Monday, June 23, 2014

Having a Conversation about Israel

Midway through last week, I sat at the kitchen table with my boys.

That very day, my denomination was in the throes of some really tough decision-making about disengaging from businesses profiting from the peculiar military/correctional mess in Gaza and the West Bank.  I'd pitched in my two cents here on the blog, and I felt the need to sound my perspective off my boys.  It was just the three of us, as my wife had gone with my mother-in-law to sit shiva that evening with the family of the rabbi of our synagogue, who'd lost his father.

So that night it was Presbyterian pastor dad at table, having a dinner meal with his Jewish sons.

There are plenty of calls to have conversations to rebuild relationships between the Jewish community following the General Assembly, and I'm obviously in an unusual position to have such a conversation.  Judaism isn't just an abstract community for me, folks I know from meetings and gatherings.  It's not just that I "have Jewish friends."

It's the woman that I love.  It's the flesh and the blood of our children.

We chose, early on, not to do the half-and-half thing.  They would be raised Jewish.  Period.  And so, having made that nontrivial decision, I've had a nontrivial hand in their Jewish upbringing.  I found the mohel and made the arrangements for their brises.  I schlepped them for years to synagogue for Hebrew School, through the worst traffic in the United States.  I stood with them on the bema, and watched proudly as they were mitzvahed.

So I started in, asking them for their perspective.

Here's what we might be doing and why, I told them, laying it out as objectively as I could.  Here are the three American corporations we would no longer be investing church resources in, here are the specific products and services they are providing, and here is why we feel we can't be part of that.

What do you think?  Are we being unfair?  Is my church picking on Israel, or being anti-Semitic?

At sixteen and thirteen, neither of my sons are particularly shy about telling their father when they think he's being an idiot.  Believe me.  Not. Shy. At. All.   God help me.

My thirteen year old piped up first.  "Not even close," he said.  "Not everything that Israel does is right.  Why would you have to agree with everything they do?  Why would I?"  And then, because he is every once in a while prone to *cough* vigorously expressing his opinion, he went into a schpiel about how weird he thought it was that a Jewish state should have a large ethnic community within its borders that are unwillingly walled in.

"You know what that is," he opined after describing the West Bank and Gaza, gesticulating and raising his voice.  "You know what you call that?  You call that a ghetto.  It's a freakin' ghetto.  It's like Israel is turning into the freakin' Nazis.  If anyone should know better than that, it's we Jews.  Why is Israel acting like a bunch of freakin' Nazis?"

My older son, more inward, more measured, was a little more circumspect.  "That's not really a fair description.  What Israel is doing is not good, sure.  But it's not like the Holocaust.  They aren't being systematically slaughtered.  Israel's not like the Nazis.  It's just not the same."  He thought for a moment.

"It's more like what America did to the Native Americans.  It's like they've been kicked off their land and forced to live on reservations.  Israel isn't getting all Nazi with the Palestinians.  They're getting American on them."

There was more back and forth, with some of the heat and debate that always comes when my sons get into something, but after surprisingly little bickering, both agreed:

Israel is just being like America in one of her less proud moments, and it does not look good, and it was not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish to both point that out and to choose not to validate it.

And then they were off, disappearing into their rooms and their screens.

It was an interesting talk.


21 comments:

  1. While your family story is moving, I would suggest that if the only comparisons your sons can draw up in a discussion of Isarel are Nazi Germany vs. America's genocide of Native Americans, then perhaps you have waited too long to have a conversation with them about this subject or (dare I say it) not provided them access to enough background information to understand why such comparisons might strike those better informed of history and current events as borderline obscene.

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  2. I've left conversations about Israel to the synagogue, DT. Mostly, I tell them to do their homework, and to clean their rooms. I have let those who love Zion as their home tell her story. So they know all of the history, taught to them by Israelis and Jews from all over the political spectrum in the US. But they also been taught to have eyes and minds, and...like anyone trained to debate and discuss...aren't willing to simply ignore what they're seeing. They are not blind partisans, because to be such would be to abandon the rich intellectual and spiritual traditions of Judaism.

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  3. Too true, but if that's the case then it seems as though their education has fallen down on two fronts.

    After all, a genuine (and morally serious) debate over something like the wall built to separate Israelis and Palestinians after the Second Intifada bombing campaign (whatever you want to call that barrier or that campaign) needs to include a hard look at (1) what took place before that wall was built (in terms of bombing and number of Israelis killed or wounded); (2) what happened afterwards (in terms of a lowering of those casualty figures), and (3) what the existence of that barrier has cost Palestinians.

    With that information in place, one can begin challenging discussions over, for example, how many bus bombings Israeli should tolerate to avoid a certain amount of Palestinian suffering (a Utilitarian argument), under what circumstances taking action that might harm civilians is justified (which can encompass Passivism vs. Just War Theory), debate over real on-the-ground issues (that should take into account Israeli, Palestinian and wider Arab national politics), etc.

    Alternatively, one could simply brand that barrier “The Apartheid Wall” (something I’ve seen frequently in Presbyterian divestment-related discourse) or compare it to the Warsaw Ghetto (as happened at your dinner table) and ignore (or not even notice you’re not including) every single substantial fact or argument that might require genuine tough thinking and the aforementioned moral seriousness needed to make challenging decisions about the real world. Or, as we saw in Detroit last week, one can deploy images or stories of broken bodies (preferably those of children) in an effort to short-circuit reason in order to ride a sea of emotion to get to the desired political endpoint.

    I must admit that having closely watched debates over the Middle East at five General Assemblies now, it has been the effort to avoid all of the substantial points noted above that made the greatest impression on me – especially for an organization that is so quick to pat itself on the back for its moral seriousness and courage.

    So perhaps it’s time to reconvene that meeting and fill in any holes that your sons might need to reach a genuinely informed conclusion.

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  4. The comparison of Israeli actions to Palestinians on one hand and American actions to Indians is not at all valid. Many Palestinians live within Israel and choose to live there than be governed by the PA. I wish Americans would treat the Indians as well. Palestinians are professors, members of high political office, and winners of Israeli Idol type shows. In the disputed areas, life is harder for Palestinians. I wish it wasn't so. The Palestinian government has squandered more aid per person than any other group classified as refugees. And the PA-controlled areas are Juden-frei, more so than any Hitler-controlled region. The Palestinians are ethnic-cleansing even the land, forcing Christians to flee. Why does the PCUSA not defend the Christians in Palestinian lands? Instead is is condemning the Israelis who have provided greater religious freedom than any and every government in the region past or present. Shame on you for thinking you are unbiased and for teaching your children to hate and attack based on incomplete or faulty knowledge. I see no love of God's creatures in your actions.

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  5. DT: I know that hard reality. The "why" of the walls is complicated, but significantly rooted in acts of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians. Those acts can't be ignored or excused, and they have a long history. I remember Entebbe, and the '72 Olympics. Violence is violence, and I completely reject any efforts to legitimize it. Nor are my sons unaware of that violence, and the reason for the walls was actively discussed during that conversation. They know all of those things, DT.

    Joel: The Palestinian Authority is a mess, unquestionably. And life there is much harder, particularly for Christians. The challenge, right now, is that the "disputed areas" are having the same effect on Israeli moral authority as Guantanamo Bay has had on the standing of my nation. Your comment raises two interesting questions: 1) if Palestinians are completely welcome in Israel, why not open up Israeli citizenship to any who wish to live under her laws and the protections of her jurisprudence? 2) Beyond "wishing it were not so," what are you saying and doing to help make it not so?

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  6. David – I continue to be confused then about the conclusions that seem to have been drawn from your discussion.

    I recognize that you did not provide blow-by-blow details of that conversation with your sons, but it strikes me that if a full understanding of the terror war that created the need for a separation barrier, coupled with recognition that it was effective in stopping the carnage (measured alongside what that separation strategy has cost Palestinians, of course), then how could the conclusion of such a conversation ended in deciding Israel, while not behaving like the Nazis in Warsaw are only comparable to those responsible for genocide against Native Americans?

    I could understand a conclusion that the suffering of Palestinians outweighs the security of Israelis (even if I would vehemently disagree with it), but to have all relevant data on the table and still end up with a choice between Warsaw and the Trail of Tears strikes me as a failure of input or processing (at best).

    Obviously I’m not concerned specifically with what you discuss with your children (and am only using the conversation you chose to tell us about to illustrate a wider point).

    And that wider point has to do with PCUSA which, like you, has informed us again and again that their discussions are extremely informed and their debates measured and reasonable. And still we keep ending up in the same place: Israel is to blame for the violence on both sides of the conflict (a conclusions of PCUSA’s 2004 divestment debate), Israel must be lumped in with Sudan and Apartheid South Africa (the logic behind the church’s divestment policy: stated explicitly at GA after GA), and – of course – the supersessionism of “unhelpful” documents like Zionism Unsettled.

    Even when there is an attempt to align church policy with a version of reality that has room for something other than Israeli misdeeds (such as the Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Discourse document published in 2008 - http://archive.adl.org/main_interfaith/jointstatement.html#.U6mNdzbD-M9), the church seems to have created anti-bodies that prevent any of the thoughtful discourse people keep telling us is taking place from leading to a conclusion other than Warsaw vs. Genocide.

    So either we’re talking about a lack of information or a lack of moral seriousness. And if, as you say, correct information has been on the table, then an inability to do anything serious with it is the only possible explanation for church behavior over the last decade (other than, perhaps, bigotry which I prefer not to consider).

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  7. DT: All analogies are imperfect, but as American Jews, they draw from what they know from their own history. Why Warsaw? You can see the optics of that, surely. A walled-in ethnic population, whose ability to move in and relate to the world outside is significantly delimited. Is it different? Of course, blessedly so. Israelis are not monsters. Is it like America's engagement with our Native peoples? They--Jewish Americans--see the similarities. They know their American history, my friend, as do I.

    So they see it as they described, as would any objective observer.

    Which, DT, I don't think you'd claim to be. This is part of your identity. You are woven into this conflict, and feel it deeply and personally. That impacts how you perceive. Take, for example, your comments on the church naming Israel as an apartheid state, or embracing the Palestinian narrative about Zionism. Both were explicitly, clearly, and unequivocally rejected by the Presbyterian church. And yet you do not inhabit the reality of what has actually been said, and the actions that have been taken.

    It is why you view the conflict in binary terms, with any contravening or disconfirming information rejected as either willful ignorance or bigotry. Such a perspective makes it nearly impossible to effectively act to resolve this terrible, complex mess. And it must be resolved, because the status quo looks very little like the hope you--and I--have for Zion.

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  8. If you still don't seem to understand the "optics" of a Christian denomination describing the Jews using terms that make them the equivalent of those who tried to wipe them from the face of the earth, then I suspect the optical issue might have something to do with the log in your own eye.

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  9. Again, not my terms, nor my understanding. Neither does such a statement reflect the position of my denomination, or the content or narrative of this post. You seem confused, my friend.

    I say, "It is not the same." You hear, "It is [information redacted] the same." I say "Israelis are not monsters." You hear "Israelis are [data deleted] monsters." You seek the words that will justify your anger. I'm not quite sure how to get through that filter.

    But what we have written here together is there for the world to read. It is open, and evident, and in the light. I have confidence in how I have spoken.

    I am curious, because you raised it: Do you believe that the United States of America is guilty of genocide in our dealings with Native American peoples? Meaning: it is a crime on a moral plane with the horrors of the Shoah. If so, why, and what are the significant distinctives you see between that dark chapter in American history and the complexities of Israeli/Palestinian relations?

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  10. Well once again, I guess I need to clarify.

    No doubt, you take comfort in the fact that the 2014 PCUSA resolution explicitly distanced its divestment vote from the goal of the BDS movement. That statement, apparently, is enough to satisfy you (and I expect many others).

    But for those of us who have followed PCUSA divestment activity for the last ten years (such as your Will Spotts, a former member of your church) a decade of action speaks louder than those few words we are being asked to take as exculpatory. For how seriously can we take such a distancing when the BDS movement’s fingerprints are all over every PCUSA decision regarding divestment- http://wspotts.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/presbyterian-bds-what-you-want-is-irrelevant-what-you-have-chosen-is-at-hand/)?

    How are we to see them as anything other than a form of equivocation when that movement you have just distanced yourself from is announcing in every conceivable forum that they and the church are one on the issue (with no objection being broadcast from PCUSA sources who have found the time to take to the airwaves explaining to their Jewish “friends” those same words that satisfy you so)?

    Regarding last week’s votes, I suppose we should also show gratitude for the fact that resolutions to denounce Israel as an Apartheid state or reform the liturgy to make a distinction between Jews mentioned in the Old Testament from Jews living in the Holy Land today were rejected. Again, those votes went South, so I here we are looking at Presbyterian deeds as well as words.

    But just as a thought experiment, how should Presbyterians respond to a debate over whether – now that they have been endorsed by David Duke – PCUSA now constitute the most bigoted church in America? Or a discussion of what language should be used to distinguish the mutated creature PCUSA has become from the noble and important tradition of Presbyterianism? Would you be grateful if the answer to those questions was “No, their atrocious behavior doesn’t warrant that level of condemnation.”? Or would you be understandably appalled (or simply ignore any such debate occurring since it cannot get through *your* filters – a subject I’ll turn to next).

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  11. Getting to your point about the American genocide of natives, of course I (like any reasonable person) recognize the level of moral crime that it represents, just as I recognize the power of the Warsaw Ghetto and Shoah to evoke horror (which is why they are so frequently used as analogies for other human rights catastrophes).

    The issue is not with these events, but to the situation they are applied to. At your dinner table, for instance, you invoked the Native American genocide and applied it to the Middle East with the Palestinians (whose population has exploded over the last six decades) serving in the role of Natives and Israelis playing General Custer. But couldn’t the analogy by applied more accurately (at least with regard to numbers) to the ethnic cleansing of Jews across the Middle East in 1948 or the current cleansing of your fellow Christians from the region (in everywhere but Israel) going on right now?

    Now such an analogy would broaden discussion of the Middle East (appropriately) beyond the tiny territory Israel controls. But it would also mean that the side PCUSA has chosen to support in this struggle (or at least not sanction) are the ethnic cleansers and genocidalists. Again, this is not an analogy I apply frequently or lightly – and I’m only doing it now since it was you who invoked it). But what argument can there against my comparison other than a tautology that says “that would make PCUSA an immoral organization and since we’re not immoral, it can’t be right).

    I could also demonstrate your own remarkable ability to filter the world by invoking the Warsaw Ghetto analogy. You would like to apply it to the Middle East where Palestinians play the Jews and Israelis the Nazis because a wall is involved. But couldn’t we just as easily claim that Israel’s success in defeating seven genocidal armies represents the outcome of the Warsaw revolt we would have liked to have seen (especially since some Warsaw survivors were able to play a role in ensuring this second genocide did not occur - a more powerful image than your wall analogy, surely)?

    Again, this would make the Palestinians you support – and the wider Arab world that supports them – the equivalent of the Nazis, and make PCUSA an open supporter of that side of this particular battle. And, again, what keeps us from applying Warsaw in this manner, other than the filters applied by those who feel their decisions cannot be anything but moral and unbiased?

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  12. You see it as BDS because you choose to do so. That is your right. But it is also materially, empirically, and rationally unjustifiable. Why? Because we are not boycotting or calling for a boycott of products made in Israel. We are continuing to encourage travel to the Holy Land, which creates connection and supports the Israeli economy. We are not calling for divestment from any but businesses engaged in practices we'd not invest in here in the US. We are not calling for sanctions, because they are not warranted. The PCUSA, both in word and deed, is not boycotting Israel, continues to invest in Israel, and will not sanction Israel. That would be counterproductive, and unfair.

    That is the reality, DT. Again, you and Mr. Spotts see it as you choose.

    As for images of prior human rights violations, they can, as you say, help shape our understanding of current issues. If we are to learn and grow as people, that's essential.

    But key to this is understanding how to apply these understandings to one's own actions. I certainly do, in the case of my people. America has to learn and grow from our treatment of Native Americans, and of African Americans. We must apply that as a measure whenever our pride or our fear begins to blind us to a dangerous path--like Guantanamo Bay, or our growing security-state.

    That--and a sense of being empowered to act--are key to effective peacemaking and being a moral agent. It is why, to go back to the core of the post, my sons--Jewish by blood and upbringing--are willing to look to those lessons and apply them to themselves. Until you claim your own agency in a conflict, you cannot act to resolve it.

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  13. We clearly have a different understanding of what the BDS movement is and what its goals are.

    For you, the acronym suffices and if the Presbyterian Church is not completely boycotting, completely divesting or calling for sanctions against Israel then, by this acronym-based definition, you are not part of BDS.

    But having researched and written about this program for close to ten years, I understand it to be fairly disinterested in any practical outcome of boycott, divestment or sanctions calls. Rather, their primary goal is to get well-known and respected institutions to enact any type of boycott or divestment – no matter how small and ineffective – in order to be able to claim that their main message: that Israel deserves to be lumped in with Apartheid South Africa as the target of moral outrage, comes out of the mouth of a more well-known and larger group.

    This explains why BDS activists who have been driving PCUSA policy towards the Middle East for over a decade refused to take no for an answer in ’06, ’08, ’10 and ’12 – for they realized the power of a vote like last week’s to help them magnify the impact of their propaganda message. So, with regard to the most important goal of the BDS movement, PCUSA is squarely in their camp (and, as we learned with the "Vigilance" story no one wants to talk about, completely in charge of church policy with regard to the Middle East).

    As for lessons learned, I understand how hard it is to draw lessons from history that one has no desire to believe. But a church deciding it’s OK to attack the most important Jewish project of modernity has echoes of previous Christian attacks on those things most important to the Jews. I understand that this attack is being made in the name of love, but that simply lumps it in with other horrible things people have done throughout history in the name of their own unquestionable beliefs in their own goodness.

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  14. Clearly, we do have different understandings, DT. You understand and define BDS in absolute terms. Either you do, or you don't. It is--as all deeply wrought conflict dynamics are--radically binary.

    I think you have accurately summarized the position of many radical BDS folk, who would like to claim any action as part of an inexorable movement towards the isolation of Israel. This would be unacceptable to me, and to my church. Engagement must be robust and sustained, or conversation cannot occur.

    You appear to use that same metric, as you have stated it, to define any action related to Israel. Nuance is unacceptable. Either there is complete, unqualified, and unreserved support for all policies and actions of Israel, or it represents "an attack on the most important project of Jewish modernity."

    But, as you have also rightly said, this is a deeply complex and challenging situation. In such situations, I would see binary thinking as catastrophically counterproductive. As you say, you and I may have different views on the matter.

    I am more broadly curious, DT, about whether you see Israel as having any agency in this issue. Meaning, is there anything at all Israel can do to change the dynamics of this conflict? Here, I'm not talking about any action that would compromise Israel's fundamental right to exist, or the Jewish right of return. What I sense from your writings is helplessness, as if you are saying: only the Palestinians have the power to resolve this. Am I misreading you?

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  15. One my editors back when I wrote for the Guardian explained to me how the English tend to project all their own faults onto the Scottish. And, I must admit that the sentiment has come to mind in our most recent exchanges.

    Apparently, the fact that I (like other Jews and large numbers of Presbyterians – potentially a majority) reject the church’s characterization of the Middle East, then I am in no position to judge PCUSA since I am approaching criticism of Israel from a position of unbridgeable bias. Yet when I point out the corruption and immorality and equivocation of church decision-making (all of which can be supported by statements from members of your own denomination), apparently it is you who can’t get past your own tribal embrace of the institution to which you belong in order to understand (or even hear) facts that interfere with your world view.

    No issue could possibly illustrate this inversion of “My-Group-Right-or-Wrong” mentality than your question regarding agency. Of course Israelis have agency. It was finally taking agency for their own fate that allowed a group of Holocaust survivors to create a state, defend it against those seven genocidal armies I mentioned last time (noticeably to no reply), and build the nation which, for all its faults, is shockingly stable in a sea of murderous chaos.

    Israelis also took agency and followed the advice of so many (including the Presbyterians) of handing territory over to the Palestinians, including Gaza. At which point the Palestinians used their agency to turn that territory into an armed camp and rocket launching pad. After which, PCUSA used its agency to claim that the Palestinians have no agency whatsoever and that anything they do (alongside anything Israel does) is entirely Israel’s fault.

    This belief was actually made church policy in 2004 when PCUSA coupled its first divestment vote with another one claiming Israel was to blame for violence committed by both sides in the conflict. And it still underlies the behavior of a church that decided it was perfectly reasonable to override four previous GA votes in order to take action against the Jewish state at the moment it was busy looking for kidnaped children and trying to rockets from hitting its civilians.

    So what, pray tell, is the agency you assign to those kidnappers and rocket launchers (and those that are celebrating their activity among your Palestinian peace partners)? And what suitable action is PCUSA cooking up to demonstrate its outrage against this form of injustice (other than condemning Israel – yet again – for responding to it)?

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  16. So..agency is a key word. Israel has, as you note, shown such agency in the past. She formed herself, and defended herself against mortal enemies in times of crisis. I will iterate it again: Is there anything at all that Israel can to do change the situation on the ground right now in Gaza and the West Bank?

    Your hope, as you stated in another comment thread, was that the two-state solution could be achieved. Can Israel take any action that will make that outcome more likely?

    Or does the entire responsibility for deescalation and moving towards a resolution of this situation rest with Palestinians?

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  17. I've already provided specific examples of Israel acting on its own accord (i.e., with agency) to advance the peace process. So unless your asking if I think Israel should eliminate its presence from Gaza a second time, then I think the ball is now in your court to answer, rather than just ask, questions.

    And the question I just asked was what agency do you assign the Palestinians in the present impasse? And if it diverges from what the PCUSA claimed in 2004 (that violence by both parties is solely the fault of Israel, meaning Palestinians have no agency whatsoever), then what action would you recommend as PCUSA policy to convince those you are fighting for to use their agency to enhance peace rather than maximize violence?

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  18. Every violent action we take is our own responsibility, DT. There is never an excuse. We are morally culpable for them, or we cease to be persons.

    I am utterly unwilling to apologize for violent actions on the part of Palestinians. Not a single one of them serves the cause of peace. Every hostage taking, bombing, hijacking, rocket attack, shooting, or murder.

    When Hamas abducts soldiers or Israeli citizens, it is serving only the conflict. When violent jihadis launch rockets into Ashkelon, they are serving the cause of the conflict. Every one of those actions sustains the conflict. Every one is unacceptable, morally wrong, and the enemy of the cause of peace.

    I would commend, as PCUSA policy, two things: 1) A more intentional engagement with American Jews and Israelis, to insure that we continually and repeatedly affirm Israel's right to exist, and the best hope of Zion. That means refusing to uncritically affirm Palestinian statements that serve the conflict. We cannot embrace statements like the Kairos Document, which wouldn't even admit that Jews were really Jews. We cannot embrace statements like Zionism Unsettled, which undermine the very identity of Israel. If we are not actively listening to our Jewish brothers and sisters, hearing both their hopes and fears, we can't serve the cause of peace.

    2) A more intentional and personal engagement with Palestinian Christians and Palestinian peace activists, to deeply embed the methodology of nonviolence. Nonviolence succeeds only when your conflict partner has a good moral core, and that is why it is the only effective tool for Palestine.

    Israel is a moral and fundamentally good nation, and Judaism is a profoundly moral and good tradition. If Palestinians stepped away from violence, Israel would respond with grace and justice.

    The reality is: that will be immensely hard. There are elements of Palestinian society that are deeply committed to violence as the means of maintaining their power. It is likely that a substantial nonviolent movement within Palestine would be met with violent resistance within Palestine. There is risk there, risk that goes beyond writing controversial position statements that we can blog about. Still, it is the only way. Every step on the road to a just peace is peace.

    "Those you are fighting for." That is a useful and illustrative choice of language, DT. Who are those people? That is an excellent question, one that requires a more sustained response.

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  19. Wow David. I must say that your clear and unambiguous statements and bold suggestions took my breath away. They are decisive, courageous and I fervently hope that they might eventually come to define PCUSA policy with regard to the Middle East.

    My criticism (which you have no doubt anticipated) is that PCUSA policy on the Middle East over the last ten years bears no resemblance to anything you laid out so eloquently.

    The church has embraced Kairos and allowed (and still allows) Zionism Unsettled to be distributed under its name. The church has accepted (and even voted favorably) on arguments stating that any violence in the region (Israeli or Palestinian) are Israel’s fault alone. And, as far as I can tell, the multi-decade engagement the church has had with your Palestinian peace partners has yet to include anything that might resemble action towards the goals of non-violence you recommend (vs. the harsh words AND action routinely directed towards Israel).

    Regarding the two action items you recommend, I don’t think the first one (engagement with Jews and Israelis) would be necessary if there were any evidence of genuine interest in the second item beyond empty words and phrases brought up whenever the lopsided nature of PCUSA engagement with the Middle East causes controversy. In fact, even someone who has spent as much time fighting against BDS as I have would be able to take current arguments over the justice of last week’s vote seriously if there were any evidence that those supposedly pursuing peace were doing anything like what you propose.

    I think you also correctly identified one of the key reasons why so much “peace making” seems to always end in Israel bashing: because fighting for the goals you outlined is hard, and risky. At the end of the day, no one in PCUSA will come to harm for taking a vote on divestment. But genuinely advocating for a renunciation of violence among the Palestinians has already gotten genuine peacemakers hurt or worse. And despite frequently descriptions of PCUSA divestment activity as “bold” and “courageous,” I see nothing courageous about avoiding confronting those who might hurt you (or label you “right wing extremists”) for actually fight for peace (vs. just claiming to).

    As for who I’m fighting for, that’s an interesting question which I’ll try to get to next.

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  20. The word “fight” is obviously something one needs to use carefully when describing politics that claims peacemaking as a goal.

    But with regard to whom I am fighting for, the most obvious choice: Israel and the Jewish people, would only tell part of that story.

    For as I’ve noted in previous writing, there are many ways to fight for Israel, a hundred organizations to join, a plethora of choices to involve oneself in the nation politically, economically or culturally.

    But I chose to forgo those choices to walk the pathway I’m on not because of my Israel advocacy (which I would never deny, since I am quite proud of it) but because I witnessed what happens to an element civic society when people insist it must take a stand on the Middle East conflict.

    As noted previously, this happened to my hometown a decade ago (caused by people brandishing the PCUSA divestment policy as a blueprint, by the way), and caused untold harm to our community that was only cured by getting divestment out of the city’s system and letting time heal the wounds.

    I’ve seen this happen in other places, like college campuses which have become war zones where students must run gauntlets of anti-Israel propaganda that has been imported into not just the campus quad, but into the classroom and dorm room.

    I’ve seen it happen at food coops where BDS activists have taken advantage of the loose rules governing organizations that assume everyone involved has each other’s needs in mind, activists who used those loose rules to their advantage in order to bring unwelcome boycott campaigns inside the store that have taken real, honest, good people months or even years to turn away.

    And I’ve seen it at PCUSA where the many wonderful Presbyterians I’ve met over the last decade have taught me a great deal about all the great things about your church, as well as the darker elements that have led not just Jews but also many Presbyterians to decide that a relationship with PCUSA would represent a compromise with their moral and religious principles.

    In short, the people I’m fighting for are not just Jews and Israelis but those members of civil society: students, food coop members, yes even Presbyterians who don’t want to see their community ruined just so a group of single-issue partisans can speak in their name.

    And I will continue to fight for them just as I did in 2004 when they had to fend of BDS activists that PCUSA claims to not be aligned with showing up on their doorstep with the message that the Presbyterians divestment from Israel, so they should too.

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  21. Israel does not equal Judaism. There are a lot of Jews who morally and theologically disagree with the creation of the state of Israel. To be anti-Israel does not equate to being anti-Semitic. I get tired of that and I actually resent it. As someone who has worked very hard around issues of oppression, including anti-semitism, but who has also travelled to that land and witnessed the occupation of Palestine I get tired of being told I am anti-semitic because I happen to support the Palestinians. I get tired of being told I am anti-Semitic because I support my Palestinian friends who just want to be able to go home. Yes, for many of my friends their family homes still stand, and their families didn't willingly leave, they were forced out and the homes of their grandparents were stolen from them. I am not anti-Semitic because I know I speak this truth.

    As far as your sons, I think both are on it. I admire their willingness to confront the mistreatment of the Palestinians with their very powerful analogies. I think they have thought deeply about the issue and they understand human rights abuses when they see them.

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