Martin Luther King Jr
I wish I were in Pittsburgh. This afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University, an 11th-grader will step nervously to a microphone and deliver a hammer blow to American Jewish support for Israel.
Jesse Lieberfeld, 17, a junior at Winchester Thurston High School, will read an essay, “Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong,” about how he sees himself in Martin Luther King, because of his own struggle with his religion’s ordination of support for Israel. The piece is one of two winners in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. essay-writing contest sponsored by the university. It is brave and clear and necessary:
the term “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” was no more accurate than calling the Civil Rights Movement the “Caucasian/ African-American Conflict.”
In both cases, the expression was a blatant euphemism: it gave the impression that this was a dispute among equals and that both held an equal share of the blame. However, in both, there was clearly an oppressor and an oppressed,
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the essay yesterday. It will soon be required reading for leaders of all American Jewish organizations. Jesse Lieberfeld is delivering news about his generation’s outlook.
I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world — and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time…
This last mandatory belief [in Israel] was one which I never fully understood, but I always kept the doubts I had about Israel’s spotless reputation to the back of my mind. “Our people” were fighting a war, one I did not fully comprehend, but I naturally assumed that it must be justified. We would never be so amoral as to fight an unjust war.
Yet as I came to learn more about our so-called “conflict” with the Palestinians, I grew more concerned.
I decided to make one last appeal to my religion. If it could not answer my misgivings, no one could.
The next time I attended a service, there was an open question-and-answer session about any point of our religion. I wanted to place my dilemma in as clear and simple terms as I knew how. I thought out my exact question over the course of the 17-minute cello solo that was routinely played during service. Previously, I had always accepted this solo as just another part of the program, yet now it seemed to capture the whole essence of our religion: intelligent and well-crafted on paper, yet completely oblivious to the outside world (the soloist did not have the faintest idea of how masterfully he was putting us all to sleep).
When I was finally given the chance to ask a question, I asked: “I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?” I was met with a few angry glares from some of the older men, but the rabbi answered me.
“It is a terrible thing, isn’t it?” he said. “But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.”
I knew, of course, that the war was no simple matter and that we did not by any means commit murder for its own sake, but to portray our killings as a “fact of life” was simply too much for me to accept. I thanked him and walked out shortly afterward. I never went back.