Yesterday morning the public radio station WNYC ran a story about a political variation in some seders this year: Jews put empty shoes on the threshhold to show that they welcome refugees. I can’t find Matt Katz’s report on line but here’s a link to the Haggadah he mentions, published by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; it calls the seder supplement a response to Trump. “Don’t let Donald Trump slam the door on refugees.”
HIAS’ 2017 Haggadah Supplement includes the stories of some of today’s refugees, who like our ancestors, have fled violence and persecution, and are searching for safety.
HIAS and Katz said nothing about the hundreds of thousands of refugees Israel created in 1948. There are now millions of those refugees and descendants, many living in refugee camps, never allowed to return to their homes, let alone recover any of their property. The right of return is a principal demand of Palestinians. In fact, the Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah also honors the Jewish refugee experience– and relates it to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in the country that became Israel.
I googled Katz and Israel and found this tweet from 2016 about Jewish intolerance inside Israel on the part of the chief rabbinate, toward other Jews. I tweeted him to say I liked that tweet, but in light of the HIAS story, could he “point me to work you’ve done that’s critical of Israeli discrimination/apartheid?” Katz said:
I haven’t done anything that’s critical of political/international controversies…not what I do.
I said, “You reported movingly on the INT’L refugee crisis today apropos of Seder/shoes. But bupkus [nothing in Yiddish] on occupation. People notice. This Jew does.” He said:
“I don’t report on international issues. That story was related to how local Jews are marking the holiday.”
But this is obviously an international story that Katz is taking a position on, just as he’s staked out clear stances on Chris Christie and Donald Trump. I share those positions; but Katz’s public indifference to the occupation and the Palestinian refugee crisis, even as he praises Jewish organizations for their response to Trump’s refugee policy in the United States (and often reports on Jewish issues), is an instance of moral insularity that isn’t good for Jews. JVP’s recent membership meeting was all about overcoming that insularity.
The double standard is obvious to others. Here is Tony Klug speaking at J Street, a liberal Zionist organization, last month, and saying that the American Jewish denial of the occupation is fostering anti-Semitism and actually making the Jewish position in the west precarious:
[I]t surely is as plain as can be, that if Israel does not end the occupation sharply, and if organized Jewish opinion in other countries appears openly to back it, there will indeed almost certainly be a further surge in anti-Jewish sentiment, potentially unleashing more sinister impulses.
This is not of course to justify such dismal future developments, but it’s not rocket science to see what lies ahead under these circumstances.
What all this points to I fear is that Israel’s neverending occupation of the land and lives of another people is not just seriously endangering Israel, not to mention deepening the despair of the Palestinians. But it is also making the situation of the Jews around the world increasingly precarious.