A leading New York rabbi says that Jewish Voice for Peace has “hearts of stone, Jewishly cold, lifeless and emptied of Jewish feeling.” JVP’s statements on terrorism “would make Osama bin Laden blush,” he says, and the group would seem to approve Bashar al-Assad.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch’s over-excited April 7 sermon at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue is a sign of how upset the established Jewish community is by the rise of anti-Zionism and the boycott movement, BDS, inside Jewish life. Hirsch sought to excommunicate JVP for its support of boycott.
“They no longer feel the pulse of our people,” he said. He slurred Arabs in his sermon, deriding JVP for making Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour “their high priestess,” and saying the group does not appreciate that young Israeli soldiers are “holding back the hordes” from coming into Israel from Syria and annihilating Jews.
Hirsch began the sermon by describing a recent synagogue delegation to Israel of 100 people, with adoration for the Jewish state:
“What an amazing country. Words cannot adequately convey Israel. You simply have to go for yourself. I wish there was a way that I could persuade you to come with us, for those of you who have not been, and participate in this life altering, transformative journey because describing it falls short. How do you describe a dream? How do you express a miracle? How do you put love into words?
“Is there one among us who ever composed a love letter and felt that we had captured our deepest sentiments?
The trip had greater impact than any US conversation about Israel:
Now I’m a partisan Jewish hack. It’s my job to awaken your Jewish soul… What we can accomplish in eight days [in Israel], we cannot accomplish in eight years in New York… What I am doing now, trying to express in words inexpressible emotions, is only an echo. It’s not the music itself.
The rabbi segued from love of Israel to a lengthy criticism of Jewish Voice for Peace, and its national membership meeting in Chicago March 31-April 2.
It’s why I could never support those in our community who make common cause with our enemies. My heart is not with them. My heart is with our people. Criticism is one thing. But I could never sympathize with an organization like the boycott-promoting Jewish Voice for Peace, an ironic misnomer of a name if there ever was one, that at its annual convention this week… hosted, feted and cheered a convicted Palestinian terrorist with Israeli blood on her hands, in terms that would make Osama bin Laden blush.
What happened to their Jewish neshama? [soul] Where did it go? It seems to have all dribbled away as they were passing it on– the flame of Judaism flickering in the night, its last embers dying by the campsite of anti Zionist apologists. They no longer feel the pulse of our people. They can celebrate murderers because they convene in Chicago– the good parts of it.
(At the end of this post you can read JVP’s explanation of its invitation to Odeh, a human rights activist who was cheered at the conference.)
The rabbi said JVP has hearts of Jewish stone and suggested it accepts Bashar al-Assad’s “vision of life.”
What Rasmea Odeh did in participating in that attack that killed Israelis is too remote for so-called Jewish Voices for Peace. Terror, murder, even occupation– these are only words, stripped of real moral consequence. A type of moral preening, the shallow self righteousness of those who are somewhere else when the bomb explodes. A kind of faux humanitarianism that tut-tuts to the sight of dozens of children gassed to death right on the other side of Israel’s border and goes right back to accusing Israel of war crimes.
Willful denial of the basic fact that were it not for those 20-year-old tank commanders that we met on the Golan Heights, that very savagery would be visited on us as well. The only thing holding back the hordes is the commitment of those young people to hold back the hordes. If they do this to one another– can you imagine what they would do to Jews if they only had a chance!
I always try to keep an open mind. Self-criticism is even more important to me than criticism of others. I welcome the exquisite diversity in the Jewish community that produces an intellectual and political pluralism unmatched by any other people. Still, my heart is a heart of Jewish flesh, a heart moved by the miracle of collective Jewish life. I cannot relate to those whose hearts are hearts of stone, Jewishly cold, lifeless and emptied of Jewish feelings. Linda Sarsour is their high priestess, the guardian of liberal purity.
Who can accept Assad’s vision of life? Who can support the vision of society peddled by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, or even the Palestinian Authority as currently constituted? We met one of the chief spokesmen for the Palestinian Authority in Jericho who like the Jewish Voice for Peace berated us with the same old tired tropes about occupation.
I wish there was peace, I still support a two state solution.
Hirsch had this to say about Palestinians, and how indifferent they are to their own people:
In Jericho we were joined by a Palestinian journalist who works with the New York Times. He’s no Zionist. He wants to live in a Palestinian state coexisting with a Jewish state. After our meeting he said to us that 24 years later the Palestinian Authority has an interest in the status quo, in not resolving the political impasse. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt, he said… building palatial homes within eyesight of refugee camps, paid for by foreign money. He told us that none of these leader ever set foot in refugee camps.
What kind of people, what kind of leadership, would tolerate five generations of refugees and blame it all on the Jews?! Would the Jews tolerate leadership like that, that condones generation after generation of Jews, living in squalor, forgotten by their own leadership that presumes to act and speak on their behalf? Would Americans tolerate this? Would the French? The British?
Hirsch told of his group’s trip to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and reflected on the question the Holocaust memorial raises: why the allies did not bomb Auschwitz in 1944 (a theme that Laurence Zuckerman dealt with in the Nation).
One of the central lessons of Jewish existence is that powerlessness leads to catastrophe. A people can never put itself at the mercy of the marauding beast. It can never depend on outside protectors, they won’t come. They won’t come to save you. Powerlessness leads to more abuse, not less. It leads to the strong savaging the weak, especially in the Middle East.
…It’s one reason that I’m a Zionist. Zionism is about empowerment– to rewrite the Jewish story in the chapters of history, not as a victim, but as an agent of progress and social repair. It is far better to have power and to struggle with its proper use than to be powerless and at the mercy of the dark lords.
Remember this at your Passover seder next week. The story is of God taking us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. A mighty hand that wielded power against tyranny. Power is needed to free the persecuted from the oppressor. The oppressor never voluntarily relinquishes control over you.
(I believe that lesson of a mighty arm needed to resist oppression would apply to Palestinians under occupation.)
Hirsch told about visiting the Golan Heights and seeing Syrians treated by Israel:
Hundreds of wounded Syrian civilians who were taught from childhood to hate Jews have been restored to health by Israeli doctors. This is what self empowerment and self-determination can accomplish.
That led him to speak of Jewish greatness:
The Jewish people acting as a collectivity can live out our destiny to be a force for good, compassion, pity, mercy, and dignity.
To be conscious of ourselves we must be conscious not only of our flaws but of our greatness.
This is my life’s mission, to convey to you in any way that I possibly can, that our people is one of the great wonders of the world, and its future is worth preserving, and that future is in your hands.
Here is Jewish Voice for Peace’s explanation of why it invited Odeh to speak at its national conference a month ago. The statement addresses the charges against her.
We are eager to hear from Odeh, a feminist leader in the Palestinian and Arab-American community in Chicago, precisely because she has survived decades of Israeli and US government persecution and oppression, and also because she lives and breathes the essential work of community organizing–having spent her life as both a lawyer and organizer for the empowerment of Arab women.
The accusations against Odeh stem from a context of long-standing anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim persecution by both the Israeli state and the United States, policies which are escalating under the Trump administration. In the 50 years of Israeli occupation, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli security forces–constituting approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population. And the rate of conviction for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts is a staggering 99.74%, according to the military’s own statistics.
When an occupying army is both judge and jury for the occupied, where does one go for justice? As a recent report from Israeli human rights organization B’tselem details: “The military judges and prosecutors are always Israeli. They are soldiers in uniform enforcing martial law on the civilian Palestinian population living under military rule. The people who take part in administering the occupation are on one side, while the regime’s subjects are on the other. Military courts are not an impartial, neutral arbitrator. They are firmly entrenched on one side of this unequal balance.”
Odeh’s arrest, detention, “confession”, conviction, and her subsequent persecution within the U.S. are inseparable from this broader context. In 1969, she was arrested by Israel along with her father, two sisters and 500 others and convicted of participating in bombings by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) that killed two civilians. She later testified to a United Nations human rights committee in 1979 that she was coerced into signing a false confession after torture and sexual abuse by her Israeli interrogators and 45 days of detention. She has denied any and all involvement in the bombing.
Rasmea moved to the U.S. in 1994, and obtained citizenship in 2004. She has worked with the Arab American Action Network since 2004, organizing primarily with Arab-American women on feminist issues. In 2014, she was arrested over a now 20-year-old immigration form where she failed to disclose her record of imprisonment in Israel. During her trial, the judge allowed evidence of her conviction in Israeli military courts to be used against her, while barring evidence of her torture, false confession and post-traumatic stress disorder. An appeals court has ordered a re-trial in order to allow that evidence, which will take place in May 2017.
At JVP we mourn the loss of all life, and condemn all forms of violence against civilians. We also mourn the lives and freedom lost to a brutally unjust military court that deploys sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, and abuse. We can decry all acts of violence against civilians and also understand that–from Nelson Mandela to Assata Shakur–the label of terrorist is far from neutral.
The story of Rasmea Odeh’s label as “terrorist” is a story of Israeli apartheid: a story of displacement and refugees, of occupation and unjust targeting by the security state, of political imprisonment, sexual violence, and torture. But Rasmea’s life is a story of Palestinian resilience: a story of persistence, of nonviolent resistance, of believing in community, of empowering women, and building grassroots leadership. We can’t wait to hear from her.
Correction. This post originally translated neshama as solace. It should have been soul. Thanks to a friend.