Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel

Cross-posted with The Palestinian Talmud:

The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”

We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.

The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”  The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.

It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs -– including Social Security and food stamps –- to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy.  Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?

While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israel’s security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israel’s primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians –- and true security for all who live in the region.

As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.

We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest.  We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.

We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.

Signed (list in formation):

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student


Creative Women’s Empowerment in Rwanda


Tuesday began with another return visit: this time to the Ineza Woman’s Sewing Cooperative in the Ramera district of Kigali. Ineza was founded in 2006 by WE-ACTx, who helped group of women with ten sewing machines to create an income generation project for their community.  They were initially supported by WE-ACTx, who helped connect them with the Latin School in Chicago and eventually Ineza dolls were sold at (of all places) the swanky Barney’s store in Chicago’s Gold Coast for $50.00 to $100.00 a piece.


Now a thriving women’s craft cooperative, Ineza sews a variety of items out of beautiful African textiles, including handbags, clothing, laptop cases, wallets, etc. They have now grown to the point where they are financially independent of WE-ACTx and maintains their own bank account. Their gorgeous merchandise has also become available via the internet through Manos de Madres, so as soon as you finish reading this post you should check them out and buy their products.

After lunch, the youth members of our delegation joined the young people of the WE-ACTx youth program for the afternoon while the rest of us volunteered at another WE-ACTx  income generation project – a new women’s jewelery cooperative in Nyaconga (below).

The women of Nyaconga make lovely glass beaded bracelets as well as recycled paper necklaces and earrings. Right now their work space and showroom is located in a large drab space that does little to show off their beautiful work.  So with the help of our new artist friend William (who designed the mural painted last Friday at the WE-ACTx children’s library) we were mobilized to paint the walls of the space in colorful shades of light purple, pink, green and yellow (below).

I have to say we’re getting pretty good at painting – and it’s been enormously satisfying to help support these economic empowerment efforts in this way.  Four of us will return to the showroom on Thursday to finish assembling the showcase and arrange the large amounts of jewelry inside.

Our teenagers reported that they had an amazing, joyful afternoon with the WE-ACTx young people. I’m going to try to coax one or more of them to write guest posts about their experiences. Stay tuned…


How to Support Relief Efforts in Somalia

From the NY Times:

Much of the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, has been struck this summer by one of the worst droughts in 60 years. But two Shabab-controlled parts of southern Somalia are the only areas where the United Nations has declared a famine, using scientific criteria of death and malnutrition rates.

I commend to you this report from Charity Navigator, which includes essential information about this tragic, urgent crisis along with the highest rated orgs currently doing relief work in the region.


Volunteering + Values: What’s Motivating the Jewish Young Folk?

Repair the World, has just released “Volunteering+Values,” a report commissioned  “to understand the full extent of Jewish young adults’ volunteer habits and preferences.”  I’d say its findings/recommendations contain implications that North American Jewish communal institutions would do well to heed.

Conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis
University and Gerstein|Agne Strategic Communications, V+V surveyed a sample of Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and investigated their volunteer commitments and attitudes.

Among the findings I found notable:

Only a small portion of Jewish young adults prefer to or actually do volunteer with Jewish organizations … The minority of Jewish young adults who volunteer through Jewish organizations do so to support their own people and community. By contrast, the vast majority of Jewish young adults say it does not matter if they volunteer with a Jewish or non-Jewish organization.

Hand in hand with this finding, the report noted a growing universalist identity among Jewish young people:

Jewish young adults are primarily drawn to service through universal rather than Jewish-based values or identity … Only a very small portion of Jewish young adults volunteer as a means to represent the Jewish community to the larger society.

Not surprisingly to me, many Jewish young people seem to be turned off by what they perceive as the overly tribal concerns of the organized Jewish community:

Today’s Jewish young adults have grown up amidst and are at home with ethnic and religious diversity … As a result, most are concerned for all victims of poverty or injustice, not just those who are Jewish. It appears that they do not believe that Jewish organizations share this concern for universal causes.

I was particularly struck that Israel ranked consistently at the bottom of the list of priorities of young Jews. According to one graph, only 1% of those surveyed cited Israel/Middle East Peace as an “issue focus of primary volunteer work” (at the top of the list: “Material Assistance to the Needy.”) Another graph charted the geographic focus of primary volunteer work thus: 79%: Local Community, 13%: Domestic Non-Local, 4%: Developing World, 3%: Israel. (This trend is particularly noteworthy since the primary sample used by V+V was the Birthright applicant pool – a data base of 300,000 young Jews who either participated or applied for a Birthright Israel trip between 2001 and 2010.)

Among the many strategic implications identified by the study, this one resonated for me in particular:

Efforts are needed to educate Jewish young adults of the deep connection between Jewish thought and volunteering without implying that it is an exclusively Jewish perspective or only pertains to support of the Jewish community. Jewish young adults, regardless of denomination or level of religious involvement, should be encouraged to “own” a Jewish perspective on service. Widespread efforts are needed that draw attention to and link the universal and Jewish values that Jewish young adults already hold with the causes about which they care most deeply.

As always, I’d love to hear reactions.


“Israel, Good Job!”

Re Israel’s Haiti relief effort: check out this unbelievably edgy skit from Israel’s popular comedy show, “Eretz Nehederet.”

If it comes from Israel, is it still “Israel bashing?”


Israel in Haiti: More Perspectives

Some more interesting features on Israel’s relief (and public relations) efforts in Haiti…

The Jewish Forward:

(On) the ground was a retinue of Israelis dedicated to making sure people heard about their country’s humanitarian mission and spreading the word. Press officers from the Israeli military were flown in, as were photographers and a video team to document the work of Israeli medical and rescue personnel. They distributed daily footage to the press. Representatives of Israeli and foreign media were embedded with the group, and other reporters were invited.

A day after the Israeli field hospital opened, two Israeli officers in uniforms canvassed the row of TV producers sitting in their broadcast positions along the city airport’s runway. “We’re telling them about our hospital,” one said.

A feature from The Media Line by Brian Joffe-Walt:

Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli public opinion researcher and political strategist … (said) “Israelis hate when they are seen only in light of the conflict, especially when they are seen as aggressors, and they feel that most of the world is against them, with the possible exception of America.”

“As a result, Israelis are extremely supportive of anything that shows them in a better light because it’s so rare that they get any good news about how they are viewed in the rest of the world,” Scheindlin said. “We see this whenever there is global attention towards Israel for anything other than the conflict. This happened recently, for example, when an Israeli won the windsurfing gold medal or when an Israeli astronaut died.”

“That said, do I think the government participated in this aid effort for publicity? Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t think it was a cynical move. Israel would have participated anyway. But Israelis do try to use these things to try to leverage a better image for themselves around the world.”

A very trenchant article by Ha’aretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer:

The fundamental reason that Israel is routinely treated much more harshly than its adversaries, despite the fact that they very often carry out far worse atrocities, is that Israel puts itself out to be so much better than them. If in almost 62 years of existence, Israel had succeeded in evolving into a tinpot dictatorship, like most of its neighbors and many of the countries that achieved independence during that period, no-one would be holding it to such high standards, sometimes perhaps, unfairly. Israel is not condemned regularly in the media just because it keeps millions of Palestinians under occupation and embarks on a another mini war every other year, but because it is a country aspiring to be a western democracy while doing so.

Various pro-Israel advocacy groups publish glossy pamphlets detailing the manifold benefits Israeli technology has brought the entire world. Every word there is true and in the next editions, there will be an extensive chapter on the IDF’s international humanitarian missions, complete with photographs of the field hospital in Port-au-Prince. But that won’t improve Israel’s international image one iota. Quite the opposite.

We are a disproportionate country, and the difficulty is to reconcile a tiny brave democracy capable of such acts of greatness with an occupying regime constantly at war with its neighbors will continue to bring us bad headlines. Once the delegation comes back from Haiti.


On Haiti Remembered and Gaza Forgotten

Two prominent Israeli columnists ask: why are Israelis so eager to pitch in to the rescue effort in Haiti and yet show such little concern over the dire humanitarian crisis they’ve helped to create just a few kilometers away in Gaza?

Akiva Eldar, writing in Ha’aretz

(The) remarkable identification with the victims of the terrible tragedy in distant Haiti only underscores the indifference to the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza. Only a little more than an hour’s drive from the offices of Israel’s major newspapers, 1.5 million people have been besieged on a desert island for two and a half years. Who cares that 80 percent of the men, women and children living in such proximity to us have fallen under the poverty line? How many Israelis know that half of all Gazans are dependent on charity, that Operation Cast Lead created hundreds of amputees, that raw sewage flows from the streets into the sea?

The disaster in Haiti is a natural one; the one in Gaza is the unproud handiwork of man. Our handiwork. The IDF does not send cargo planes stuffed with medicines and medical equipment to Gaza. The missiles that Israel Air Force combat aircraft fired there a year ago hit nearly 60,000 homes and factories, turning 3,500 of them into rubble. Since then, 10,000 people have been living without running water, 40,000 without electricity. Ninety-seven percent of Gaza’s factories are idle due to Israeli government restrictions on the import of raw materials for industry. Soon it will be one year since the international community pledged, at the emergency conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, to donate $4.5 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction. Israel’s ban on bringing in building materials is causing that money to lose its value.

Gershon Baskin, in today’s Jerusalem Post:

Humanitarian disasters around the world bring out the best in Israel and in Israelis. The horrific devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti and the scenes of unbearable human suffering brought about an immediate enlistment of both civilian and public efforts to come to the aid of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere…

But what about the humanitarian disaster in our own backyard caused in a large part by our own doing? What about Gaza? More than 1.5 million people are living in total poverty, without sanitary drinking water, under an economic and physical siege, locked in what could easily be called the world’s largest prison. While we ask to see in all of the gory details, all of the destruction including hundreds of corpses on the streets of Port-au-Prince, we wish to see none of the human suffering of our Palestinian neighbors in Gaza where we literally hold the keys to the end of their suffering.


What We Need To Do For Haiti

In the wake of the terrifyingly tragic earthquake in Haiti, it has been gratifying to see private citizens give so generously to relief efforts. At the same time however, we shouldn’t forget that our own country’s policies can have a considerable impact on Haiti’s recovery. Check out what constitutional lawyer/human rights activist/Katrina survivor Bill Quigley has to say in his piece, “Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti.”

Item #3, for example:

Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.


Gaza: A Rabbinical Exchange

GAZA_SCHOOL_One

Since we launched the Jewish Fast for Gaza, we’ve received all kinds of feedback, some supportive, some critical, some utterly unprintable. (My personal favorite from the latter category: “You should all get severe stomach ailments.”)

On occasion, however, our effort has offered us the opportunity for genuinely respectful dialogue. Below is one such exchange – an email I received from a rabbinic colleague, followed by my response:

Dear Ta’anit Tzedek,

Having cares and concerns of the plight of humanity is a most noble cause. That you are willing to extend effort is most commendable. Your organization, however, is extending its efforts in a manner which is not only counterproductive, but can be harmful as well.

How can you look into the face of a 12 year old girl from Sderot who suffers from post traumatic syndrome as for most of life she has been awakened on a nightly basis by sirens and rocket fire? What do you say to the families of victims killed by suicide bombers who killed their teenagers who were casually enjoyed a slice of pizza? What do you say to an organization whose very goal is the annihilation of our people?

You may answer, “Had we been better, they may have liked us more.” or some such configuration thereof. It’s not plausible. Since 1948, the goal of the Arab world has been the removal of a Jewish presence in the middle east. Our interference with their dream of a Pan-Arabic state stretching from Morocco to Iraq is sullied by our very presence.

It would better for your organization to spend is resources on ideals that truly further the continuity of Jews and Judaism.

I await your response,

Rabbi X

Dear Rabbi X,

I want to thank you for taking the time to reach out and respond to our initiative. I’m glad to have the opportunity for this dialogue.

You ask what I would say to the 12 year old girl from Sderot or the families of terror victims. I believe I would say that as a fellow Jew that their pain is my pain as well. I would say that I could not begin to comprehend the realities they must face. But I would also share my belief that that Israel’s current treatment of the people of Gaza will bring them neither safety nor security – and that the only true way out of these traumas is a lifting of the blockade and the negotiation of a settlement by all parties involved.

As regards Hamas “whose very goal is the annihilation of our people:” though I have no love lost for Hamas, the reality is that Israel will have to deal with them if any true peace will be achieved. And in truth, Israel has already dealt with Hamas through any number of channels over the years already. Making peace is a sacrosanct Jewish value – and as difficult as it is, the truth is that we make peace with our enemies. In the past, Israel has made peace with former enemies whom we once believed sought nothing but our “annihilation.” To surrender this value means to doom the people of this region to endless violence and tragedy.

Thus we do indeed believe that this effort furthers the resources of Jews and Judaism. We do not hold that the only Jewish path is the one that addresses Jews and Jewish “needs” alone. In the case of Jews and Palestinians in particular, our fates are fundamentally intertwined: we will either live together or else we will die together. The Jewish path has always been to choose life – this sacred imperative is at the core of our initiative.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us. Even as we may disagree, I hope you will share my conviction that our conversation is a “machloket l’shem shamayim” (“argument for the sake of heaven.”)  I also know that you join with me in prayers for peace for this tortured region that is so dear to both of us.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Brant Rosen


Jewish Fast for Gaza

gazapic

In response to the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Brian Walt and I have organized a new initiative, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.

See below for the press release about the project, which is already attracting increasing numbers of supporters, including many rabbis. Click the link above to visit the website and sign up yourself…

RABBIS  ANNOUNCE MONTHLY FAST FOR GAZA

Seeking “to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment in Gaza,”  an ad-hoc group of American rabbis has called for a communal fast.  Known as Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, this new initiative will organize a series of monthly fasts beginning on July 16.

The project was initiated by a group of thirteen rabbis representing a spectrum of American Jewish denominations. The group’s website explains the religious meaning of the campaign: “In Jewish tradition a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and a call to repentance. In this spirit, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is a collective act of conscience initiated by an ad hoc group of rabbis, Jews, people of faith, and all concerned with (this) ongoing crisis…”

The fast has four goals: to call for a lifting of the blockade, to provide humanitarian and developmental aid to the people of Gaza, to call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations with Hamas in order to end the blockade, and to encourage the American government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The water-only fast will take place every third Thursday of the month, from sunrise to sunset. In addition to signing on to the fast statement, participants have been asked to donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a relief campaign that combats malnutrition among Gazan preschool children.

Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, Israel has imposed a blockade that has severely restricted Gaza’s ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed and it suffers from high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition.

“Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people in Gaza amounts to nothing less than collective punishment. While we condemn Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians, it is immoral to punish an entire population for the actions of a few,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, who serves Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. “This blockade has only served to further oppress an already thoroughly oppressed people.  As Jews and as human beings of conscience, we cannot stand idly by.”

“We’ve been enormously encouraged by the initial response we’ve received from the Jewish community thus far,” said fast organizer Rabbi Brian Walt, former Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, who noted that the initiative has signed up numerous supporters prior to the launch of the project. “We truly believe this effort is giving voice to a significant number of people who been looking for a Jewish voice of conscience on this issue.”


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