The most savage passage of Huckleberry Finn is when Huck is about to turn in the runaway slave Jim and he writes a letter to Miss Watson to tell her where Jim is so as to cleanse his soul of the sin of having gone off with him. Mark Twain was looking back on Missouri slavery days from the safety of the 1880s. The passage isn’t about Jim, it’s about Huck, it’s about a white person’s enslavement to savage human norms; the ways that society ennobles wrongdoing. But of course after Huck writes out the letter, his human feeling for the slave rises up against those cruel and racist norms:
But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
Young Jews are on the river right now. We have the same choice. The Israel lobby is telling us to stick with Israel through thick and thin, and the Israel lobby is really actually the American establishment, Jew and non-Jew. On television, commentators from Chris Matthews to Jamie Rubin are worrying about the possible negative fallout of the end of Egyptian tyranny for Israel. Yes and what is that Egyptian order that they are trying to preserve for its people, and what is that Israeli order that they are trying to preserve? But tyranny, tyranny for Arabs and tyranny for the Palestinians. Noam Sheizaf and Henry Siegman both say that 5 million Palestinians have no rights in Palestine. Is it easier to hear it from another Jew? That’s what they say.
We have the freedom to look at this story a different way from the Establishment TV commentators, we can look at the other person on the raft, breaking out. It’s Wael Ghonim the young internet leader, it’s the freedom-loving young people on the streets of Cairo whom we have given strength. It’s Mona Eltahawy being listened to by Brian Lehrer, the public radio host who has had the moral decency to understand that Egypt is a new chapter in the story of human freedom. And of course that story is in Palestine. It’s Abdallah Abu Rahmah in the Israeli prison for being completely nonviolent in opposing occupation, it’s Adeeb Abu Rahmah breaking down as he appeals to the phalanx of occupying soldiers to have a heart. It’s the five young Jews who listened to those Palestinians and heckled Netanyahu in New Orleans, Rae Abileah, Matthew Taylor, Emily Ratner, Matan Cohen, Eitan Isaacson. We’re all on the raft. It’s terrifying to break the old norms, but we can only do it together.