jump to navigation

The Rabbi Who Renounced Zionism May 26, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Human Rights, Religion, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

Roger’s note: personally I can do without religion, which I believe for the most part has been a violent and destructive force in human history (including today, especially including today).  Nonetheless, minorities of religious Jews, Catholics, Protestants (including even some Evangelicals), Muslims, Hindus, etc. have fought for justice and human rights and against the hypocrisy withing their own ranks.  They are to be embraced.

 

 

BY ELI MASSEY, In These Times (no date available)

In 2014, Rabbi Brant Rosen resigned his post at the Jewish Reconstructinist Congregation in Evanston.  III., after serving for over 15 years.  His Palestinian solidarity work had become a divisive issue within the community.  Rosen was not always an advocate for Palestinian human rights – he started a blog in 2006, Shalom Rav, in which he chronicled his growing disillusionment with much of the Jewish community’s blind support for the state of Israel.  His painful and public reckoning with Zionism unfolded in the midst of the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead.

In July 2015, Rabbi Rosen founded Tzedek Chicago, a non-Zionist and social justice-focused synagogue, where he serves as rabbi.  (Full disclosure: I’m a congregant.) He also serves as the Midwest regional director for the American Friends Service Committee.

In These Times sat down with Rosen to discuss Tzedek Chicago, Israel and Palestine.

What led you to become an advocate for Palestinian rights?

It was gradual.  Israel had always been a part of my life, and I identified-if I had to put a label on it-as a liberal Zionist.

I, like many Jews, identified with the Zionist narrative.  It’s a very powerful, intoxicating, redemptive story: These people who have been hounded for centuries around the world finally find a way to make it back to their ancestral homeland and liberate themselves.

But there were also, along the way, nagging voices.  I did a good job of keeping those voices locked away and never really following them to their conclusion.

I always wondered about this business of creating a Jewish state when there are so many people who are not Jewish in this land-and how to create a state that was predicated on the identity of one people in a place that historically has been multi-ethnic, multi-religious.

And the whole issue of demographics: Liberal Zionists talk a great deal about what’s called the “demographic problem”: In order to create a Jewish state, you need a demographic majority of Jews.  Back in the day, I used words like “demographic threat” [in reference to the growth in Israel’s Arab population] to advocate for the importance of a two-state solution.  When the two-state solution was still a very edgy thing to be advocating for, it was very, very liberal to talk about it in those terms. But every once in a while I’d think, “They’re a demographic threat, because they’re not Jewish?” As an American, if I called another people a “demographic threat” to the national integrity of my country, that would just be racist.  Those were the kinds of things I would entertain for a while but never completely unpack.

Was there a moment when you “wiped the slumber from your eyes,” so to speak?

It was a gradual process.  I can trace important milestones.  The first important one was the 1982 Lebanon War and Sabra and Shatila massacre.  I remember thinking, “This is Israel’s My Lai.” That was the first time that my romantic Zionist ideals developed cracks.  The Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo peace process and seeing what happened in the wake of Oslo-and the creation of the separation wall, the blockade on Gaza-was when it started to crumble.

Then the final breaking point was in 2008 and 2009 with Operation Cast Lead.  By this point, I had been a congregational rabbi for a little over 10 years, so it became very complicated for me to break with this Zionist narrative, which is so cherished still in liberal Jewish circles.  Operation Cast Lead was where I finally said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Why do you think that so many Jews who are otherwise progressive ignore Israel’s violations of human rights?

In the circles I travel, it’s called the “PEP phenomenon.”

Progressive Except Palestine.

Yes.  That phenomenon is where the struggle for the soul of the Jewish community is taking place right now.

I know that because I’ve been living in that nexus point almost my entire life. For liberal Jews, largely, it goes back to the Zionist narrative, which is a sacred narrative, for Jews who don’t consider themselves religious. It’s a redemptive story, emerges out of the ashes of one of the worst catastrophes in Jewish history, but in human history. The legacy of the Holocaust still looms large in the psyches even young Jews today. The trauma still lingers, and in many ways, it’s exploited by the Jewish community. A lot it boils down to fear.

On Dec. 28, 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, you posted on your blog, “We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass. It’s a fascinating double standard, and … I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it. So no more rationalizations.” You then add: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?” Seven years later, do you have an answer for yourself?

Almost immediately, many people reached out to me. People in the Palestine solidarity movement, but also people in an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, some of whom were members of my congregation and were patiently waiting for me to come around on this issue. They gave me a Jewish community where I realized I could engage in Palestine solidarity work and be a truly progressive Jew on all issues and still have a Jewish institutional, spiritual home. Jewish Voice for Peace then has grown by leaps and bounds.

Describe what Tzedek Chicago is and how it came to be.

I left my congregation because of the circumstance that I’ve described. I didn’t have any intention of starting a new congregation when I left. Shortly after that, I started my full-time job with the American Friends Service Committee. But it became clear to my wife and me that we didn’t have a Jewish spiritual community. A number of us-including some who left the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation when I left because of the pain of the breakup, and others I knew who, because of this issue, didn’t have a congregation where they could feel completely at home – would get together in a havurah, an informal participatory group, mostly for Shabbat dinners. A group of them approached me with the idea of starting a new congregation that was predicated on values of justice and values of human rights and universal democracy, and not predicated on nationalism and Zionism and such. I became very excited about creating a new kind of Jewish congregation that was predicated on the social justice values that are deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition and are not attested to in most Jewish congregations.

What has the response been from the wider Jewish community?

The response to Tzedek Chicago exceeded what even I was hoping for. When we had our High Holiday services in September 2015, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up averaging about 300 people for all of the services. It was clear there is a deep thirst for a community like this.

Israel is at the heart of Jewish communal life for many people.

If we shift the focus of Judaism away from Israel or take Israel out of the equation entirely, what fills this space?

A venerable, centuries-long spiritual tradition that looks at the entire world as our home, the entire diaspora as our One that is predicated on values of justice and decency and morality, being able to find God wherever we live, and seeing all people as created in the divine image, as the Torah teaches us. One of the things Zionism was to colonize the Jewish religion itself. It eclipsed that incredibly beautiful and profound Jewish notion which saw the world as our home.

God isn’t geographically specific to only Israel or Jerusalem or the temple. We bear witness to an ancient truth that is still very relevant in the world today – more than relevant, essential. Universalism is central to our core values and our congregation. And that is a problem for many Jews, too. There’s a strand of Judaism that is very parochial and tribal. It looks at the outside world with suspicion and looks at the Jewish cornmunity as the be-all and end-all. Our future is predicated on finding common cause with all people, particularly those who are oppressed.

Did Clinton sabotage a Palestinian reconciliation? March 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 4 March 2009

www.electronicintifada.net

Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference at the International Conference in support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza, 2 March 2009. (Victoria Hazou/Sipa Press)

 

Still reeling from the Israeli massacres in the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians have lately had little to celebrate. So the strong start to intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo last week provided a glimmer of hope.

An end to the schism between the resistance and the elected but internationally-boycotted Hamas government on the one hand, and the Western-backed Fatah faction on the other, seemed within reach. But the good feeling came to a sudden end after what looked like a coordinated assault by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union High Representative Javier Solana, and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas whose term as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) expired on 9 January.

On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt’s powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established committees to discuss forming a “national unity government,” reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to include all factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganizing security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks were adjourned until 10 March.

Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh ostensibly about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza.

Clinton was asked by Voice of America (VOA) whether she was encouraged by the Cairo unity talks. She responded that in any reconciliation or “move toward a unified [Palestinian] Authority,” Hamas must be bound by “the conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet,” the self-appointed group comprising representatives of the US, EU, UN and Russia. These conditions, Clinton stated, require that Hamas “must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by previous commitments.” Otherwise, the secretary warned, “I don’t think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state.”

The next strikes came from Ramallah. With the EU’s top diplomat Solana standing next to him, Abbas insisted that any national unity government would have to adhere to the “two-state vision” and abide by “international conditions and signed agreements.” He then demanded that Gaza reconstruction aid be channeled exclusively through the Western-backed, but financially bankrupt and politically depleted PA. Solana affirmed, “I would like to insist in agreement with [Abbas] that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority.” Solana fully endorsed the campaign waged by Abbas ever since the destruction of Gaza that the PA, plagued by endemic corruption, and which only pays salaries of workers deemed politically loyal, be in sole charge of the funds, rather than neutral international organizations as Hamas and others have suggested.

Was the Sharm al-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the long war against Hamas by other means? Indeed, Clinton had already confirmed the politicization of reconstruction aid when she told VOA, “We want to strengthen a Palestinian partner willing to accept the conditions outlined by the Quartet,” and, “our aid dollars will flow based on these principles.”

Hamas warned that Clinton’s and Abbas’s statements set Palestinian reconciliation efforts back to square one. “Hamas will not recognize Israel or the Quartet’s conditions,” said one spokesman Ismail Radwan, while another, Ayman Taha, said Hamas would “reject any preconditions in the formation of the unity government.” Khaled Meshal, head of the movement’s political bureau, insisted that the basis for national unity must remain “protecting the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Such statements will of course be used to paint Hamas as extremist, intransigent and anti-peace. After all, what could be more reasonable than demanding that any party involved in a peace process commit itself to renouncing violence, recognizing its enemy, and abiding by pre-existing agreements? The problem is that the Quartet conditions are designed to eliminate the Palestinians’ few bargaining chips and render them defenseless before continuous Israeli occupation, colonization, blockade and armed attacks.

None of the Western diplomats imposing conditions on Hamas have demanded that Israel renounce its aggressive violence. Indeed, as Amnesty International reported on 20 February, the weapons Israel used to kill, wound and incinerate 7,000 persons in Gaza, half of them women and children, were largely supplied by Western countries, mainly the US. In a vivid illustration, Amnesty reported that its field researchers “found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli army — including many that are US-made — littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

For Palestinians to “renounce violence” under these conditions is to renounce the right to self-defense, something no occupied people can do. Palestinians will certainly note that while Abbas stands impotently by, neither the US nor the EU have rushed to the defense of the peaceful, unarmed Palestinians shot at daily by Israeli occupation forces as they try to protect their land from seizure in the West Bank. Nor has Abbas’ renunciation of resistance helped the 1,500 residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan whose homes Israeli occupation authorities recently confirmed their intention to demolish in order to make way for a Jewish-themed park. A cessation of violence must be mutual, total and reciprocal — something Hamas has repeatedly offered and Israel has stubbornly rejected.

While Israeli violence is tolerated or applauded, Israel’s leaders are not held to any political preconditions. Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu emphatically rejects a sovereign Palestinian state and — like his predecessors — rejects all other Palestinian rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. When told to stop building illegal settlements on occupied land, Israel responds simply that this is a matter for negotiation and to prove the point it revealed plans in February to add thousands of Jewish-only homes to its West Bank colonies.

Yet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, asked by Al-Jazeera International on 1 March how his masters would deal with a rejectionist Israeli government, said, “We have to work with whoever the Israeli people elect, let’s test it out not just assume it won’t work.” Unless Palestinians are considered an inferior race, the same logic ought to apply to their elected leaders, but they were never given a chance.

It is ludicrous to demand that the stateless Palestinian people unconditionally recognize the legitimacy of the entity that dispossessed them and occupies them, that itself has no declared borders and that continues to violently expand its territory at their expense. If Palestinians are ever to recognize Israel in any form, that can only be an outcome of negotiations in which Palestinian rights are fully recognized, not a precondition for them.

During last year’s US election campaign, Clinton claimed she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland during her husband’s administration. Yet the conditions she now imposes on Hamas are exactly like those that the British long imposed on the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, thereby blocking peace negotiations. President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — helped overturn these obstacles by among other things granting a US visa to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, whose party the British once demonized as Israel now demonizes Hamas. Like Tony Blair, who as British prime minister first authorized public talks with Sinn Fein, Hillary Clinton knows that the negotiations in Ireland could not have succeeded if any party had been forced to submit to the political preconditions of its adversaries.

Former British and Irish peace negotiators including Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami made similar points in a 26 February letter they co-signed in The Times of London. “Whether we like it or not,” the letter states, “Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions.” The signatories called for engagement with the movement, affirming that “The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations.”

Those who claim to be peacemakers should heed this advice. They should allow Palestinians to form a national consensus without external interference and blackmail. They should respect democratic mandates. They should stop imposing grossly unfair conditions on the weaker side while cowering in fear of offending the strong, and they should stop the cynical exploitation of humanitarian aid for political manipulation and subversion.

There are many in the region who were encouraged by US President Barack Obama’s appointment of former Northern Ireland mediator Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. But in all other respects the new president has continued the Bush administration’s disastrous policies. It is not too late to change course, for persisting in these errors will guarantee only more failure and bloodshed.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

(Metropolitan Books, 2006).

A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.