As you may have heard, American Jews have led a protest against orthodox restrictions on prayer at the western wall in Jerusalem. Orthodox rabbis control this holy space, so they segregate the sexes; but under pressure from American Jews, the Israeli government has come up with a compromise plan that would allow mixed-gender prayer in one part of the site, called the Kotel.
But the government is dragging its feet on the reforms, and Jane Eisner, editor of the Jewish Forward, who has pushed the changes, has published a set of recommendations to American Jews on how to win their cause. That list includes boycott and acts of civil disobedience.
Boycott the site.
… what if pickets were set up at the entrances to the plaza, and protesters mounted a concerted effort to remind passersby, customers and visitors in the Old City of the blatant unfairness of the current system, in which an unelected, unrepresentative and sexist group of rabbis rule with abandon? Take a cue from striking workers. Don’t let ‘em cross the picket line.
[P]erform acts of civil disobedience at the site itself.
Writing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner raised this possibility after the June 1 meeting between Netanyahu and American Jewish leaders resulted in another postponement: “begin a civil resistance-style fight on the ground. That is, to send groups of progressive Jews to the Kotel to pray in mixed groups. Reform and Conservative prayers at the northern plaza of the Kotel.”
The protests will be stopped by police, of course, and the resulting mayhem will prove to be a “PR disaster for Israel,” Rosner predicts. “…it could be an educational drama that has the potential of changing the conversation about Jewish partnership for both U.S. Jews and Israeli Jews.”
Eisner also offers the option of
“Forget changing the Kotel, and work to persuade Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Compared to a half-century of occupation, is worship around a bunch of ancient stones really that important?”
But that line is a throwaway: Eisner isn’t as urgent about that agenda as she is about fair prayer. The Forward has opposed boycott of Israel for the occupation, and has done nothing to advance Palestinian villages’ civil disobedience to try to forestall confiscation of their lands. And this double standard is an ethnocentric one: For the millions of Palestinians under occupation have no rights to think of; while the Jews whom Eisner would boycott on behalf of have merely been deprived of the right of worship in a couple of acres in Jerusalem.
It’s interesting too that Eisner urges American Jews not to undertake one measure: to “negotiate” the existing deal. That deal is a “compromise of a compromise,” she informs her readers, and if we enter into negotiations, the “opportunity for equality and fairness will be lost.” No: American Jewish leaders should walk away instead.
But isn’t that the definition of the two-state solution, a compromise of a compromise? Palestinians started out anticipating sovereignty over all the land of historical Palestine and are now reduced by degrees to 22 percent. Many have resisted this solution as a mingy compromise. Some have walked away rather than negotiate with the government that controls the situation.
The Forward would be far more persuasive if it remembered Rabbi Hillel’s simple moral standard: “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor.”