The last couple weeks I spent a lot of time inside the Jewish fear. I mean the understanding that exists broadly within the American Jewish community that Yes, we know that we have our boot on the Palestinians’ neck; but if we lift our boot they are going to slit our throat.
This fear transcends political point of view. Hardcore Zionists have it, and so do liberal Zionists. And even non-Zionists have it. They are all afraid of what will happen when an order of Jewish control gives way to a different order. And even if they are for that change, they are fearful of what will befall the Jews.
And so you have hard-core Zionists saying that to support a one-state solution is to call for genocide… or Yossi Klein Halevi pleading with Peter Beinart to respect our fear that even setting up a Palestinian state is going to mean horrors for Jews... and Beinart insisting that he believes in the fear because the friend who was supposed to be the rabbi at his wedding was blown up in Jerusalem… and I went to a Jewish Voice for Peace event in Manhattan and there too you were several speakers talking about the fear. Mandy Patinkin saying we must walk into the nerve center of the fear.
That is the pervasive fear. That Jews in their meetings address.
And I'd say that fear was perfectly reflected in the disgraceful New York Times editorial yesterday ruing the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation because Hamas doesn't accept Israel. They are going to throw us into the sea.
Now I want to shift the scene completely. I want to pull the fear backdrop away entirely and tell you about something that happened Friday night.
That night I went to the International House at Berkeley for a presentation of actor Kahled Abol Naga’s films of Tahrir Square. The room was jammed with people, There must have been 150 in the space. And many of them were Muslim or Arab, including the organizer Mohammad Talat, who has written for our site, who has a lovely smile and was carrying in boxes of soft drinks.
And at the start of the presentation they showed a film about an American ophthalmologist named Amr el Desouky who went over to Egypt to treat the eye injuries of people hurt in the revolution. You can see the video here. One after another, we were introduced to young people who had been in Tahrir to fight for their freedom, and many of them had gotten shot in the head with rubber bullets, or even real bullets, and had lost eyes. Or they had rubber bullets lodged inside their eye cavities, or one woman had had her retina shot through. And the well-spoken American doctor met with them and tried to treat them.
And one after another these young people said that they would have lost two eyes for their freedom, theirs was a small sacrifice. And the doctor himself said that he revered these youth because they had taken the plunge past the fear to do something that Egyptians had been dreaming of for generations. And so he flew over to help them. And a young woman who had lost her vision in her left eye said that they had only defended their rights and their country, and the martyrs were the real defenders-- the ones who had given their lives for freedom.
I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room as we watched these noble young people, who conquered their fears of the unknown and of the dark violent forces and who took the greatest risk for freedom.
Because all the Arabs in the room and also their friends were united in hope: that 84 million people in Egypt will at last have freedom.
I hope you see where I am going with this. I don’t think that a greater contrast exists between a privileged group that is fearful and a rightless group that goes past the fears to fill itself with hope. I don't think there is a greater spiritual contrast.
I spend a lot of my time in that fearful privileged group. I do so because I think Jews are powerful in political and cultural affairs in the U.S., and because I want to help save my community from the misbegotten cult that is nationalism.
But when I was in International House, I understood what my real community is. It is the community of people who dream of freedom and struggle for freedom. Millions of Palestinians are in that community, because they have few rights. And yes there are great Jews in that struggle, like Jonathan Pollak being smashed into the ground at Nabi Saleh, Pollak would give an eye for freedom; but so many other Jews are on the wrong side of this struggle and operating out of pure fear, worrying about what they will lose.
I can’t valorize these fears. I know that Jews in Israel will lose something, they should lose something. And of course I also fear the bloodshed. But the selfishness of worrying about our community--well it is the selfishness that tolerated the oppression of the Egyptians for 30 years in the name of a cold peace and the selfishness that today countenances the rightslessness of the Palestinians in the name of Jewish fears.
It is not anywhere I want to be. I want to be in that large wide community of hope as the Middle East surges forward through history.