Will liberal Jews take responsibility for their role in American policy and the suffering of the Palestinian people?

The following is a Yom Kippur sermon on American Jews and Israel that I gave at Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca New York.

I want to start my sermon with a kavvanah (spiritual intention) of two quotes, one from the Psalms and the other from Arundhati Roy a contemporary Indian writer.

First, Arundhati Roy: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There is no innocence.  Either way you are accountable.”

The Psalms:

L’maan achai v’reyai adaberah na shalom bach.
L’maan beyt Adonai eloheynu avaksha tov lach.

For the sake of my brothers, my sisters and friends
I will speak of peace.
For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may I seek  goodness and blessing for all.

Ir Amim

During our stay in Israel this year, we took two tours with Ir Amim (City of Nations), a non-profit Israeli organization that educates the public about the reality in Jerusalem.  The first tour was in English and included many people from around the world; the second was in Hebrew and we were the only foreigners.

On both trips, we saw with our own eyes the huge Jewish neighborhoods that have been built since 1967 that encircle East/Arab Jerusalem: from Pisgat Ze’ev in the North to Gilo and Har Homa in the South.  We saw bypass roads for Jews and a special underground road for Palestinians.  We saw the huge Separation Wall.  Most shocking, we saw armed Jewish enclaves in the middle of  Palestinian neighborhoods such as the Ras El Amud, Sheikh Jarrah, Mt. Olives, Jabal Mukabber and others.  These settlers receive full support from the Israeli government.  We drove by the expanding settlement created in Ras El Amud that is sponsored by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jewish millionaire.  The tours were educational, enlightening — and devastating.

After seeing the reality on the ground, the Israelis on the second tour were all very disheartened; a sense of hopelessness and despair was palpable in the bus.  One man was particularly distressed.  “What is the solution?” he demanded of our tour guide. Our guide, who had retired after serving many years as a police officer in Jerusalem, insisted that his task was to show us the reality on the ground, not to suggest a solution.  Agitated, the man  turned to his fellow passengers with the same question.  “What do you  think? What is the solution?”  What emerged was amazing.  They all agreed that the only hope was intervention by the United States and the international community.  To our astonishment, this group of Israelis all agreed that the only possibility for a resolution was if America put pressure on Israel to relinquish the settlements and to make a peace agreement based on territorial compromise.

For us, as American Jews, it was an enlightening moment.  We were close to the end of our stay in Jerusalem and the new American Administration had made the most serious effort yet to do just that, to insist that Israel end all settlement activity. Yet, in response to outrage and massive pressure from the America Jewish community and the Israel lobby, the  Administration had backtracked and agreed to a temporary partial freeze on settlements that will end in eight days’ time.

Biden’s visit

In March, Israel welcomed Vice President Biden’s visit with the announcement of new construction in one of the very settlements we had seen on our trip.  “Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital,” Prime Minister Netanyahu told the cheering crowd at the AIPAC conference, forgetting to point out that close to 40% of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinian and that, while vast new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem had been built encircling Arab/East Jerusalem, not one new Palestinian neighborhood had been built and Palestinians are routinely are denied new building permits.

Many of us were so hopeful to see the new Administration push for a complete freeze on settlement activity, the most basic change needed for any serious negotiation.  When the administration backtracked again, it illuminated just how powerful an influence the American Jewish community – our community – has on U.S. policy on Israel.  It is our relationship to Israel as American Jews that I want to explore today.

Peter Beinart

In June, Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic, a magazine with a centrist to right wing perspective on Israel, wrote an article entitled, “The Failure of the Jewish Establishment” in the New York Review of Books that stirred controversy and an important ongoing debate in the Jewish world.

Beinart argued that  “for several decades the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

Beinart pointed out  that the mainstream Jewish organizations base their argument for American support for Israel on the idea that Israel is a democracy that shares American values. Then the Jewish establishment ignores or downplays the disturbing long-term anti-democratic trends in Israeli society and silences those in America who speak about them.

Beinart pointed to many indications of this anti-democratic trend in Israeli society. Among them:

* The most extreme right wing government in Israel’s history

* An intolerant settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the army

* An ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, and a large Russian immigrant community (Both these communities are particularly prone to anti-Arab racism.)

* A poll that shows that  56% of Jewish Israeli high school students and more than 80% of religious high school students would deny Israeli Arabs (i.e. Palestinian citizens of Israel) the right to be elected to the Knesset

* Another poll that indicates that  53% of Israeli Jews, and 77% of those from the former Soviet Union, support encouraging Israeli Arabs to leave the country.

* A  coordinated public attack led by members of the ruling coalition against Israeli human rights organizations as traitors to Israel

* A shocking insensitivity to Palestinian suffering

The very week last month that Beinart spoke at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Israeli bulldozers had just demolished the houses of the villagers in El Farsiya in the Jordan Valley.

This demolition was the second time that Israel had carried out a demolition in this village.  Beinart pointed out that American Jewish leadership would never mention this incident.

Israel has four times destroyed a Bedouin village of El Arakib.  The initial demolition was carried out by a force of hundreds of police officers and soldiers. Just this week, immediately after Rosh Hashana, Israel demolished this village for a fifth time.  Once the villagers are moved from their village, the Jewish National  Fund will plant a forest on the location. Several other Jewish National Fund parks have been built on the ruins of former Palestinian villages in Israel once their inhabitants were expelled.

Beinart pointed out that American Jewish leaders would never address the issue of what happened in El Farsiya or El Arakib and many other villages as a challenge to Israeli democracy.  Worse, they may defend the actions.

Stifling Debate

Leaders of our community go further.  They stifle open debate on any anti-democratic actions by Israel – like  these demolitions — by calling those who raise these issues in America and in Israel “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.” even though this means calling thousands of American Jews and thousands of Israelis “anti-Semitic.”   They have also launched a concerted public attack on the most respected international human rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, labeling them also anti-Israel.  Beinart argues that this uncritical support for Israel and the stifling of open debate  has led to the distancing of young liberal American Jews from Zionism and Israel.  “Fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists, few and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal,” he wrote.

Beinart, who is father of two young children and a devoted member of an Orthodox synagogue, focuses on alienation of young liberal Jews from Israel and Zionism.

He is talking about our children and grandchildren and he is talking about us.   Increasingly we, liberal American Jews find ourselves in an agonizing conflict between our loyalty to the Jewish people, our wish to support Israel, and our concern and/or our opposition to the disturbing trends in Israeli society and the policies and  actions of the Israeli government. Liberal Jews are increasingly troubled about Israeli policies and actions.  It is painful, sometimes even unbearable, for us to listen to the stories like the demolition of the two Palestinian villages that I described.   It is very painful for me to talk about them.

The conflict for us is between core values   We believe in human rights, in open debate, in democracy.   They are the very values we hold dear in relation to our own country and every other country in the world.  We criticize our own country’s profound racism, prejudice, inequality, and militarism.  And, we are proud of the role many American Jews played in the civil rights struggle, in the peace movement, as advocates for justice on many issues.

For us, the very core of Judaism is:

pursuit of justice (Justice, justice shall you pursue!),

equal human rights for all (God created Adam/human beings in God’s image)

and the pursuit of peace (Seek Peace and Pursue It!)

How can we uphold these core values of our faith in our own country and everywhere else in the world,  but not in Israel?  How can we turn our eyes and not face the painful reality of the oppression of Palestinians in Israel?  How can we be appropriately vocal about Sudan, China, Burma, Zimbabwe, but silent about Israel? Aren’t we responsible first to deal with injustice for which we are directly responsible?

How do we respond to Israeli attitudes, policies and actions that violate what we believe to be the core tenets of our faith?  Israel claims to act in the name of the entire Jewish people. Is it acting in our name when it demolishes Palestinian villages?  Many of us have enormous grief about what has become of Israel.  If we speak about this publicly. will we be called anti-Semitic by fellow Jews?  And we feel an inner tug of disloyalty to our people when we criticize.

Delegitimization

Many liberal Jews – and many rabbis — have been cowed into silence by overwhelming pressure from mainstream Jewish leaders.   Over the past year in addition to calling critics “self hating,” or “Israel-bashing,”  the Jewish establishment has come up with a new term “delegitimation” or “delegitmization”, to silence this criticism .

Just before Rosh Hashana, I saw a glossy brochure for a conference on “War by other means: The Global Campaign to Delegitimize Israel.”  The conference will be held at Boston University in October, sponsored by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting.

While there are people and groups in the world who want to delegitimize and destroy Israel, CAMERA and other conservative groups use the term “delegitmization”  to cover a broad spectrum of critics of Israeli policy. Rather than focus on global and Jewish concern about Israeli policy that has led to a rise of anti-Semitism in several countries–  including our own — the leaders of Israel and of the American Jewish community want to deflect any legitimate criticism and debate by labeling all efforts to challenge Israeli policy as “delegitimizing Israel.”  It is just the latest strategy to silence the debate.  It is Israel’s illegitimate and immoral policies that lead to the “delegitimization” of Israel.

Change in America

Beinart’s article is significant because it is written by a well- known and well-respected young Jewish intellectual and because it is part of a broader change in the debate about Israel in American society.

Over the past few years, more and more Americans have dared to face the wrath of the powerful Israel lobby by raising these issues in the public realm.  They have been vilified by Jewish leaders, yet they have courageously created an environment where questions that were previously silenced are now part of the debate.  Several books have opened the debate and the Internet has played a major role.  Progressive Israeli and American bloggers tell the story of Palestinian suffering and of anti-democratic actions by Israel on a daily basis.  These reports are painful to read and profoundly disturbing. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the attack on the flotilla and other actions by Israel have also shocked many in America.

These bloggers also write daily about the efforts of the American Jewish Community, the Israel lobby and the Israeli government to stifle debate in America and about the lack of reporting on issues relating to Palestinian suffering in the mainstream press.

This change has lead to an increasingly open debate in America about Israel policy: on university campuses, in churches and some synagogues, in the press and on the Internet.   American can no longer hide from this reality, nor should we.

How do we, as liberal Jews, respond to this debate?

Beinart: Two forms of Zionism

In his article Beinart argues that there are two versions of Zionism: There is a Zionism that, in response to persecution of Jews, believes that the entire world is against us and that our only option is to exercise our Jewish solidarity and power.

And there is a liberal, humanistic Zionism that is “gasping for air” in Israel today.  It is a Zionism that understands, in Beinart’s words, that “the best way to memorialize Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.” He believes that it is this form of Zionism that will inspire our children and is worth fighting for.

The young Israelis who protest weekly at Sheikh Jarah, the Jerusalem neighborhood where Jewish settlers have displaced Palestinian residents. give voice to this Zionism as do the many peace and human rights groups in Israel.

Beinart writes: “What if we told the next generation of Jews that it faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?  What if we shared an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what israel risks becoming and in love with what it still could be”?

Beinart’s article is courageous and important to all Jews concerned about Judaism and the future of Jewish values.  Many of us are profoundly concerned about what Israel is becoming and we should all be in love with what it still could be. It is vitally important for us to support courageous Israelis of all kinds who are fighting for a just Israel.  We need to teach our communities about these efforts, take Jews to Israel to meet progressive Israelis and invite them into our communities.  For the Jewish identity of our children, we need to find a way for them to connect to progressive Jewish culture in Israel and to progressive groups that uphold our core beliefs.  We also need to  make sure that when they go to Israel they also see the Palestinian reality and meet Palestinians who are working for peace.  This is the best chance we have to foster a positive and hopeful connection to Israel. This has been the focus of my work for the past three decades and it continues to be one essential part of what we need to do.

Jews and American Policy

And we need to go beyond this.  We live in America and it is as American citizens that we need to act. The United States government provides more aid to Israel than to any other country on earth and yet our government has allowed Israel to settle half a million people on the West Bank and rarely intervenes when Israel engages in egregious discrimination such as the fifth demolition of the village of El Arakib just a few days ago.  Our government always provides diplomatic cover for Israel as it did after Operation Cast Lead and the Flotilla incident.

It is time for turn our moral angst about Israeli policy to ending the suffering of the victims.  It is time for us to address the direct and indirect responsibility that we have as American Jews for the discrimination and suffering of Palestinians.   As the Obama administration pushes Israel, it will face huge resistance from the mainstream Jewish community, the Israeli lobby and many members of Congress.

The House in Silwan

Last year I told the story of standing on the ruins of a  demolished Palestinian home in Silwan and listening to residents talk about their children who had been arrested in the middle of the night for throwing stones at the bulldozers that destroyed the house.  I turned to my colleague in Rabbis for Human Rights and said, “I can’t bear to hear the story anymore, you see many such incidents how do you stand it?  He turned to me and looked me in the eye and said,”How do I stand it?  How do you stand it?  You pay for it!”

He told me that a representative of the American consulate had been present at the demolition, that America apparently didn’t have the power to stop an action of blatant housing discrimination that would horrify most liberal Americans including, maybe especially, liberal American Jews.  Liberal American Jews have played a major role in the struggle to provide equal housing opportunity in America.

Yes, we pay for it and the United States covers for Israeli discrimination and all the injustice that Beinart describes in  his article.  And the leadership of American Jewry, including many rabbis and even some of the leaders of the Reform movement, are vocal advocates ensuring that the U.S. defends Israel when it commits human rights violations. This was clear after Operation Cast Lead, in the vicious vilification of Judge Goldstone and in the response to the attack on the flotilla.   This direct role the U.S. policy has in supporting the Occupation became  clear to me on that visit to Silwan and it became particularly clear during our most recent stay in Israel.

From our vantage point of  living in Jerusalem, I could see the direct effects of American Jews’ support for the policies of the Israeli government.  Every day the Israeli government acts to further settle the West Bank, to dispossess Palestinians from their homes, to steal more Palestinian land, to squeeze them into smaller and smaller pieces of land.  Every day these actions make a peace between the Palestinians and Israelis less likely.   The silence of the American government along with the massive support that America gives to Israel is what makes this all possible.  Without this support Israel could never continue these policies.  At any point, if America were to act on our basic principles and insist that Israel as a democracy stop wholesale ethnic discrimination against Palestinians, it would stop, or at a minimum there would be a profound change.

Those Israelis on our bus were right.  Without American support Israel would not have been able to masively expand settlements: without significant and serious American pressure there is no hope for a solution.  All of it is financed and supported by American government and it is our community, the American Jewish community, that plays a major role in securing the support of the United States and in silencing the debate about American policy in our country.  Israel relies on the American Jewish community and the Israel lobby to maintain the consistent overwhelming and blind support of the U.S. Congress.

As I watched this in Jerusalem, it became clear to me that I needed to act as an American citizen to call on my government to hold Israel accountable.  We liberal Jews have been relatively quiet; some of us have supported Israeli peace groups, but we have not been as active in regard to American foreign policy.  Many liberal Jews even  join in the silencing of dissent in America.  When churches in America discuss taking a position on Israeli policy — as the Presbyterians did this summer — the mainstream Jewish community mobilizes its leaders and rabbis to warn our non-Jewish friends that taking action on Israel will threaten Christian-Jewish relations and that their action is anti Semitic.

As a liberal American Jew, I want to join with other American citizens calling for a more moral and responsible American policy in regard to Israel.   Of course, Israel is entitled to security, our people feel vulnerable and we too have suffered, but our suffering in the past does not give us any right to inflict suffering on another people.  The message of our Torah is the opposite: that our suffering should sensitize us to the suffering of others. I am a supporter of the Israeli peace groups but I now see myself as a American Jew with a responsibility to demand that my government  intervene to uphold the core values of our faith by insisting that Israel end the violation of human rights, end the settlement policy,  and make real commitment to justice for the Palestinians.

For too long have we been vocal about human rights violations everywhere in the world but silent when Palestinian homes are demolished or when Palestinians are thrown out of their homes and replaced by extremist right wing Jewish settlers who are protected fully by the Israeli government, army and police and supported by our money and political support.

How can we hold up one standard in America and another in Israel?   What we believe must happen here in America is what should happen in Israel.  It is not complicated.

American Jews are beginning to take action.

A few years ago, J Street was formed as an alternative to the Israeli lobby.  J Street defines its mission as pro-Israel and pro-peace and supports efforts by the President and the Congress to pressure Israel and the Palestinians toward a two state peace settlement.  It is an organization that  challenges the power the Israel lobby has over Congress and  it works to open debate in the Jewish community.  It supports members of Congress and candidates who are pro-peace.  In February, J Street will be holding a conference and I would encourage those of you who are interested to attend.  I believe there have also been efforts to establish a local chapter here in Ithaca.

Another Jewish organization that has been active in regard to U.S. policy for many years is Jewish Voice for Peace.  While J Street is an explicitly Zionist organization, Jewish Voice for Peace includes Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, as well as many non-Jewish Americans.   JVP advocates for peace achieved through justice and full equality for both Palestinians and Israelis.  JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.  It is a strong and consistent voice calling for a U.S. policy that promotes democracy and human rights.  Again, I believe there is an effort to establish a local chapter of JVP here in Ithaca.

Palestinian civil society has called for a global non-violent movement – B.D.S.: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to end the Israeli policy of oppression and discrimination against their people.   Many Americans, including many American Jews, are involved in this effort.  We often criticize Palestinians for violent resistance. BDS is a totally nonviolent effort to end oppression.  Going as far back as the Exodus from Egypt, there is no example in human history of a political system where a privileged group gives up its privilege without enormous pressure.  And in Israel, there is no incentive to give it up.  Why would the settlers living in beautiful homes with exquisite views on the West Bank give up this privilege without any pressure to do so (and with full funding from the U.S.)

The B.D.S. movement makes many Jews anxious.  There are many legitimate concerns in our community, especially about the academic or cultural boycott, that must be discussed. I hope that we will have a chance to do so in this community.  The Israeli government and some in the Jewish community have decided to draw a red line, putting anyone who supports B.D.S. beyond the pale.  This is a huge mistake.   While we may oppose specific boycotts like the academic boycott or cultural boycott, many Israelis support a boycott of products produced on the West Bank.   Just this past week, Israeli actors and directors decided to boycott the new publicly funded theater in Ariel on the West Bank.  Their action is supported by 100 American playwrights including Tony Kushner, Cynthia Nixon, and Theodore Bikel.  Does this make Theodore Bikel beyond the pale?  Does it put all the Israeli actors and directors beyond the pale?  This is definitely a profoundly challenging issue but the way to deal with it is not by calling those who advocate B.D.S. traitors.  Enough of name calling. It is time for an open discussion.

And this brings me to our congregation.

We are a diverse congregation with many different relationships to Israel.  Some of us have never even visited Israel.  For some of us, like myself, Israel is a central part of my identity as a Jew.  Some of us have family in Israel.  And all of us feel a special connection to that land. Facing these questions is challenging.

I urge you as individuals and as a community to be concerned “at what Israel risks becoming and in love with what it still could be.”  What happens in Israel affects and will continue to affect all Jews.

There are many different ways to take action.  We don’t all have to do the same thing.

We have started by holding listening circles and we need to continue listening and  learning.  I personally am especially grateful to those members of the congregation who disagree with my position but have been prepared to listen.  I look forward to listening carefully to opposing points of view and to a continued respectful and sometimes difficult conversation.

We need to go beyond just listening.  We also need to take action, whether it be to challenge the the Reform leadership as our Board recently did, to support J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Taanit Tzedek, Americans for Peace, Israeli peace or human rights groups to name just a few possibilities.

“You don’t live here, you don’t understand”

We can no longer be silenced by those who say, “What right do you have to criticize Israel, you don’t live there, you don’t have to pay the price for the consequences of your actions”?

Yes, we don’t live there and the citizens of Israel must decide their own future.  Our responsibility is for the role our own government and our own community plays in Israel.

Whether we like it or not, as Americans we are directly involved in Israel.  The question is how we will be involved — as those who uncritically support Israeli policy or those who call on our government to advocate for the same values we support here in America and to support those in Israel who are upholding those values? I trust that this community will be a space of open debate on these issues and a community that will act to promote justice, compassion and equity in America, in Israel and throughout the world.

Lastly, this sermon not really about Zionism or Israel but about Judaism.  What kind of Judaism will we support: a Judaism that is based on universal human values or a Judaism that privileges the rights of Jews above the rights of other people?  Reform Judaism has a proud history of upholding the prophetic vision of Judaism with the core values of justice and compassion for all human beings.  What’s at stake in the issues I have raised this morning is our religious faith and legacy.  The stakes could not be higher.

I want to end with the same kavvanah with which I began:

Arundhati Roy writes: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it,  keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There is no innocence.  Either way you are accountable.”

We have both seen and heard and we are accountable.

L’maan achai v’reyai adaberah na shalom bach.

L’maan beyt Adonai eloheynu avaksha tov lach.

For the sake of my brothers, my sisters and friends

I will speak of peace

For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may I seek  goodness and blessing to all.

May the Source of Life bless us with the strength to seek peace for all our brothers and sisters, for Israeli Jews and for Palestinians.

For the sake of this planet, the House of God, may we seek goodness and blessing for all.

I wish you and your families a year of blessing and joy.

May we all write and seal ourselves in the book of life, blessing — and peace.

Shana Tova.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 76 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. demize says:

    Sorry for my brevity Rabbi, I was answering your primary question.

  2. Avi says:

    Isn’t it interesting how those who go and see with their own eyes what is taking place on the ground come back with an entirely different point of view?

    Isn’t that, in and of itself, proof enough for those who haven’t seen it with their own eyes, that the situation is truly intolerable, desperate and headed for a disaster?

    • Mooser says:

      While what you say is completely true, Avi, I would take it further, and ask the question “How the hell did they think it was done?”

      I mean, we Jews are supposedly educated people, right, really smart, but the entire subject of colonial methods through the 19th and twentieth century is a subject that was on nobody’s curriculum?
      How does Israel do it? The same way everybody else did.
      And, for God’s sake, the way it was very often done to the Jews.

      But now that support and insuring the military superiority and immunizing Israel from the consequences of its intransigence are firmly entrenched policies of the US, it’s alright to make the most heartbreaking appeals to the Jews of America. It’s safe now.

  3. MHughes976 says:

    There’s so much moral integrity in your remarks, Rabbi, that I feel bad about carping. Still, I can’t convince myself that Zionism could ever have taken a genuinely humanistic or liberal form.
    The distinction between Jewish power used ruthlessly ‘because they all hate us’ and Jewish power used ethically seems to me to miss the point, which is what power does Israel (rather than Jewish people in general) deserve to have.
    The Zionist thesis, surely, is that shares of sovereignty over Palestine belong by right to Jews only – any given to Palestinians come not from right but from generosity on the part of the rightful heirs. If this thesis is correct the borderline between ruthless and ethical behaviour becomes blurred. The claim of the rightful heirs is rightfully enforced by whatever means necessary: if there widespread resistance, and of course there is, then the enforcement will probably have to be very harsh, even ruthless at times. This will be accompanied by surprise, which I have often heard expressed, at the refusal to recognise the totally genuine intention ‘to be generous’ – and it is, it really is and always has been, a genuine kindly intention.
    This is a kindly intention based on a false, unjustified, maddening premise – the basic premise of Zionism about the exclusive rights of people who are Jewish. All the full expressions of a false moral premise are bad, sometimes merely confusing, sometimes actually cruel, even if they contain a kindly element. This premise cannot be liberalised or humanised just because it is based on a distinction between members of the human race which has no rational basis.
    The Peter Beinarts of this world, piercingly intelligent as they are, can produce only confusing ideas about having exclusive rights that ought to be shared, which is no better than yearning after the possibility of drawing a round square: think of the weight off our mind if only that could be done! But we’ve never done it: what a failure of the geometrical establishment.
    The Netanyahus and Liebermans of this world, say what you like about them, are less confused in mind.

    • Shingo says:

      Superbly put MHughes976,

      No matter how hard you try to sugar coat it, the very notion of Zionism is incompatible with humanity and equality. I was listening to an interview given my a J Street spokesman, who while espousing progressive and liberal values, failed to see any contradiction with his position when rejected the idea of a single state and one man one vote. For him, true democracy has no place in Israel and he had no problem with that, and he didn’t even try to offer and explanation as to how that positioin was consistent with his otherwise liberal ideology,

    • Donald says:

      Yeah, the liberal Zionists are in a logical bind and in most cases it leads to them to be blind to part of the problem. There are exceptions–C.S. Lewis said somewhere that some people are better than their principles.

    • Mooser says:

      “Superbly put MHughes976″

      It certainly was. I get much too angry to even be coherent over this. You did a hell of a job MHughes976.
      Sure, let’s appeal to the very people who thought it was a good thing to create the problem to fix it!

  4. Les says:

    Please indicate what liberal Jewish bosses in our media you imagine oppose Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing. It’s important to first check out the people who are in charge.

  5. And there is a liberal, humanistic Zionism that is “gasping for air” in Israel today. It is a Zionism that understands, in Beinart’s words, that “the best way to memorialize Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.” He believes that it is this form of Zionism that will inspire our children and is worth fighting for.”

    respectfully disagree.

    The best way to memorialize Jewish suffering is to get over yourselves, for god’s sake.
    This obsession with the uniqueness and persistence of “Jewish suffering” is soon going to rate a new entry in the DSM.

    The best way for Jews to get along in the world is to confront their history with brutal honesty and recognize to themselves and to the world that life has been pretty good to them, overall, and that others have endured at least as much if not more suffering than have Jews.

    Jews might consider the good feelings that would follow from an attitude of gratitude rather than of whining and inducing guilt and reminding one and all of faux Jewish persecution. We can read history books: Jews didn’t have it so bad. Other people had it worse.

    Grow up.
    Say thank you.
    Behave honestly.
    Reflect HONESTLY on the history of the Jewish people.
    Stop telling lies about other states and other peoples (Iran and Arabs come to mind.)

  6. What a beautiful sermon!

  7. clenchner says:

    Thanks Rabbi. I think your voice adds a lot. It’s a useful counterweight to folks who use an ideological litmus test to declare who is or isn’t ‘on the right side’.
    JVP in particular is an important and valuable group. By blurring the distinction between Zionists and anti-Zionists, one staters and two staters, they make it clear that those divisions need not stop our activism.

    Maybe ‘blurring’ is the wrong word. It’s that attachment to labels can easily be used to divide the forces standing for Palestinian rights and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. What matters is finding effective means of applying pressure in the right direction.

  8. Excellent speech, appealing to the moral.

    • One other question.

      If there is a demonstration supporting Palestinian rights, and a prominent theme of the demonstration is “Zionism is racism”, will you support the demonstration, support the demonstration with reservations, walk out, condemn the demonstration?

      I attended a demonstration in 2003 (I believe) in which a rabbi that I knew was carrying a sign with an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag within a peace sign. Some of the demonstrators threw stones at him.

      It confused me profoundly.

      • syvanen says:

        Witty claims to have witnessed:

        I attended a demonstration in 2003 (I believe) in which a rabbi that I knew was carrying a sign with an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag within a peace sign. Some of the demonstrators threw stones at him.

        That is a very significant incident. This kind of action must have been reported at the time. We would be interested in some links supporting your claim. I too have attended peace demonstrations where progressive zionists have also attended (here in CA in the Bay Area) and have witnessed some vigorous discussions between progressive zionists and very partisan pro-Palestinian, anti-zionist lefties. But no violence other then the irritating raised voices.

      • Shingo says:

        “demonstration is “Zionism is racism”, will you support the demonstration, support the demonstration with reservations, walk out, condemn the demonstration?”

        Why not? Zionism is obviously racism and proves itself to be each and every day.

        “I attended a demonstration in 2003 (I believe) in which a rabbi that I knew was carrying a sign with an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag within a peace sign. Some of the demonstrators threw stones at him.”

        Yes, that one incident in 2003 represents all anti Israeli sentiment right?

        I take it the fact that Israel has been found guilty of breaking international law (once again), by the UN, means that Israel is an illegal state to right?

      • Donald says:

        You get a lot of mileage out of that incident, Richard. The fact that some idiots at a demonstration behaved badly doesn’t tell you anything more than that sometimes you have idiots at demonstrations. (That can happen no matter what the cause, good or bad).

        Most forms of Zionism (excluding the Judah Magnes form which didn’t envision a Jewish state) were racist to the extent that they called for a Jewish state on land inhabited primarily by Muslim and Christian Arabs. This isn’t hard to understand. And it’s not a point that is refuted because you saw some jerks throw some rocks several years ago.

      • Sumud says:

        I attended a demonstration in 2003…

        It confused me profoundly.

        Well you seem to be over that now.

        The choice is simple Richard.

        You can participate in the BDS Movement – to the degree to which you are comfortable – because you object to ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and endless military occupation, and all the vile actions Israel deems necessary to maintain such an occupation: the systematic murder of civilians, administrative detention, targeted assassinations, arbitrary house demolitions (en masse), population transfer, resource theft, and so on.

        Or you say you object to those things, then do precisely nothing (but critjcise) because you don’t agree with every aspect of the *big* tent that is the BDS Movement. And because some thugs threw stones before BDS even existed.

        The choice for you Richard is between the lesser of two evils. And you have chosen to vigorously oppose and attack BDS.

        I noted your glee regarding the Port Townsend Food Co-op board rejecting a full boycott of Israeli product.

        link to mondoweiss.net

        You can’t even go so far as to advocate a boycott on settlement produce. How sad.

    • Sumud says:

      The Rabbi has asked you a question Richard, why don’t you answer him?

      In fact he asks many good questions, but this is the one I’m referring to (the meta question):

      What kind of Judaism will we support: a Judaism that is based on universal human values or a Judaism that privileges the rights of Jews above the rights of other people? 

      • The rabbi urged compassion for all.

        That is unequivocably a primary component of my Jewish life.

        There is another component of Jewish life which is the avoidance of ill speech of another. Disagreement on content issues are relevant and acceptable. Demeaning another isn’t.

        So, my dissent will be limited to content and helping where I can, not to demeaning.

        I consider vague and polemic forms of BDS for example as a violation of my Jewish values, not as an affirmation of them.

        • Sumud says:

          1. You regularly demean Palestinians.

          2. You didn’t answer the question. Will you support:
          a. a Judaism that is based on universal human values
          b. a Judaism that privileges the rights of Jews above the rights of other people?

          A single keystroke is all that’s required to answer the rabbi.

          b.

        • Sumud says:

          That last b. is a typo, not a pre-emptive answer. Laptop in for repair, posting from phone, messily.

  9. yourstruly says:

    Since Zionism is a form of colonialism, humanistic Zionism is an oxymoron. Indeed, the descent of Zionist Israel into an apartheid system was predictable from the start, because invariably that’s what colonial systems turn into. What’s more a history of persecution does not immunize the colonizers from themselves becoming persecutors. Here in America, for example, despite having been persecuted by Puritans in the 17th century, Pennsylvania Quakers participated in the cultural genocide of Native Americans. Same goes for the Huegenots, upon immigrating to South Africa their history of suffering from persecution in Holland & France didn’t deter them from oppressing Africans. That’s not to say that among the colonists there aren’t some who have misgivings about the oppression that they’re a part of, but so what? What was the name of the priest who accompanied Columbus in his “discovery” of Hispianola, the one who informed the Pope that the Conquistadores were brutalizing the natives? And a lot of good that did! Same goes for Zionist Israel, the presence of liberal minded Jews there can in no way change the dynamics of their colonial system. That’ll require the dissolution of the colonial entity itself (not its people). Jewish-Americans can (better, must) help bring this about by rising up and declaring “Not In Our Name” and demanding justice for the Palestinian people. Why must we do this? Because it’s the right thing to do, and to let the world know that despite the claim by the settler-state’s leaders that they speak for all Jews, they speak only for Israeli Jews and their Zionist supporters elsewhere. And nothing would bring the settler-state to its knees faster than a tidal wave of anti-Zionism among American Jewry.

    • Every acquisition of property on the planet is a “colonialism”.

      Your residence for example.

      We are not pariahs because we live. We just live.

      • Mooser says:


        Every acquisition of property on the planet is a “colonialism”.

        Wow, Richard, please tell me who I dispossessed when I bought my house? You are completely ridiculous.

        • Good point.

          The third and fourth generations of Israelis (now in the 70+% of Israeli residents, and even 30-40% of settlers have never lived anywhere else) didn’t dispossess anyone either.

          They may be beneficiaries of others’ dispossession previously, as you are inevitably if you live in the US, Mooser.

      • Eva Smagacz says:

        Richard, I think you REALLY need a rest and a cup of tea before you write any more.

      • Frances says:

        Colonialism: colonialism [kəˈləʊnɪəˌlɪzəm]
        n
        (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas Also called imperialism
        colonialist n & adj (link to thefreedictionary.com)

        OR

        exploitation by a stronger country of weaker one; the use of the weaker country’s resources to strengthen and enrich the stronger country (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn )

        Witty, why do you feel the need to shit all over the English language? What did it ever do to you?

        (To the moderators: No, I don’t expect you to approve this comment. Just wanted to get it out of my system.)

  10. Sin Nombre says:

    Rabbi Walt wrote:

    “We believe in human rights, in open debate, in democracy. They are the very values we hold dear in relation to our own country and every other country in the world. We criticize our own country’s profound racism, prejudice, inequality, and militarism. And, we are proud of the role many American Jews played in the civil rights struggle, in the peace movement, as advocates for justice on many issues.”

    I don’t mean to denigrate Rabbi Walt here a bit given his fine intentions. But I think the situation for American jews is a little worse than he understands, which understanding essentially seems to be that all they ought to be concerned about is helping Israel not hurt itself any further. In short I think his congregants also ought to know the sub rosa anger out there that I at least see in response to the reality of what Israel is doing and then the kind of sentiments he expresses here. And while I don’t share that anger I will say that I think the Rabbi ought to know that there’s some of us out here who nevertheless can’t help but be rather insulted by those sentiments.

    That is … “Yes yes,” I hear, “of *course* jews are all for *others* granting them rights” and blah blah blah. And “yes yes,” people seem to increasingly be saying, “we sure as hell are aware of how jews have been prominent in not just ‘criticizing’ America as you say, but indeed in condemning the living hell out of it, such as Mr. Gitlin who was the subject of another recent comment here and who was at one time the head of the SDS in the 1960′s.”

    “And yet,” this kind of sentiment goes, “here is Rabbi Walt, with [there is no other word for it] the gall to *still* crow about American jew’s perceptions about *America’s* ‘profound racism, prejudice, inequality, and militarism!’ As if … he and his listeners were still living when America was ethnically cleansing its indigenous population. As if … Israel was pure as the drive snow. As if … it wasn’t America that essentially put an end to the Holocaust with some of that ‘militarism.’”

    In other words, just like Todd Gitlin revealed in that previous blog comment a little while ago, if not American jews generally at least the Rabbi and Gitlin just can’t help themselves from … seeing themselves and jews and Israel as just somehow vastly superior to America. Indeed just can’t imagine anyone could question but that of *course* America is a terrible terrible place, whose only possible saving grace is that given by jews because of their supposed great grand superior “core values” … that somehow they never manage to display when *they* are in charge such as in Israel.

    I don’t share that kind of anger because I think there’s some ameliorating circumstances, but I still just can’t help anymore not seeing this kind of crap as being insulting in the very least. Strip away the purple haze from the Rabbi’s fine words, or Gitlin’s nauseating tripe about oh how *burdensome* being Chosen is, and at bottom with the self-congratulation it just seems some iron-clad belief in some kind of jewish moral superiority that’s all the more insulting given the utterly unconscious belief folks like this seem to have. Bad enough just standing alone, but then again even gag-inducing when seeing what their tribe has done with their own country of Israel.

    Apparently though this doesn’t somehow count in their minds. Every other country on earth and indeed every other set of people too it may very well be are just somehow … eternally benighted, even if by long long long past history. And any civilizing they have accomplished only because of jewish involvement apparently.

    I’m sick of it. It’s insulting, period. One constantly hears, for example, condemnations of the U.S. in particular for … not sending its young men to die to stop the Holocaust for instance, even if the U.S. had nothing to do with starting it. Well then Rabbi, I’m moved to ask, what then do you make of American jews’ crucial support in the establishment of Israel given all that *it* did at its inception? And then their on-going support with all that it did since? And now their *present* support given what it’s still doing? Or even—for those who *don’t* actively support it—how is their *failure to oppose it* any different from the failure of the U.S. during the Holocaust that is so routinely cited and accepted in some circles as condemning the U.S.?

    I’m just sick of being insulted. And sick of being further insulted by the idea that I’m too stupid to even understand I’m being insulted so long as the insult is wrapped up in some gauzy, self-congratulatory crap.

  11. link to haaretz.com

    “If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence,” Obama will tell the UN General Assembly, according to excerpts released ahead of his planned speech on Thursday.

    When we come back here next year, we [could] have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

    The U.S. president defended Israel’s right to exist, and expressed the United States’ support for its ally.

    “Those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down,” Obama said.

    “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” Obama said. “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”

    Obama condemned the bloodshed surrounding the conflict, and lauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for engaging in talks instead of violence.

    “And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people – the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice. Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.”

    “The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution… We can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life…Or, we can say that this time will be different.”

    • Shingo says:

      “If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state.”

      Even if an agreement is reached, Israel will never allow the Palestinians to know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Gaza is a perfect example.

    • RoHa says:

      “Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state.”

      But one does not need a state to have pride and dignity. Pride and dignity come from ones own conduct. Indeed, I would say that a person who derives pride and dignity from being a member of a state is a person who has nothing in himself to be proud about.

    • eljay says:

      >> “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” Obama said.

      What’s this? Israel is an “historic homeland” for Jews? That smacks of origination. “Humanists” – who have clearly stated they are against origination based rights – need to speak out against this immediately and unequivocally!

    • Sumud says:

      It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.

      So now Obama’s on the delegitimisation train? Oh please.

      Obama can go to hell.

      At this point he should be worried about his own sovereignty, not Israel’s. If he ever had any convictions re: Palestine (the Cairo speech suggested he did) they’ve completely gone.

      Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.

      Of course if you’re incinerating children with white phosphorous, or using drones to kill extended families, or firing flechette missiles at a mother on her verandah, or machine gunning a 91 year old and his teenage grandson – well ALL of that’s OK with Barack Hussein Obama. I’ve not heard him mention Palestinian’s security concerns, despite Israel killing Palestinians at an obscene level in comparison to the number of Israeli civilians killed.

      Has he ever spoken of the security concerns of Palestinians?

      At this point he should be paying attention to his own sovereignty, not Israel’s. If he ever had any convictions re: Palestine, they’re long gone. The question is why?

      • Sumud says:

        Whoops, last para is a mistake. Meant to delete, pls ignore..

      • eljay says:

        Obama proved himself a fraud quite a while back. He is extremely eloquent but his words ring increasingly hollow and meaningless. Hell, if you were to ask him straight out, he’d probably even tell you that ethnic cleansing is “currently not necessary”. That’s the kind of “humanist” he has shown himself – and continues to show himself – to be.

    • ddi says:

      “And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people – the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice. Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.”

      Not a single mention of Palestinians innocents murdered by Israel… disgusting…

  12. eljay says:

    >> Every acquisition of property on the planet is a “colonialism”.
    >> Your residence for example.
    >> We are not pariahs because we live. We just live.

    Here is the latest attempt to re-define a commonly-understood word or concept in order to have it fit a hateful and supremacist world-view. Israel has earned its pariah status not because it “just lives”, but because it occupies, steals, colonizes, destroys, imprisons, segregates and hates.

    • Do you live in the US, in Europe?

      Every inch of the US, Canada, Europe was conquered.

      If you hold title, or any other rights derived from title (say renting), you are a beneficiary of the conquering.

      A couple generations? 10? I live on conquered land, titled only 300 years ago.

      • yourstruly says:

        It’s not the duration of a particular colonization, but whether or not the colonizers wipe out (commit genocide, physical or cultural) an indigenous people. Europeans, for example, colonized South Africa for three hundred years but that didn’t stop Africans from taking back their land. Similary in Ecuador, Europeans controlled that country until just a few years ago when the natives, led by Evo Morales, rose up and took back their nation. In the U.S., Chile and Argentina, Euro-Americans still rule the roost because the natives have been, if not wiped out, reduced to a very small percentage of the population. And even though Israel is committing slow motion genocide in Gaza, and is considering ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it’s doubtful that the rest of the world will tolerate a modern day reprise of the wild west days of yesteryear. Which means that the settler-state’s days are numbered.

      • eljay says:

        >> Every inch of the US, Canada, Europe was conquered.
        >> If you hold title, or any other rights derived from title (say renting), you are a beneficiary of the conquering.
        >> A couple generations? 10? I live on conquered land, titled only 300 years ago.

        It’s amusing to see you justifying Israel’s ON-GOING illegal and immoral activities with a “crimes of the past justify crimes in the present” argument.

        I’m sure the Palestinians will sleep well tonight knowing that because Native Americans were wronged 300 years ago, “humanists” like you feel it’s OK for Israel to continue stealing and colonizing Palestinian land and oppressing Palestinians.

        What a joker.

      • potsherd says:

        Reduced to one of the lamest versions of “Everybody sucks.”

        • If you think Native Americans believe that they were ONLY wrnged 300 years ago, then you are ignorant of American history and American present.

          The eastern Indians were forced off their land 400 – 200 years ago. The American revolution was partially an Indian relocation war, but we celebrate it. (We should.)

          The western Indians were forced into enclaves that comprised less than half of one percent of their prior home, and that occurred mostly after the Civil War. The homestead act was a gift of former Indian land to the railroads (50%) and the rest to settlers (50%).

          The last Indian war was in around the turn of the 20th century (110 years ago).

          The forcing of Indians to abandon their heritage in white taught schools occurred 70 years ago, at the same time as the America First movement and restricted immigration was pushed by “native Americans” (Americans of Western European descent).

          Indians still fight for recognition of their treaty rights in courts, very slowly, and consistently unsuccessfully.

          It was and is horrible, though long in the past.

          And, there are amazing, brilliant and brave, current Indians.

        • eljay says:

          >> It was and is horrible …

          And, like a true “humanist”, you use this horrible crime to soothe your guilt over, to help you gloss over and to justify Israel’s ON-GOING CRIMES.

      • keep grappling with the notion, Richard Witty: Yes, you and I live on land that was colonized 300 years ago.

        repeat for emphasis: 300 years ago.

        Many, many Jewish people were among the first colonizers, btw.

        Does the fact that US was colonized 300 years ago make it moral to colonize another people’s land TODAY?

        Does a bad act 300 years ago legitimate a bad act today?
        Has civilization not progressed? Or, if the act of colonization TODAY even more evil because 3 centuries of moral reflection have taught us both that it is wrong, that it harms people dispossessed from their lands, and that there are better ways of achieving the common needs and dreams of all people that do NOT involve dispossession and colonization?

        THOSE are the moral issues you should be struggling with, Richard Witty, rather than indulging in pretzel logic to rationalize Israel’s colonization of Palestinian lands.

        • I don’t buy the term colonization as having particular merit, because I think of the conservative notion of hating newcomers as reactionary, negative.

          The world is of change, and will be moreso when there is more severe economic and ecological upheaval. People will need to migrate, and the basis of “we were here first” as trumping democratic rights, sounds fishy to me.

          The movement to assert equal democratic rights for individuals strikes me as humane, just, effective. The movement to assert that this is our national land, strikes me as reactionary, Zionist or Palestinian.

          The movement for self-governance of a people, Jewish or Palestinian, strikes me as just, and progressives should work to optimize that degree of self-governance.

          Again, IF the population of both Israel and Palestine regard a civil democracy as preferable to their national states, then that would be the will of the people, self-governance.

          It is true that at some point, there will be no possible viable Palestine, if Israel continues expansion grossly.

          Right now though, the consequences of Israeli expansion are not no Palestine, but no Palestine with Jerusalem as capital. I oppose that, but not to the extent that I would say that “if we can’t have Jerusalem as capital that we prefer to be governed by an Israeli Zionist majority”.

        • I know that “colonization” is meant to describe power relations and not so much “settlement”.

      • sherbrsi says:

        Each one of those according equal citizenship and rights to those it conquered.

        Israel does not, and will not. Equal rights and citizenship are out of the question as long as it insists on repeating the slogan of “separate, but equal.”

        As a sidenote, Witty, thanks for making the excellent point of establishing how fundamentally regressive Zionism is for reaching towards the colonial era to legitimize its enterprise.

    • gulp
      I understand what Witty is getting at: My house is the first western-style structure to have been built on land that was densely populated by indigenous Americans. About 70 years before my house was built, Gen. George Washington instructed “Mad” Anthony Wayne to clear the region of pesky Indians, by whatever means necessary, in order to ensure the security of the first group of settlers who wished to develop the land in the western style.

      Last night I watched a few minutes of a program out local public TV channel has been repeating, about three tiers of archeological finds in my immediate neighborhood: I forget the first two layers; the bottommost layer, at 17 feet below the surface, reveals artifacts of indigenous Americans.

      The floor of my basement, only recently coated with 3″ of concrete, might very well have been dug on the burial ground, or the ceremonial circle, or the hearth, of an indigenous American family, just as surely as the museum the Weisenthal center seeks to build is proposed to be set on the burial ground of indigenous Palestinian Arabs.

      The other astonishing concept is, though, that the first western city that my house is a part of and that was built on the lands of indigenous American people, looked EXACTLY like Jaffa and the Palestinian Arab city(ies) that zionists destroyed in the 1930s, well before holocaust.

      Further, according to a locally produced videographed history of Jewish people in this American neighborhood, Jews were the most prominent and most wealthy of the first “settlers” on the land that is my neighborhood; the video pans homes just down the street that were the homes of Jewish families that established the first Jewish institutions — temples, schools, cemetaries — in the area.

      The question, then, forces intense consideration of a comment Zbigniew Breziznski posed to Phillip Zelikow a few years ago: Brzeznski said, “the era of colonialism is over.”
      Fraught in that declaration is the notion that civilized people have progressed to the point that we understand that it is not appropriate to remove indigenous peoples from their land to make way for our vision of how people should live, nor to privilege some “us” to live there, at the expense of the “them” by whom it was previously occupied.

      Or have we?

      • potsherd says:

        I have read some of the journals of my genocidal ancestors from the Indian Wars. I know exactly what was going on. It is because I know and recognize this activity when I see it that I so strongly oppose it when it’s going on now, in Palestine.

        It’s the height of immorality to say, Yes, there was evil going on before and so we get to keep committing evil now.

        • Bumblebye says:

          But from a Wittyesque pov, your ancestors got to keep what they stole, so why shouldn’t his pet Israelis?

        • What specifically do you regard as illegal though?

          If, in Silwan, the Jewish residents (new ones, settlers), held land by legal title, how can you advocate for their removal, in the name of civil rights?

          They have civil rights as well.

          Its a question. If they don’t have title, then they have no right to be there.

        • yourstruly says:

          What makes the Zionist colonization of Palestine especially obscene is that the settler-state Israel was established by the U.N. in 1948, a time when the rest of the colonized world was beginning to throw off its shackles. Which raises the question as to what the Mideast would be like today had only the U.N. demanded of the Jewish settlers in Palestine, what they were demanding of the rest of the world’s colonizers?

        • Chaos4700 says:

          If, in Silwan, the Jewish residents (new ones, settlers), held land by legal title, how can you advocate for their removal, in the name of civil rights?

          If? Who cares about parallel universes, Witty. We’re talking about real Palestinians with real land deeds which Israel is in violation of.

  13. potsherd says:

    This is going to be one of those posts that get me in trouble. But while I admire the rabbi’s sentiments and hope they take him much further along the road to enlightenment than the Zionist portals of J Street, his sermon illustrates why Reform Judaism is a fading religion.

    For us, the very core of Judaism is:

    pursuit of justice (Justice, justice shall you pursue!),

    equal human rights for all (God created Adam/human beings in God’s image)

    and the pursuit of peace (Seek Peace and Pursue It!)

    No. That is not Judaism. That is liberal humanism. It is a universalist, not a Jewish-specific set of beliefs. They are my own beliefs, but in my case they arise out of atheist secular humanism.

    The core of Judaism is and has to be the Law. According to the Judaic myth, before Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of the law, there were no Jews, only Hebrews. A Judaism in which the Mosaic laws are not the core is simply not Judaism.

    Rabbinical Judaism, as it has developed for the last several hundred years, has carried the notion of the law much too far in the wrong direction, imposing such a weight of codicils as to crush the religious impulse under a burden of minutiae. But at its core is still the notion of the Law given by God.

    Orthodox Jews blather incessantly about the Torah, although most of what they refer to in practice is not written in the Torah at all, but originates in that collection of commentary in which the haredim immerse themselves to the exclusion of a normal life.

    But to read the Torah is not to discover the tenets of liberal humanism that Rabbi Walt mistakes for Judaism. The religious settlers are right about this: the Torah, the books of Moses and Joshua and David, is a divine mandate for genocide, for ethnic cleansing. When the settlers claim that God gave the Jews the right to seize the land that was Canaan, they are reading the Torah correctly.

    Liberal Judaism is uncomfortable with this fact and seeks to reinvent the religion as something more palatable by abandoning its core.

    Better that they should open their eyes and abandon the entire burden of an exclusive religion and embrace humanism with a free and whole heart.

    • eljay says:

      >> That is not Judaism. That is liberal humanism. It is a universalist, not a Jewish-specific set of beliefs. They are my own beliefs, but in my case they arise out of atheist secular humanism.
      >> The core of Judaism is and has to be the Law. According to the Judaic myth, before Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of the law, there were no Jews, only Hebrews. A Judaism in which the Mosaic laws are not the core is simply not Judaism.
      . . .
      >> Liberal Judaism is uncomfortable with this fact and seeks to reinvent the religion as something more palatable by abandoning its core.
      >> Better that they should open their eyes and abandon the entire burden of an exclusive religion and embrace humanism with a free and whole heart.

      Very well said. Christians pull the same sort of apologetics when they pick and choose the less-violent and more-humanist passages (such as Confucius’ “golden rule”) from the Bible and ignore the more-dogmatic and more “core” religious passages.

      Religion is nothing more than a set of human-devised, tribal-minded rules that reflect a time and place, dressed up in mytho-religious nonsense.

      • potsherd says:

        I’m focusing on Judaism here, but I’m equally fervent about abandoning all religions instead of diluting them so the crap goes down without gagging.

        • eljay says:

          >> I’m focusing on Judaism here …

          My post was just a riff on yours. I wasn’t trying to re-focus your commentary. Sorry if it came across that way.

    • thank you Potsherd.
      Yes, I agree.

      I’ve blathered on about Haggai Ram’s book, “Iranophobia,” in an attempt to explain the deep psychosis that destabilizes both Israeli Jews and American Jews. Ram situates the psychosis in Jewish concepts of Orientalism, etc. etc., but my own speculation, which wriggled its way into my cognitive apparatus well before reading “Iranophobia,” is far different: I speculate that zionists are keenly aware of the tissue-thin foundation of their religio-ethical tradition, that the ethical dimension of Judaism rests squarely on Zoroaster, the Iranian. The speculation continues that at least part of zionism’s eagerness to destroy Iran is the keen desire to displace Iranian cultural history, much as the neocon-American cabal destroyed Iraq’s historical-cultural history, even to the point of looting its museums.

      Abba Eban opens his video-history of the Jews, “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,” with this declaration (paraphrased): “Jews do not have major architectural monuments, or lands, . . . the major contribution to civilization of the Jewish people has been an idea: the idea of one universal god.”
      But that statement is not true: Jews did NOT “invent” the idea of monotheism, and Abba Eban has no major accomplishment to define the Jewish people. Jews are just normal, ordinary people like everybody else, only moreso (h/t Mooser). Time and time again over the past 4 years, as I have observed Jewish people at conferences where Mearsheimer and Walt have spoken, or where others critical of zionist ambitions have spoken, Jewish people have reacted almost viscerally to the suggestion that Israel and Jews be treated just like everybody else, not as exceptional peoples requiring or deserving of special exemptions and considerations. Any suggestion that Jews are ordinary, normal people just like everybody else only moreso, seems to be terribly threatening to Jewish identity.

      `

      • munro says:

        After the massacres probably the most sickening aspect of the Iraq war were the hordes of Feith, Wurmser and Ledeen backed “scholars” rampaging through public and private Iraqi art collections with pathological Asperger-like determination.

    • David Samel says:

      potsherd, I appreciate your comment and cannot find much to quibble with. However, it is quite obvious that among both adherents to religion and adherents to atheism and secular humanism, there is a wide spectrum of good and bad people, and good and bad behavior. I’ve known many sincere and committed people of faith who believe that their simple human decency is guided by their religion. I strongly suspect that if they woke up tomorrow and chose atheism, their moral strength would not be diminished in the slightest. But as long as they’re good people, I don’t care what drives them. Rabbi Walt seems like a very decent and thoughtful guy, though my political differences with him are significant, and if he thinks Judaism informs his outlook, so be it.

      On the other hand, I can’t fault you at all for observing that what passes so often for Judaic values is really the basis for humanistic values espoused by atheists and other religions as well. The Judaic values argument is one I never (I hope) make, though I do see it made by others I respect.

    • Elliot says:

      Potsherd,

      I disagree that the Book of Joshua lays out the tenets of Judaism. Judaism is an evolving religion. The book of Joshua was read out of the liturgical canon by rabbis who rejected its content. Given their extreme aversion to it, its inclusion in the the bible is actually a word of warning.
      You find nothing distinctive in Rabbi Walt’s values to distinguish them from your atheist/humanist values. Your conclusion therefore is that Rabbi Walt’s Judaism is bogus.
      Why does that follow? He finds his values in Judaism. Perhaps he was inculcated with these values in a religious home. For him this is the stuff of his Judaism.
      Even in an atheist’s path to humanistic values there often is a religious antecedent. That does not make the atheist religious and the opposite is true too. It doesn’t make religious values less valuable.
      If someone believes that the Law = humanistic values, why is that not a valid religious belief?

      • potsherd says:

        Elliot – you are of course right about the book of Joshua. My error.

        I don’t think, however, that people can define a given religion as anything they please, unless they are making up their own religion from scratch. It is not subjective. “Judism” doesn’t mean, “whatever any Jew wants to believe it is.” Walt may derive his values from Judaism, but there is no way he can maintain that they are the core values of the religion.

        I’m not at all saying that he shouldn’t hold these values, but that he should recognize what they truly are, and how far they are from the religion’s actual core.

        This is one area in which I believe the Orthodox have the right of it when they claim that a Reform Judaism like Walt’s is not really Judaism at all. What it is, is “humanism for Jews.”

  14. Sin Nombre says:

    Psychopathic god wrote:

    “Any suggestion that Jews are ordinary, normal people just like everybody else only moreso, seems to be terribly threatening to Jewish identity.”

    This is the part that I find insulting. Of course one can find aspects of any number if not all religions that are not only objectionable but indeed may wreak terrible consequences if truly followed. But, nevertheless, the reason I for instance don’t share potsherd’s rejection of all religions is that most that I’m familiar with at least—the “biggies” it might be said—might also just be thought of as associations of like-*minded* people. That is … people who are defined by having the same or similar opinions and beliefs. And I don’t know of anyone who thinks that we ought to be in the business of denying people their opinions or beliefs.

    For the most part Judaism on the other hand and as I understand it is fundamentally concerned and defined not by what you believe but who, immutably, you are. E.g., what your mother was, conventionally speaking.

    Well of course from there one can see the problem: The first impulse is to see one’s similar such kind as superior, and then a whole host of others follow. Like … Phil Weiss’ wife encountered and as he related in that other comment where, *no matter what her opinions or beliefs or thinkings were, they don’t matter and they were simply irrelevant because she’s not in the club.

    Of course on can point to the license that I understand exists that one can indeed convert to Judaism, but firstly I wonder if this isn’t a relatively modern concession to common-sense that hasn’t really altered the “in-the-blood” nature of jewish self-definition. And, secondly, of course any movement of any size is not going to reject genuinely helpful adherents.

  15. Elliot says:

    I agree about ignoring distinctions between 1- and 2-staters. In fact, what gives J Street away is its censorship of 1-staters. These were disinvited from the J Street convention.

  16. Elliot says:

    Sin Nombre,
    You identify the tribal, matrilineal Judaism with the past and conversionary Judaism with the present.
    I think it’s more accurate to say that the solely tribal, Jewish identity is a thing of the recent past, no doubt brought on by nature of modern anti-semitism since the last quarter of the 19th century and culminating in the Nazi Holocaust
    Early into mid-19th century Judaism (and Christian attitudes dating back in the 18th century) are all about the possibility of re-invention. Conversion into – and out of – Judaism were real options that changed reality.
    Nowadays, as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, and with the dominance of American-style identity consciousness, religious identities are far more fluid.
    The tribal putdown that Phil’s wife experienced was a blast from the blast. Not surprisingly, this happened in Jerusalem.

    • Sin Nombre says:

      Elliot wrote:

      “The tribal putdown that Phil’s wife experienced was a blast from the blast [sic].”

      Well thank you for your comment, Elliot. I would certainly hope you are right (assuming you meant “past” rather than “blast.”) But I’m not encouraged seeing the—to me still inexplicable—rise of fundamentalist religiosity we’ve seen in the very recent past, all over. Hopefully it’s just some millenarianism stuff and will fade, but I’m not optimistic. Seems to me to be more of a flight from having to deal with the ever-increasing complexities of the world. In essence, taking refuge in cant and dogma.

      In any event thanks again for your thought-provoking comments.

  17. Elliot says:

    Potsherd,
    I agree that the practice of Orthodoxy looks so much like traditional (pre-modern) Judaism that is appears to be synonymous with an authentic past.
    Would you agree that, notwithstanding what its adherents say, Orthodoxy ia also a modern ideology – and an evolving one too? The growing convergence of Zionism with Orthodoxy is a case in point. This doesn’t make “Orthodoxy” a synonym for “Zionism” and therefore a meaningless word.
    Your reading of Orthodoxy is that it deals in immutable essences: your mother was a Jews therefore you are a Jew. What about borderline cases, such as questionable (Orthodox) conversions? What is the other content of this Jewishness?
    When you consider these and other holes in the Orthodox case, the Reform ideology becomes just another version of a modern religious ideology.
    I also disagree with your requirement that Judaism have a “Law”.
    My definition for a progressive understanding of Judaism is that we continue to understand eternal truths and see them in history an in ancient texts. It is immaterial to me if these values are identical with atheistic humanism. Similarly, an Orthodox Jew might be surprised to discover that Republican pollsters categorize him with Opus Dei Catholics and that he shares a whole set of sympathies with other conservative religions. That still won’t diminish the Jewishness of his beliefs in his eyes.
    If we accept that progressive Reform Jews’s beliefs are identical with humanist atheists, Reform Jews can still assert that the origin of these beliefs is Judaism – that this the Judaism they were taught by their teachers, clergy and parents and that they read these values in sacred texts.

  18. Elliot says:

    Sin Nombre (in the hopes that this thread is still active).
    Thank you for your comment.
    I don’t know where you live, but in the the US, the retreat from engagement in public policy has been headlong for a generation at least. The private life and suburban isolation are the ideal. “Politics” is a dirty word.
    Withdrawing to the realm of “cant” is not a religious monopoly: it’s an essential aspect of contemporary American life.
    Religion can actually be a catalyst for engagement. In fact, religious institutions are one of the last remaining truly public entities around.