made for them by a leadership in Israel and the Diaspora that has more often than not acted in a manner that is the antithesis of the Prophetic Jewish values that have always been at the forefront of struggles for liberation, humanity and dignity. Zionism has now entered a terminal phase, and it is threatening to take us all down with it if we don’t take a stand. As Rabbi Hillel asked two millennia ago, “If not now, when?”
Mark LeVine, Tikkun’s longest serving Editorial Board member, teaches history at UC Irvine and is a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University and, most recently, at the University of Bologna’s Institute for Advanced Studies. He’s currently working on a collaboratively written history of the Occupation with several dozen leading Palestinian, Israeli and international scholars.
Mourning for Gaza, Israel, and Palestine
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
On May 14, 2018 Israel raised the number of Gazan mostly unarmed civilians it had killed to close to 100, and the number wounded to several thousand. Its actions will go down in Jewish history as the height of the Netanyahu government’s ethical blindness and arrogance. All people of conscience should make May 14th an annual day of mourning for the Gazans and for the fate of all Palestinians living under occupation (whether in the form of military occupation in the West Bank or in the form of blockade and cutting off of electricity, food and medical supplies, and much more).
The excuses given by Israeli hasbara (explanation/propaganda) are pathetic:
1. “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Of course it does. But it does not have the right to occupy another people for 50 years and subject them to deprivation of freedom and self-determination. Moreover, there is no threat to Israel from the Palestinian people–Israel has one of the most powerful military forces in the entire world, and the Palestinians do not have an air force, a navy, tanks, or anything else that could over-run Israel.
2. “The army (IDF) was endangered by a few of the demonstrators who were armed with Molotov cocktails and were creating a smokescreen by burning tires” The IDF could have withdrawn a few hundred feet and would not have faced any danger. They were not facing missiles, but only what a few individuals could throw in their direction.
3. “The Gazans were intent on cutting through the border fence and would have then been a terrorist threat.” If Israel had warned Gazans that anyone crossing into Israel would have been shot, that would have prevented most of the deaths and injuries. Most of the Gazans were at the fence to demonstrate their desire to return to their homes taken by Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 war. It was not their intent to do that immediately. Most of those who would have crossed over the border would have been apprehended and imprisoned. The Israeli Army has a huge number of fighters at any given time and they could easily have stopped anyone crossing the border without shooting indiscriminately into crowds of thousands of almost all unarmed civilians, injuring and killing journalists, medics, women, and children.
In short, there was no security (bitachon) reason for the slaughter of innocent people.
There were provocative statements made by Hamas and by some of those at the demonstrations. We in the U.S. peace movement know about this. We’ve been at demonstrations in which some people call for the overthrow of the government or engage in acts of violence against people or property. It was these elements that made it possible for right-wing media to portray the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations several years ago as a group of violence-prone extremists and allowed police to disrupt the tent camps that demonstrators had set up. We would not accept killing and wounding random demonstrators as a legitimate response in these situations in the U.S. and they were not legitimate on the Gaza border either.
This is not to say that Israelis have no reason to be angry at Hamas and its followers. Hamas continues to insist that it wants to eliminate the State of Israel. In so doing, it provides a perfect partner to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli ultra-right-wing, providing the ostensible reason for why ordinary citizens should be afraid. And over the past decades individual terrorists have killed some Israelis and Hamas managed to send missiles toward Israel in the summer of 2014, though happily most of them were destroyed before landing. Yet the Israeli people spent hours each day in bomb shelters, and that intensified their fears in a very concrete way. Just imagine if North Korea or Cuba had been able to do the same to the U.S. and tens of millions of Americans had spent hours each day for two months in air raid shelters–can you imagine what a boost that would have given to the militarists in any Western country the way 9/11 also did.
I do not raise this point to legitimate the Israeli army violence that is taking place on the border with Gaza. It is, let me repeat, ethically outrageous. There is no moral equivalency between the struggle of Palestinians for their own liberation and the policies of Israel to prevent that liberation. Israel has the power to create a solution that ensures its security and has the economic, political, and military power to do so. The Palestinians have no such power; what they do have is the growing support of people around the world, including many younger Jews in the West who genuinely care about the suffering of all people who have not yet achieved liberation, economic well-being, and security. In their arrogance, the Israeli and U.S. governments think that this moment of power will last forever, it will not. And sadly, both the American people and the Jewish people will pay dearly in the future for the immoral behavior of their governments and their silent complicity.
Our approach at Tikkun, however, is to ask not how do we throw blame but how do we contribute to the possibility of a transformation in consciousness. And our answer is this: we need to help people on both sides of that struggle recognize that each side has been unnecessarily provocative and each side has a legitimate story to tell. It does no good to only talk about the evils of one side or the other or to portray one side as the righteous victim and the other as the evil incarnate. To do so is only to guarantee more suffering on both sides of this struggle.
In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (available at www.tikkun.org/eip) I tell the whole story from the beginning till 2012. I recognize every particular outrage in the context of a larger struggle that has been going on for the past hundred years, a struggle in which each side has taken actions that are ethically unacceptable and each side has legitimate reasons to be scared of each other. You might ask “How can the Israelis be scared of Palestinians when they are so much more powerful?” Well, do you doubt that many Americans were scared and many remain scared of “terrorists” after 9/11, even though the U.S. was and remains the greatest military power in the world, and with no country on our border supporting terrorism? That fear has been magnified by a discourse that comes from both Republicans and Democrats, and led Hillary Clinton to advocate not only for the destructive war against Libya in 2011 but also for being “tough” against Russia. Now imagine that you lived in a state that was a few miles away from where ISIS and Hezbollah and other groups were active, and where Iran was placing missiles that could easily reach your own home. That context makes it easier to understand how right-wing-militarists in Israel could convince people that they were in constant danger, and that part of that danger, given the experience of the summer of 2014, was coming from Gaza.
“But wait,” you might say, “the Gazans are protesting the Nakba, and that was the atrocity that created the State of Israel.” So the first point I want to make is that the Nakba was another ethically outrageous result of the 1948 war, and we at Tikkunwere the first US publication to expose the lies of the Zionist establishment that claimed that Palestinians had fled because their leaders told them to do so. We printed the accounts of the “New Historians” in Israel who had access to the IDF’s archives and who were able to show that many Palestinians fled because of legitimate fear of Israeli right wing terrorist groups that were seeking to spread fear. At least 100,000 of the refugees were forcibly removed from their homes and forced to move to what is now the West Bank and Gaza, and many others fled in fear that the same would happen to them. There was no legitimacy for these deportations. Moreover, when a cease fire was achieved in 1949, the Israeli government refused to let these civilian refugees return to their homes, a position similar to what India was doing with Muslim refugees, thereby creating the Muslim state of Pakistan.
This situation, however, was the outcome of the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership refusing to accept the U.N. proposal of 1947 which would have divided the area into a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state. Had the Palestinians accepted that proposal, which Israel did accept, there would today be a Palestinian state encompassing much more of the “Holy Land” than even the most optimistic of peaceniks now believes a two-state solution in the 21st century would give to the Palestinian state. This was a tragic decision on the part of the Palestinian leadership and their Arab neighboring states which would have averted a war.
Yet how could the Jewish Israelis, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust, allowed this unjust outcome? So now go back to the decade previous to this moment, when fascism was spreading through not only Europe but also through parts of the Muslim world, and Jews were desperate to escape. The Arab states and the Palestinian leaders sought to prevent Jewish refugees from coming to Palestine, fearing that the Zionists wanted to create a Jewish state in some part of Palestine. The British, who had been given the “mandate” over Palestine by the League of Nations, needed Arab oil to be able to fight the war against the Nazis which began in 1939, and so agreed to enforce the will of the Palestinians to prevent Jews from coming to Palestine. This was not aimed at allrefugees, but only at Jewish refugees. And even after the Nazis were defeated in 1945, and the Holocaust was known to the world, the Palestinians, aided by the British, kept up their demand to keep Jewish refugees from coming. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were kept in “displaced persons camps” in Europe until on May 14, 1948 the British left and Palestinian Jews proclaimed themselves the “State of Israel,” allowing Jews to come there. Many of those who came felt deep anger at the Palestinians who had refused them entry while their families were being murdered. Palestine was the nearest country to Europe with a substantial Jewish minority that was not under Nazi rule. For the Jews in displaced persons camps, the Palestinian people’s refusal to allow them to come to Palestine was evidence that they hated Jews, who were a minority group.
Leftists have usually taken up the call for open borders everywhere, or at least for non-discrimination against refugees seeking asylum. Yet they do not ever recognize that a significant section of the Jews who created the State of Israel in 1948 were refugees for whom Palestinians had denied asylum. Many Jews in Israel and around the world joined with many of these refugees in deeply resenting the ethically unacceptable desire to keep Jewish refugees out. Just as Palestinians kept Jews out, when Jews had the power after the 1948 war, they were not willing to let the Palestinian refugees come back. I find their actions ethically unacceptable. At the same time, I understand the fear that arises when people imagine refugees taking over their land (this applies both to Palestinians before 1948 and Jews after 1948). Yet Leftists who are outraged at the way the U.S. and many European states are currently treating refugees fail to see and understand the significance of this historical truth – namely that Palestinians and other Arab states did all they could to prevent Jewish refugees from coming to Palestine. This was an outcome of a long history of Left-wing anti-Semitism that I analyze more fully in my book The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left. But you don’t have to read the book to get the gist—go to read the article by anti-Israel-Occupation “If Not Now” activist Benjamin Case on “Decolonizing Jewishness” in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of Tikkun(which you can now read online at https://www.tikkun.org/newsite/decolonizing-jewishness-on-jewish-liberation-in-the-21st-century). You will see there what I mean by Left-wing anti-Semitism (and no, it’s not being a critic of Israeli policies, which we at Tikkunhave been for the past 32 years).
“Still,” you might object, “wasn’t Zionism, the desire of the Jewish people to establish a homeland in Palestine, always simply a colonial project to aid European colonial ambitions against the indigenous people of the land, the Palestinians?” That question could only arise out of a lack of a full understanding of the history of the region. First of all, there are no indigenous people in the Middle East and certainly not in the land that the Roman conquerors named Palestine. All of those countries in the ancient world experienced one group or another conquering and settling those lands, moving populations, exterminating those who had previously conquered the lands, for thousands of years. By the time the Greeks and then the Romans conquered Judea two thousand plus years ago, there was a strong Jewish religious population in Palestine and when they were exiled from that land they made return to Zion (the hill on which their Temple had been constructed) a central part of their religion. When religiously practicing Jews hear lefties talking about the return of Jews to the land of Israel as a colonial project they shake their heads in disbelief at the lack of understanding that claim represents, because for two thousand years they have been uttering prayers for a return to Zion before there even were any European countries like England, France, Germany, or Russia. If in the last 19th and early 20th centuries that yearning became a political movement and sought support from European powers to accomplish that goal, they were no different from Arab states including Palestinian nationalists who similarly sought to win support for their efforts from colonial states and until the 1947 UN resolution calling for a two state solution, these Palestinians and Arab states had been relatively successful in getting colonial support as well (in part because the colonial states made conflicting promises to the Arab nationalists and the Jewish nationalists, as they did all around the world, dividing the populations they sought to dominate in order to conquer the lands).
So am I saying that “Jews had a right to the land of Israel?” No, I don’t think anyone has a right to any land in the world. Instead, I believe that all of humanity has an obligation to share the earth which other and to do so in ways that protect the fragile life support system of Earth. The ongoing military struggles between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, like the ongoing struggles among Arab peoples in Syria and Iraq, or between Shia in Iran and Sunni in Saudi Arabia, or between the U.S. and other forces in dozens of countries around the world—all of these are destructive to the possibility of saving the Earth’s life support system and all result in unnecessary human suffering and death, and hence are deeply unethical and ought to be stopped immediately.
How can that happen? In my view, it can only happen when all of the people of the earth overcome their nationalist demands to control some part of the earth, and move toward a consciousness of sharing the earth in a generous way. We at Tikkunand the Network of Spiritual Progressives have put forward two proposals that are first steps in this direction: the Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp and the proposed ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution www.tikkun.org/esra which could be a model for many other countries.
To get to such a world, we cannot continue to side with one side or another in their endless struggles. Instead, we need to develop a compassionate attitude toward all peoples, and understand why they feel angry and threatened by others, no matter how irrational those fears appear to be from our perspective. It is only when we can approach all sides of these struggles with an attitude of what Cat Zavis, executive director of Tikkun’s interfaith and secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, calls Prophetic Empathy can we hope to get people to move in this direction.
The prophetic part of Prophetic Empathy is the part that calls out those who are tolerating violence, injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or anti-Semitism and insists that those behaviors must stop. The empathy part is that we combine our calling out of what is wrong with an empathic understanding of how people got to where they are now in their consciousness, so that we can convey the kind of respect that is the precondition for anyone even beginning to listen to the rest of our political ideas about how to achieve a different kind of world.
So to return to Israel and Palestine today, we must challenge the immoral behavior of the State of Israel toward the Palestinians and seek to mobilize against that behavior. Simultaneously, we need to project an understanding of the dynamics that have led all the different actors in this struggle to come to where they have come to, rather than appear to only care for one side or another.
This struggle is a manifestation of the inner struggle that goes on in almost every human being between the idea that we can best achieve our needs by dominating others (whether that be the Israeli desire to make all of Palestine a subordinate part of Israel or the Hamas desire to make all of Palestine including what is today Israel an Islamic state under the rule of Hamas with a compliant Jewish minority) or the voice that tells us that human beings have the potential to respond to generosity with a generous and caring spirit if they can believe that generosity would not be taken advantage of by others. It is my contention that this struggle is worldwide and our task as tikkunistas (those who seek to heal and transform the world) is to strengthen the voice of generosity.
Speaking now as a rabbi committed to the well-being of the Jewish people, I insist that our well-being can only be accomplished when every other religion and every other people, every other ethnic group, on the planet have also secured their well-being. There is no longer in the 21st century a path to security and justice for one people that does not also involve a path to security and justice for all peoples. My religion teaches me that this is the direction not only because it is in our self-interest as human beings, but because at a deeper level the truth is that every human being is a manifestation of the sacred and deserves to be treated as such. But if you don’t like language about the sacred, and most Israelis don’t because they hate anything smelling of religion because of the way the ultra-orthodox in Israel have forced religion down their throats, then accept the self-interest argument for a prophetic empathy approach to all struggles.
I deeply mourn and am outraged by the loss of lives and injuries of Gazans caused by Israeli soldiers and the ongoing blockade that makes life in Gaza untolerable and unlivable. And I believe that the path to peace and security for Palestinians and Jews alike rests in our righteous call for Israel to abandon its “domination over others” perspective and realize that it is only with a policy of generosity toward Palestinians, not murdering them, that can provide a path to lasting peace and justice for themselves. As a Jew I also mourn for Israel and for Judaism that has become associated with a nation state and hope to see a Jewish liberation movement develop that will make clear, as we’ve been doing in Tikkunfor the past 32 years, that Judaism must be divorced from the policies of the traumatized people who have allowed the State of Israel to become a manifestation of values that are antithetical to what Judaism has been for the past several thousand years. I call upon friends of the Jewish people in every religion and every national or ethnic group to join with Tikkunin challenging Israeli policies that simultaneously rejects shame and blame and embrace an empathic discourse as we critique these horrendous policies. Yes, it is a difficult path to follow. But if we ever hope to change the world, it is the path that is most likely in the long run to help us build the world we want and need. And in the meantime, we should also hope that both the Hamas regime will be overturned by the people of Gaza and that the Netanyahu and far right regime in Israel will be overturned by the people of Israel, so that a new regime in Israel and Palestine can negotiate a lasting and just, and humanly and environmentally sensitive and caring peace for all of the inhabitants of the region.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-without-walls based in Berkeley, California.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Wikimedia.