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Smile — it’s the Upper West Side

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I just returned from Gaza a couple weeks ago.   I can’t begin to describe the kind of devastation the Palestinians face there every day.   What shocked me the most was the profound feeling of their being treated like disposable humanity, in a cage, to live or die or grow ill from the lack of basic medical supplies, clean water, sewage treatment, electricity or simply a roof over their head.  The basics- all things we take for granted.  “Smile- it’s Gaza” they kept telling me.   All I could do was weep.

What gets me is that while Palestinians are forced to live under and suffer the consequences of the 10 year blockade and siege in their tiny little hot open air prison–  back here on the cushy west side of Manhattan we’re put under a great deal of pressure not to speak of such things and when we do, we’re often told that we’re “demonizing” Israel or making people feel “unsafe.”   

One recent example;  On April 19th the Task Force on Israel-Palestine at my Upper West Side Episcopal Church (which I have chosen to leave anonymous, because this is not an isolated example) hosted former Israeli special forces soldier Miko Peled for a talk.  Prior to the event, which did take place, the Rector of our church received phone calls from a local Rabbi and a City Councilman expressing their displeasure about hosting such an event. 

On June 19th we had another event at my church, but this time organized by the Rector and led by the same local City Councilman and chair of the Jewish Caucus, entitled “How we engage the issue of Israel and Palestine in our own context.  As non-Jewish and Jewish New Yorkers on the Upper West Side, how can we talk about this difficult issue without demonizing the other side?” 

This reminds me of an article Mark Braverman wrote several years ago on interfaith bullying.  In it he describes how there is a kind of soft bullying at work, “in which those who claim to represent the Jewish community have set the rules that Christians have obediently followed.  A deal designed to relieve Christians of their guilt over anti-Semitism by making any meaningful criticism of Israel or challenge to Zionism out of bounds.”  Even back in 2012 when this was written he stated, “we are seeing only the beginning of the battle that will be waged to silence this church movement.”

This June 19th event was billed as “how we engage the issue of Israel-Palestine” but the talk itself ended up being heavily focused around why Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, is a bad idea (according to this Rabbi and Councilman) and why Israel is being unfairly singled out for this treatment.   If this were 1972 this argument might be more convincing when opportunity lay ahead to end the occupation and comply with UN resolutions and international law.   What was heartily glossed over in this talk by the Councilman and the Rabbi is that the non-violent peaceful call to boycott and divestment only came after decades of failed diplomatic efforts, decades of peace talks, dialogue and coexistence projects, decades of occupation, and now a decade of the blockade and siege of Gaza and periodic “lawn mowing” of its civilian population, not to mention the continued theft of Palestinian land to build Jewish only settlements and roads in the West Bank on the very land the UN set aside for a future Palestinian state more than 67 years ago.

This, in psychoanalytic parlance, is called the double bind.  In other words- when someone or some entity in a position of power makes contradicting demands on another whereby no response is deemed appropriate.   For the Palestinians- they may not object to the occupation and continued expansion of Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land, they may not militantly resist such actions, and they may not non-violently resist through the time honored tools of civil disobedience such as boycott, divestment and sanctions.   What’s left?

In the US, advocates for Palestinian human rights are now experiencing a different kind of double bind.  We want to recognize the emotional and psychological fear expressed by people living here on the Upper West Side who feel uncomfortable when they hear the policies of the state of Israel being criticized but we also want to honor the lives of those who have been killed, maimed, live food-insecure, homeless, and without water and electricity.  We want to honor the lives of the 22,000 orphans living in Gaza.   If we are not permitted to speak of what has happened to them, how do we honor their feelings and the truth about their lives ?

If we’re “demonizing” Israel by using words to raise questions about their human rights violations, what is the name we would give to what Israel is doing to the 1.85 million people of Gaza using drones, missiles, F16’s, apache helicopters and white phosphorous?

We will continue to be criticized, shamed and ridiculed for our efforts to talk about Israel’s human rights violations against a besieged and occupied population.   I keep telling myself- that’s ok with me,  it’s a lot easier than living in Gaza.   Smile- we’re on the Upper West Side.

We’ll have to find a way to simply embrace the friction and discomfort of our work together.   People won’t like it, people will find it annoying, but we’re not doing anything wrong and advocacy for the oppressed is a long held tradition of Christian ministry.

We can assume best intentions of dialogue efforts such as this recent event on the Upper West Side, but we also have to be realistic.  Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs allocated $25.5 million in 2015 for a new Anti-BDS Task Force.  That budget is set to balloon upwards from there- it’s already over $30 million.

It’s difficult for small non-profits like Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No to bump up against that kind of money, political capital and slick marketing.   Israel and it’s American partner organizations have a sophisticated, well funded, well organized international campaign.   Small organizations advocating BDS in order to encourage policy change by political leaders rely on grassroots sharing of information, old fashioned collaboration and coordination.   That’s all we have to work with.  We have to use it.   The involvement of a city council member that doesn’t even represent the district of this Upper West Side parish is not a coincidence, nor is it a coincidence that the head of Jewish global advocacy in support of Israel at the AJC attended and signed into one of the Task Force events at the same Upper West Side parish using an alias.

Five Lutheran synods recently passed divestment resolutions.  Israel knows the Episcopalians are up for a vote in 2018.   There’s a lot at stake here and they are threatened by BDS, not because it’s terribly damaging economically but because it is a non-violent tool that is sending a powerful message to the world.

The Task Force along with others advocating for peace and justice  will continue to experience push-back.  We need to be vigilant and prepared at every turn

About Rebecca Fadil

Rebecca Fadil is on the board of Kairos, USA

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31 Responses

  1. just
    just
    June 22, 2016, 11:23 am

    Thank you, Rebecca. You write that:

    “People won’t like it, people will find it annoying, but we’re not doing anything wrong and advocacy for the oppressed is a long held tradition of Christian ministry.”

    I see and appreciate your POV, and will add that this is a “long held tradtion” of humanists everywhere. I very much appreciate your efforts.

    BDS!

  2. Boomer
    Boomer
    June 22, 2016, 2:12 pm

    Thanks for the excellent and moving report, Ms. Fadil. At least Peled got to speak. So the glass is half full.

    re: “What’s left?” for the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza:

    Perhaps a few can escape, though it seems that Israel, Egypt and the U.S. do all they can to make that impossible. The rest, I guess, are supposed to suffer in silence until Israel mows the grass again, when they are supposed to die with dignity.

    “Double bind” is a good description of what many Americans of good will felt. Reading Mondweiss has feed me from that ignorant, immoral constraint. But in truth, what they felt or feel doesn’t matter. The elites agree on American policy regarding Israel/Palestine: public opinion is only relevant when elites don’t care, or are split on an issue.

  3. ritzl
    ritzl
    June 22, 2016, 2:34 pm

    Great article.

    Is it possible to effect change without making the people who need to change feel uncomfortable?

    We want to recognize the emotional and psychological fear expressed by people living here on the Upper West Side who feel uncomfortable when they hear the policies of the state of Israel being criticized…

    Why?

    They don’t recognize that your dead extended family in Gaza (hypothetically) were even human. Or that you are for that matter. I’ve never dealt with anyone on that basis so I don’t have a clue how it feels, but it seems to me that it would be impossible to accept that assumption, perennially argue from a position of inferiority, and ultimately succeed in changing anything.

    You all are exceptional spiritual people for trying though. For putting other people’s feelings first and giving them the benefit of the doubt (over long periods of time) that they will respond in kind. I admire you all very much for that strength and resilience.

    Justice.

    • annie
      annie
      June 22, 2016, 6:49 pm

      ritzl, that was the exact paragraph i copied to paste in the comments. frankly, i don’t care if it makes them uncomfortable. they should feel uncomfortable about it.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 22, 2016, 7:34 pm

        “frankly, i don’t care if it makes them uncomfortable. they should feel uncomfortable about it.”

        I see something I’m calling a “social panic”. They are starting to wake up to the fact that there will be social consequences.

        There will be endless blather about the Jewish identity” and of course “antisemitism”, and attempts to browbeat or use law in a misguided and futile attempt to prevent change of course.

        And there can be lots of social consequences which never come anywhere near legal discrimination, violence, or an abrogation of Constitutional rights. They may even take time to become evident, but they can feel attitudes changing, right now.

        And the one thing which might ameliorate those consequences, a change in Zionism a change in Israel’s actions and policies, they are powerless to effect.

        Of course, if one’s position is based strictly on merit, there isn’t much to worry about.

      • annie
        annie
        June 22, 2016, 8:29 pm

        mooser, zionist fretting is the least of my concerns. they have support groups for things like that.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 22, 2016, 9:29 pm

        “mooser, zionist fretting is the least of my concerns. they have support groups for things like that.”

        That’s good! I am am sure they will find some succor in those support groups.

        Doesn’t seem to me like Zionists are too concerned either, they will just browbeat, executive order, and antisemitism all the consequences away.
        Or so they think, but I don’t think so.

    • David44
      David44
      June 23, 2016, 6:23 am

      “We want to recognize the emotional and psychological fear expressed by people living here on the Upper West Side who feel uncomfortable when they hear the policies of the state of Israel being criticized…

      Why?”

      The basic answer (I speak as someone who, like Rebecca, lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side) is because the people in question have power, and without some understanding and recognition of their own psychological position, they are much less likely to shift in the way they use that power.

      This is NOT, and should not be (to answer oldgeezer’s similar point) to suggest that there is the slightest moral equivalence between their discomfort and the sufferings of the Palestinians under Israeli rule (and I did not take Rebecca to be implying that there was such equivalence), but rather because such recognition is pragmatically essential if you want to shift the terms of the argument in such a way as to change people’s minds for the better.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        June 23, 2016, 11:12 am

        @David

        I would generally agree that such an approach is the best and most likely to produce positive results in most situations.

        In this case I disagree. One only need to look at the many decades of dialogue, assurances and contrast that to what has happened within the OPT. Rather than move opinion or actions of Israel towards what is moral, legal, just and required it has emboldened the state and it’s supporters to commit further crimes and excesses. These are not minor offenses but grave breaches of international law and even the Geneva Conventions.

        There is no reason to believe that continuing this type of approach will result in positive outcomes.

        Palestinians are dying in significant numbers. Their lives are being ruined for generations past, present and future.

        Israel and it’s zionist supporters have shown no desire to end the situation but prefer to continue to expand what can only be considered to be a rogue state by definition.

        It’s time to forget the carrot and begin to apply the stick. The degree to which it needs to be applied is their choice. The laws are clear whether it’s international law, IHL or GC.

      • David44
        David44
        June 23, 2016, 11:57 am

        I don’t disagree with you that more needs to be done than “dialogue and assurances”, and if by “applying the stick” you mean (as you seem to) the pursuit of legal remedies, or BDS or whatever, I would agree with that too. But I don’t see that those things are incompatible with offering your opponents understanding and recognition of their fears.

        Again, look at it pragmatically. It’s all very well to talk about “applying the stick”, but let’s be realistic, and recognize that it is a very small stick being applied against some very powerful institutions, who have access to a great many political resources. It is interesting (and somehow reassuring) to see how utterly panicked the NYC Jewish community – my community – is by this very small stick; but their panic is likely to lead them – indeed, is already leading them – to attempt to use more of their resources to suppress the opposition, rather than in the direction of conciliation, let alone towards acceptance of Palestinian rights.

        Accordingly, I still maintain that accompanying such actions with some form of recognition and awareness of the basis of their fears is more likely to produce effective results than confronting them with unrelenting hostility would.

      • ritzl
        ritzl
        June 23, 2016, 2:28 pm

        @David44

        I assume you also read my last paragraph.

        My observation and experience is that supplication (whether you view it as that or not, THEY do) only provides the affirmation of their power that fuels their intransigence.

        Do you have a modern day example of this technique working to defuze/diffuse intransigence and effect change (or minimal case, create some space where change can occur)? I can’t think of any offhand, but that’s just me.

        It just seems to me that supplication is an acceptance of an inferior position which precludes an ability to expect change as one would expect change from an equal. I think that expectation of change is critical to actually achieving change.

        One last thing, the relationshipship where you feel compelled to consider others’ feelings who don’t even slightly consider the validity your own just stinks of the way things are done in Israel. Its how Palestinians are forced to relate to their oppressors. It seems out of place in the US. There’s a distnct distaste when reading about it as a tactic. It seems like an ugly transferred characteristic where Palestinians here are expected to behave like Palestinians there (and many Palestinians here accept that condition given what Israel can and will do to captive family members and decades of experience with that system).

        But again, Ms. Fadil is Kairos so she/you may be adopting this method out of true and noble belief. If so, and as I wrote upthread, I’m in complete and sincere awe of that courage. Heck, I’m in awe of your courage, period.

        Prevail.

      • David44
        David44
        June 24, 2016, 7:03 am

        “Do you have a modern day example of this technique working to defuze/diffuse intransigence and effect change (or minimal case, create some space where change can occur)? I can’t think of any offhand, but that’s just me.”

        Yes. I would say that the end of apartheid in South Africa was partially enabled by the black majority’s willingness to recognize and give that sort of space to white fears. I emphasize “partially” – a LOT more than that was needed, and will be needed in this case also (which is why I said that this sort of recognition should go hand-in-hand with more confrontational approaches, and should not be a substitute for them). But it would have been a great deal harder to end apartheid without that.

        “Heck, I’m in awe of your courage, period.”

        I hope and trust that the “your” in this sentence refers to Ms Fadil, not to me! I haven’t shown any particular courage; I’m sitting comfortably on the Upper West Side commenting on a blog …

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        June 25, 2016, 2:13 pm

        @david

        I certainly did mean BDS. I don’t advocate the use of violence.

        I understand what you’re saying.

        Normally I would agree with your assessment and use the same type of approach as you suggest. My only point is that, in light of the history of the past 70 years, I don’t agree with this approach having any useful outcome. If the sordid details of the past 70 years hasn’t managed to change the opinions of those who hold power then this approach will not win them over. The litany of abuses and crimes against the Palestinian people matter not a whit to them. You have to be pretty hardcore and inured to the acts being perpetrated to have ignored them this long.

        That said the approach can’t hurt. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps we both are. Perhaps some carrot and some stick can make a change. I remain to be convinced as it unfolds.

  4. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    June 22, 2016, 3:55 pm

    “We want to recognize the emotional and psychological fear expressed by people living here on the Upper West Side who feel uncomfortable when they hear the policies of the state of Israel being criticized but we also want to honor the lives of those who have been killed, maimed, live food-insecure, homeless, and without water and electricity. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/06/smile-upper-side/#comment-168670

    You can’t compare these two things. One is feelings. Feelings about criticism of state policies no less. The other is actual oppression and repression of living breathing human beings. Of dispossession, torture, indefinite detention without charge. Of high tech weaponry being used against them when they are defenseless.

    In a perfect world we would all feel wonderful all of the time but this world is not perfect and the fears and feelings don’t warrant consideration in relation to the appalling treatment and condition of the Palestinians.

  5. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    June 22, 2016, 4:03 pm

    As Jews and Christians, don’t these rectors and rabbis believe in the existence of demons or the possibility of demonic possession as a cause of human viciousness? After all, they are religious and demons are part of their worldview, or perhaps not? Not being religious myself I don’t understand these things.

    • John O
      John O
      June 23, 2016, 8:29 am

      Demons, the Devil, and dualistic cosmology are pretty old theological hat, and were so 50 years ago when I was a good Catholic boy being taught RE. Evil was not a thing in itself, but rather an absence of good. Hell, if it existed, was empty. It didn’t persuade me, though. Old schoolfriends and I agree that our alma mater turned out an handful of priests and a hatful of atheists.

    • Boo
      Boo
      June 23, 2016, 11:38 am

      May as well ask whether six-year-olds believe in Santa Claus. Some do, some don’t. All I know is, Bibi better watch out for Struwwelpeter (although who can say, he may enjoy a good birching).

      “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
      — 1 Corinthians 13:11

    • David44
      David44
      June 23, 2016, 11:43 am

      No, demons and demonic possession form no part at all of contemporary Jewish theology. There are a small handful of Talmudic and post-Talmudic legends concerning demons and the like, but I do not know of any rabbi of any denomination who takes them seriously as a literal explanation for human action.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        June 23, 2016, 9:05 pm

        “No, demons and demonic possession form no part at all of contemporary Jewish theology.

        Oooh, that’s not good.
        It could leave us only our own thoughts, speech, and actions to be responsible for Zionism?
        How about some of the more extreme stuff?
        We can’t say ‘the Devil made them do it, and hey, what can you do ?
        We shouldn’t exclude demons and demonic possession like that. We might need to invoke them in defense of certain actions.

        Leave out the demons, and it only leaves us, and God, of course.

  6. eljay
    eljay
    June 23, 2016, 7:44 am

    … This June 19th event was billed as “how we engage the issue of Israel-Palestine” but the talk itself ended up being heavily focused around why Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, is a bad idea (according to this Rabbi and Councilman) …

    Poor little religion-supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel. All it wants is to be left alone to commit ethnic cleansing, torture, oppression, occupation, colonization, devastation and sundry (war) crimes and to practise Jewish supremacism in as much as possible of Palestine. But these horrible, mean, nasty ol’ BDS people keep insisting on justice, accountability and equality. Aggressor-victimhood is such a tough gig… :-(

    … Israel is being unfairly singled out for this treatment. …

    Zio-supremacists are like elementary school bullies: They’re cocky as hell when they’re harassing or beating up the other kids, but they cry like little girls when they are admonished or penalized for their hateful and immoral actions.

  7. hophmi
    hophmi
    June 23, 2016, 10:18 am

    Is there a particular reason that you can’t provide the name of the person who led this discussion?

    • Boo
      Boo
      June 23, 2016, 11:53 am

      Is there a particular reason that you say the author “can’t” provide this information? She elected to leave the church, pastor and councilman anonymous because she states (rightly) that this is not an isolated situation.

      Indeed it is not. My church in DC put together a similar program and faced similar pressure either to cave and cancel, or to pay fealty to the Moloch called “false equivalency” and allow a representative of the Israel lobby onstage. Episcopal and other churches on the Upper East Side are not the only ones to have their arms twisted in this way, so the author does well to generalize her specific case.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      June 23, 2016, 8:38 pm

      “Is there a particular reason that you can’t provide the name of the person who led this discussion?”

      It’s off-the-record. Why can’t we apply all the same things you demanded in the case of Amb. Dennis Ross?

  8. Chu
    Chu
    June 23, 2016, 1:22 pm

    “double bind…”

    It’s a bind of your own making. Don’t invite the Rabbi and his council person into your house of worship – you guys are all grown up and can make decisions for yourself (ask yourself would they ever invite you to their Shul and get your perspective?). You and your fellow congregants are clearly are being manipulated with this tactic, and they are playing you and your congregation because your liberal UWS ideology causes you to feel trapped.

    I thought there was going to be something positive someone said in the audience. So everyone endured the guilt trip and no one had anything to say to counter this discussion? If you were only recently in Gaza you didn’t have the burning desire to say anything opposing this rabbi?

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      June 23, 2016, 2:37 pm

      +10, Chu. Choices not bindings.

      OR…something else (unstated) is going on where it is an externally-imposed bind rather than a choice.

      • Chu
        Chu
        June 24, 2016, 10:32 am

        Ritzl, I think the congregants also should have a pre discussion before the meeting, so you don’t have members wanting to say somthing, but fear that they will not be supported by the others. The opposition often uses shills in the audience, so why not come prepared.

  9. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    June 23, 2016, 1:37 pm

    @ejay
    “Zio-supremacists are like elementary school bullies: They’re cocky as hell when they’re harassing or beating up the other kids, but they cry like little girls when they are admonished or penalized for their hateful and immoral actions”

    Got it in a nutshell.

    The ongoing problem since 1967 is that JSIL`s No 1 nanny , the USA , has limited itself to admonishments and has never “penalised”. Even their weak and pathetic “this is not helpful to the Peace Process” type admonishments have led to floods of tears and the old “being thrown under a bus ” “delegitimising JSIL” etc routines from the JSIL Firsters in America.

    The EU for all its faults has actually moved on from “admonishment” to “penalties” in the requirement for settlement goods to be labelled. And it would appear that the French led peace initiative which has been dissed by the Yahoo is going ahead despite his whinging and caterwauling.

  10. mbraverman
    mbraverman
    June 23, 2016, 1:47 pm

    Excellent piece Rebecca! Wonderful that you are calling attention to what is going on at the congregational level. What happens on the ground, in the community and inside the congregations, although not receiving as much public notice as what is going on at the denominational levels, may be even more important, that’s where the change originates and that what drives everything. This kind of conflict in the faith community is actually a marker of health. The church is used to controversy and it makes it stronger. These struggles are helping to keep the church dynamic and strong but change and growth come from the grassroots. Someday this will be going on in our synagogues as well, but it’s right that the St. Mikes and churches across the country are not waiting. Congratulations and keep up the struggle!
    Mark

  11. Russ
    Russ
    June 23, 2016, 3:04 pm

    Great article, Rebecca!! – You really tell it right. We Christians have to be ready to “get into trouble,” like Rep. John Lewis said on the FLOOR of Congress: “We got in trouble. We got in the way. Good trouble. Necessary Trouble. By sitting-in, we were really standing up.”

  12. anacharsis
    anacharsis
    June 24, 2016, 1:34 pm

    Great essay, Ms Fadil.

    It’s interesting and encouraging that a New York City politician and a rabbi actually felt that they had to go and face an audience where they might get some disagreement on this topic (and I hope they got it). Normally the Thought Police don’t come and argue their case openly; they make phone calls and send emails and defame their opponents sub rosa. They’re usually all about avoiding conversation, not engaging in it.

    On the whole it’s a good thing that your church held the event. Nobody can claim that the church isn’t willing to hear both sides. I expect your polite Episcopalians will over time learn to be bolder about calling BS when they smell it, if more such events take place.

    I agree with other commenters that it’s getting a bit tiresome indulging the delicate feelings of Zionists. All this whingeing about feeling unsafe and so on just amounts to emotional blackmail.

  13. Talkback
    Talkback
    June 25, 2016, 7:52 am

    “In the US, advocates for Palestinian human rights are now experiencing a different kind of double bind. ”

    Where’s the double bind? No power demands from you to take both positions, which aren’t even mutual exclusive. This is your own highly asymmetrical false dilemma.

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