Will this Moment be Wasted?

Israel Protest Against Legal Reform
Lizzy Shaanan Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty-nine years ago a Jewish man, a doctor by training, walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. In the mosque, referred to by Jews for centuries as the ma’arat hamechpelah, or doubled cave, after the property that Abraham bought from Ephron to bury Sarah, this doctor and army reservist cocked his M-16 automatic rifle and shot the Muslim men and women who were praying until his gun jammed and he was battered to death. He killed 29 and wounded some sixty others. Palestinian sources claimed more than 29 were killed and more than one hundred were wounded. It was by any stretch of the imagination, a massacre.

Almost to the day of that massacre, now 29 years later, a mob of Jewish thuggish settlers came from the illegal settlement of Har Brachah to the Palestinian town of Huwara and burned houses and cars and people. This was a reprisal attack for two Jewish settlers from Har Bracha who were killed a few days before. It should be noted that residents of Har Bracha have often attacked and harassed residents of Huwara in the past. What these settlers in 2023 perpetrated was a pogrom. The army did not stop them, at least for three or four hours, yet soldiers barred Palestinian residents from getting to their homes and spouses and children. 

The Ibrahimi Mosque massacre was certainly not the first Jewish terrorist act and, unfortunately, the Huwara pogrom will probably not be the last. Abba Achimeir, part of the Jewish terrorist organization Brit Ha-Biryonim, was charged with the assassination of Chaim Arlosorov, a leading Labor Zionist, on June 16, 1933. Shlomo ben Yosef attacked an Arab bus in 1938, killing numerous civilians. He was hung by the British for his terrorism. Emil Grunzweig, a Peace Now activist was killed by a Jewish terrorist in 1983. Less than a year after the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre a religious Jewish terrorist assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. From then till now, the drumbeat of weekly and sometimes daily killings of Palestinians by settlers and by the IDF is the white noise of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. On the Israeli side, the conflict and killing rises to the level of consciousness only when it is Palestinian terrorists who kill Jews in Palestine or in Israel. 

I would love to say that it was the Huwara pogrom, in which the Jewish terrorists from the illegal settlement of Har Brachah embraced the role of Haman and other Amalekites down the ages, which brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets in protest. But it wasn’t. The mass protests in Israel, now in their ninth week, which almost totally ignore the occupation, are about the judicial revolution proposed by the Netanyahu government. Israelis rose up en masse to protest the destruction of Israeli democracy by weakening the power of the judiciary and turning the Israeli High Court into a partisan political institution. This is a serious problem, and it is heartening that there is a major response on the streets. My enthusiasm is curbed because I remember the tent protests of a decade ago about rising housing costs, and the “Cottage Cheese” protests about the rising food prices, in which almost a similar number of Israelis came out to the streets, and then nothing happened. In those protests, the occupation also went almost totally unmentioned. 

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There is, however, one interesting and perhaps hopeful development. Israeli hi-tech companies are moving their money out of Israel in large amounts. For years the Jewish and Israeli establishment has branded the BDS movement, whose cornerstone is “boycott,” as antisemitic. BDS has also been mostly been a failure. However, now Israeli companies are following that same path of boycott—though rather than not purchasing anything made in Israel, they are moving their investments and profits out of Israel. While the motivation is at least partially self-interest—it is hard to do business in an unstable country and the Israeli currency is presently in a free-fall —the justifications for it have been explicitly tied to the judicial revolution legislation. The boycott red line has been crossed. 

This week Israeli army reservists—pilots and doctors and others—have refused to show up for their reserve duty. While in the past there have been instances of sarvanut/refusal to obey an order, specifically to be drafted or to show up for reserve duty, there has never been a mass movement like this directed at the government’s policies. 

When I heard of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, I sat in my apartment on Purim and wept in anger. When I heard of Rabin’s assassination, I wrote a kinah. Over the years, teaching at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies training men and women for the Conservative Rabbinate, I have struggled with how to discuss my opposition to the occupation and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people with these future rabbis and communal leaders. It is not that my political opinions were not known, and from time to time I would publish opinion pieces in the Jewish press and weigh in on social media. However, there has always been a baseline understanding that the school is a Zionist institution which supports Israel unconditionally and that critical talk about the State is always at the margins of that support.

I have for years boycotted products that were made in the settlements. Following the example of the Israeli hi-tech companies, I think it is time to call for a select boycott of Israeli industries, perhaps especially industries that are connected with the military and surveillance sectors. In a sense, the Israeli companies have broken a kind of boycott taboo.

Following the example of the Israeli reservists, perhaps it is time to put a pause on organizing trips to Israel. These trips serve as a major propaganda tool for Israel, and often (though not entirely) right-wing political opinions. Instead of these trips to Israel, time and resources should be spent on educating American Jews about the occupation. 

Most importantly, American Jews have to understand and stress that for most Palestinians, and even Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israel was never a democracy. While there is legal apartheid in the territories, there is a de facto apartheid within the ‘48 boundaries. This is the crux of the issue. For the current protests in Israel to have long-term impact, the occupation must be front and center, in Israel and in the United States. The greatest threat to the erosion of Israeli democracy is where there presently is no Israeli democracy (for the Palestinians), in the occupied territories. 

To this end, we must train our rabbis and teachers to have this conversation with their students and congregants. In the urgency of now. Soon it will be too late.

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