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Entering Bethlehem, 2010

Entering occupied Bethlehem, 2010

Elisa Strauss has a piece in The Forward about how she checked out of the Israel issue because she was turned off by the propaganda she got on Birthright and from Hillel, even as she was seeing the wall in Palestine. Excerpts:

I went to Hillel and on Birthright because I was looking for a source of unbiased information on, and sober insight into, the country. I naively believed that I could rely on the Jewish community to educate me… I just wanted facts, presented by someone who did his or her best to be fair. I found nothing of the sort.

… [M]y indifference eventually became willful. I just couldn’t juggle the experience of Tel Aviv’s lively beaches, the serene intensity of Friday evenings at the Kotel, and the sadness and shame I feel when I hear about life in Gaza and the West Bank. So instead of finding a way to reconcile these discordant realities, I detached. Israel just wouldn’t be my problem to solve…

I went on Birthright in 2004, on a trip called “Behind the Headlines.” I chose this one hoping to do exactly that, to get the backstory on Israel. Imagine my disappointment, then, when, a few days into the trip, our bus traveled alongside a very tall, very long wall and the trip leader felt no need to explain what it was there for and who was behind it. This was the moment when I realized that not only were we not going behind the headlines, we weren’t even going to cover them….

The happy ending is that Strauss says, ten years on, she might have to engage:

I am starting to think that as a Jew, I might have a responsibility to pick a side and take a stand. Distancing, which once let me avoid Middle East politics, now just makes me feel complicit. The next step is figuring out where to start.

I know I should welcome Strauss to her new path of seeking the truth, because I’m confident that path leads in one direction, toward supporting equality for Palestinians. And as someone who had to stumble out of a lot of tribal traces to get here, I have to respect others’ processes, especially the young who haven’t learned indifference to authorities.

But I must say I find the piece annoying. It’s like Jeremy Ben-Ami talking to the JCC in New Haven last night and saying, “It’s very hard as a Jew,” to go to Hebron and see a divided street with Jews restricted to one side, and Palestinians restricted to the other. OK, Ben-Ami was trying to hold the hand of a rightwing Jewish crowd and explain the reality of Jim Crow. But I’m sorry:

This is not hard.

When you actually see apartheid and racial discrimination, you have one responsibility in this world, Jew Christians Muslims atheists etc: Repudiate it. Seeing that street in Hebron changed Brian Walt’s life forever. My wife went to Bethlehem and the penny dropped in two seconds, she saw that it was wrong. There’s an ancient spiritual responsibility, to bear witness. I urge all Americans to cast their eyes on that wall and then come back home and run through the streets with the news.

Update: Today the Times has a piece describing the Oscar-nominated movie Omar, by Joshua Hammer. It includes this sweet little euphemism:

In an early scene, an Israeli military patrol catches him scrambling over the security fence, which bisects Omar’s village as it imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.

What do you see when you see that wall?

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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21 Responses

  1. seafoid
    seafoid
    February 5, 2014, 2:12 pm

    “When you actually see apartheid and racial discrimination, you have one responsibility in this world, Jew Christians Muslims atheists etc: Repudiate it. ”

    Judaism is supposed to instil this in people, per the PR, but it’s just another human system. Chosen my ass.

    I went with my Arabic class to Hebron . Someone on the bus took the mic and said “dear passengers. We are now arriving in Hebron. Please wind your watches back 2000 years” .
    It was very funny

  2. eljay
    eljay
    February 5, 2014, 2:47 pm

    >> I am starting to think that as a Jew, I might have a responsibility to pick a side and take a stand.

    Stop thinking “as a Jew” and start thinking “as a human being who believes in justice, morality and equality”. You might get around to picking a side and taking a stand more quickly.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      February 5, 2014, 3:56 pm

      eljay

      As a Jew, she might feel a responsibility to correct this said-to-be-Jewish mess that someone else might not feel. This would be the positive side of seeing this misery “as a Jew”. This is the “Jews used to have a good name and they’re losing that good name and I must do my part to restore it” argument.

      It is not an argument that “there is a crime here and I must, as a human being, stop this crime.” Instead, it is an “as a Jew” argument. And it answers that nasty ZIO question, “Why are you singling out Israel from among all the dreadful criminals for your outrage?” And it invites the “You are self-hating” response, which really means, you hate Zionism-in-practice.

      What Birthright and so on want her to do is feel a responsibility — not to correct the mess, not to end the misery but — to suppress her feelings “as a human being who believes in justice, morality and equality” in favor of solidarity with “The Jewish People”. This is the “sure we’re criminals, but we are your criminals” argument.

      Indeed, you have put the issue squarely: If there is a conflict between acting “like a Jew” and “like a human being who believes in justice, morality and equality” (and I don’t think there is a disjunction there, though Zionists appear to), then her choice is likely to be the “morality and equality” choice.

  3. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    February 5, 2014, 3:40 pm

    “When you actually see apartheid and racial discrimination, you have one responsibility in this world, Jew Christians Muslims atheists etc: Repudiate it. ”

    THIS!!!

  4. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    February 5, 2014, 4:15 pm

    RE “… [M]y indifference eventually became willful. I just couldn’t juggle the experience of Tel Aviv’s lively beaches, the serene intensity of Friday evenings at the Kotel, and the sadness and shame I feel when I hear about life in Gaza and the West Bank. So instead of finding a way to reconcile these discordant realities*, I detached**. Israel just wouldn’t be my problem to solve… I am starting to think that as a Jew, I might have a responsibility to pick a side and take a stand.” ~ Elisa Strauss

    * REGARDING “DISCORDANT REALITIES”, FROM BRITANNICA.COM [cognitive dissonance]:

    cognitive dissonance – the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in a person is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: the person rejects, explains away, or avoids the new information, persuades himself that no conflict really exists, reconciles the differences, or resorts to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in his conception of the world and of himself. The concept, first introduced in the 1950s, has become a major point of discussion and research.

    SOURCE – http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/124498/cognitive-dissonance

    ** REGARDING “I DETACHED . . . [NOW] I AM STARTING TO THINK . . . I MIGHT HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO . . . TAKE A STAND”, FROM WIKIPEDIA [Defence mechanisms]:

    [EXCERPTS] In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms (or defense mechanisms) are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind[1] to manipulate, deny, or distort reality (through processes including, but not limited to, repression, identification, or rationalization),[2] and to maintain a socially acceptable self-image or self-schema [and to minimize cognitive dissonance – J.L.D.].[3]
    Healthy persons normally use different defenses throughout life. An ego defense mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behavior such that the physical and/or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. The purpose of ego defense mechanisms is to protect the mind/self/ego from anxiety [i.e., cognitive dissonance – J.L.D.] and/or social sanctions and/or to provide a refuge from a situation with which one cannot currently cope [i.e., a refuge from cognitive dissonance – J.L.D.].[4]
    Defence mechanisms are unconscious coping mechanisms that reduce anxiety generated by threats from unacceptable impulses.[5] . . .
    . . . The list of defence mechanisms is huge and there is no theoretical consensus on the number of defence mechanisms. . .

    Vaillant’s categorization of defence mechanisms

    Level 1: Pathological

    Level 2: Immature

    Level 3: Neurotic

    Level 4: Mature
    These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature . . .
    ** • Thought suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them. . .

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_mechanisms

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      February 6, 2014, 12:16 am

      Yep. This is what happens when you show Zionists/Free Market fanatics/Global Warming fanatics the facts that prove them wrong. They do everything they can to avoid acknowledging the reality.

  5. Krauss
    Krauss
    February 5, 2014, 4:20 pm

    In an early scene, an Israeli military patrol catches him scrambling over the security fence, which bisects Omar’s village as it imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.

    These kinds of disgusting whitewashes is on many levels a lot worse, since it is the NYT, the supposedly “liberal” newspaper of America.

    I mean, we kind of expect WSJ to defend Apartheid but how can a guy like Joshua Hammer sleep at night? He’s a complete political prostitute. Harsh words? Sorry, but when you whitewash apartheid to save your career, that’s what you earn.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      February 5, 2014, 6:40 pm

      But you gotta love the $5-words, “imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank” both for the Oh! so elegant “imprecisely traces” and the horrible political idea that there is today a different border.

      If the author is a prostitute, as we must assume he is, he sure dresses his effluent in fancy duds!

  6. tree
    tree
    February 5, 2014, 4:48 pm

    “…as it imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.”

    These kinds of disgusting whitewashes is on many levels a lot worse, since it is the NYT, the supposedly “liberal” newspaper of America.

    Hey, cut them some slack. They probably described the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line as “imprecisely tracing the border between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union”. Who really cared that Poland disappeared as a result?

  7. Patrick
    Patrick
    February 5, 2014, 5:14 pm

    The “security fence … imprecisely traces the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.”

    What a mendacious farce. Disgustingly dishonest. This a line that is deliberately designed to mislead and give the impression that the trace of the ‘fence’ happens to meander in a haphazard way on both sides of the border.

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      February 5, 2014, 6:03 pm

      Thanks Patrick, I should have noticed that. Phil

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      February 5, 2014, 7:00 pm

      In glass half full mode (it happens), that wording might be viewed as a “daring” (though still half-assed) attempt to say something relevant as the reality-based discussion transcends old habits of saying nothing about the glaringly obvious.

      It could be a tentative foray into new personal and/or journalistic territory. It could be a net positive and a sign of change.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, Patrick, but the media play on this seems different. Stuff is getting noticed, however tentatively, that wasn’t getting noticed at all just a few months ago. FWIW.

      • ritzl
        ritzl
        February 6, 2014, 7:47 pm

        Ari Shavit’s much-ballyhooed libzio “coming out” opened the door, but in the process/simultaneously punted control of the narrative.

    • Sumud
      Sumud
      February 5, 2014, 8:06 pm

      Imagine Canada attempting to “meander” the US/Canada border and swallowing up 8% of the most resource-rich US land in the process.

      It would result in war.

      • talknic
        talknic
        February 6, 2014, 8:00 am

        @ Sumud “It would result in war”

        Meanwhile, back in the ‘holy land’ it has been war since 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time) http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/israel/large/documents/newPDF/49.pdf when Jewish forces were outside the State of Israel waging war on what remained of Palestine after Israel was proclaimed independent of Palestine.

        There has never been a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, Israel has been at war with and in occupation of Palestinian territory since 00:01 May 15th 1948

  8. kma
    kma
    February 5, 2014, 9:33 pm

    with all due respect, and I do respect Mondoweiss, I did NOT have to visit Palestine to understand that the land was given to outsiders and it’s an ethnic cleansing. people who were alive in 1948 know this very well.
    before I even went there, I learned MORE from my Jewish friends who had lived there and who have successfully broken the siege of Gaza before the boats were pirated by the occupiers. you don’t have to see the abuse in Bethlehem to get it. I did not have to travel to South Africa to know what apartheid is.
    I feel for Jews who have been taught that this is their “birthright” or ethnicity or the only safe future or it’s who God is. really I do.
    but it’s wrong and it’s ruining my country, so I don’t feel that bad about Elisa Strauss and the story about her is sappy and weird. who cares what she thinks? the world knows.

  9. philweiss
    philweiss
    February 5, 2014, 10:04 pm

    With all respect, everyone’s different. Gloucester said, I see it feelingly. that’s the way I am

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      February 5, 2014, 10:54 pm

      Gloucester said, I see it feelingly. that’s the way I am

      That is such a great quote, Phil

      Bill Moyers in the NYR a few years ago

      http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2005/03/Welcome-To-Doomsday.aspx?p=3
      “On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: “How do you see the world?” And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: “I see it feelingly.’”
      I see it feelingly.
      We must match the science of human health to what the ancient Israelites called hochma—the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us.”

      Israel needs hochma real bad today.

  10. Frejus
    Frejus
    February 6, 2014, 6:24 am

    Phillip, I too find the piece annoying-the reason being that it attests to the prevelence of “by-stander role” embraced by all too many American Jews. The heroic Amira Haas instructed on this point many years ago in writing of her mother’s memories:
    “She saw a group of German women, some on foot, some on bicycles, slow down as the strange procession went by and watch with indifferent curiosity on their faces. For me, these women became a loathsome symbol of watching from the sidelines, and from an early age I decided that my place was not with the bystanders.”

  11. philweiss
    philweiss
    February 6, 2014, 9:12 am

    Thanks Frejus, very helpful quote, wish I’d used that term bystander.

  12. notatall
    notatall
    February 6, 2014, 10:56 am

    Phil asks, “What do you see when you see that wall?”

    In thinking about Reconstruction, a period whose meaning is still contested, how does one decide which version is right, “Birth of a Nation” or “Freedom Road?” It depends on which side one identifies with, the freedpeople or their former owners.

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