For Passover: A Meditation on the Four Children

4sons1Here’s a new Passover seder supplement that I’ve just written for Jewish Voice for Peace. Click the link below if you’d like a pdf to print out and read at you seder table next week.

JVP Seder Supplement 2013

As Jews, how do we respond when we hear the tragic news regularly coming out of Israel/Palestine? How do we respond to reports of checkpoints and walls, of home demolitions and evictions, of blockades and military incursions?

It might well be said that there are four very different children deep inside each of us, each reacting in his or her own characteristic way.

The Fearful Child is marked by the trauma of the Shoah and believes that to be a Jew means to be forever vulnerable. While he may be willing to accept that we live in an age of relative Jewish privilege and power, in his heart he feels that all of these freedoms could easily be taken away in the blink of an eye. To the Fearful Child, Israel represents Jewish empowerment – the only place in the world that can ensure the collective safety of the Jewish people.

The Bitter Child channels her Jewish fears into demonization of the other. This child chooses to view anti-Semitism as the most eternal and pernicious of all forms of hatred and considers all those “outside the tribe” to be real or potential enemies. She believes that Palestinians fundamentally despise Jews and will never tolerate their presence in the land – and that brute force is the only language they will ever understand.

The Silent Child is overwhelmed with the myriad of claims, histories, narratives and analyses that emerge from Israel/Palestine. While he dreams of a day in which both peoples will live in peace, he is unable to sift through all that he hears and determine how he might help bring that day about. At his most despairing moments, he doesn’t believe a just peace between these two peoples will ever be possible. And so he directs his Jewish conscience toward other causes and concerns – paralyzed by the “complexities” of this particular conflict.

The Courageous Child is willing to admit the painful truth that this historically persecuted people has now become a persecutor. This child understands and empathizes with the emotions of the other children all too well – in truth, she still experiences them from time to time. In the end, however, the Courageous Child refuses to live a life defined by fear, bitterness or complacency. She understands it is her sacred duty to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed, particularly when she herself is implicated in that oppression.

At one time or another we have heard within ourselves the voices of any or all of these children.

How will we respond to them?

17 thoughts on “For Passover: A Meditation on the Four Children

  1. carljfree

    I am not Jewish (I am a Christian), but recognise the importance of seeking to understand people of other faiths, including what drives them. Clearly the Israel/Palestine issue is a complex one, though there is often a temptation to see things purely in black and white. I find this presentation of four personas really helpful. It explains something of the different motivations that exist inside and outside Israel. Despite being drawn more to the fourth, I pray that I never turn away from any of these four children.

  2. Benjy Ben-Baruch

    The Silent Child is not all that silent. These children may not spend much time thinking about the conflict, but they almost always actively support Israel’s Occupation and the US government’s support of the Occupation. Their silence is deafening — and deadly.

    But there is another kind of child — the child who has been punished for their progressive views and activism. These children are increasingly being made to choose between fidelity to their Jewish values and affiliation with the Jewish community and with Jewish organizations. And they are increasingly identifying themselves — proudly! — as being of Jewish origin. But increasingly, they no longer identify as Jews.

    These children are increasingly uncomfortable and unwelcome at Passover seders. Ironically, it was at Passover seders where their progressive Jewish values were shaped as they were growing up.

  3. Brandy

    I really liked the way you framed this. Wish I would have heard this at Shabbat worship tonight, instead of the ol’ “Hamas are the problem” line, oy vey.

    But as I explore further, there are more silent children (IMO) than any of the other, and they just go along with the minority of “bitter children”.

  4. Robert Oldershaw

    Thank you, Brant, for your helpful posts. I wish you and your family and all your congregants a blessed Pesach! In solidarity, may we leap like lambs in hope as we continue the journey to liberation for all! I am honored to, once again, be a guest at Liz and Jay’s Seder table.



    Sent from my iPad

  5. Rachel Barenblat (@velveteenrabbi)

    This is really beautiful, Brant. Thank you for posting it. I particularly appreciate the way it calls us to question who and where we are, without demonizing those of us or those at our tables who may be, in this categorization, fearful or bitter. Chag sameach!

  6. Vicky

    I’m interested that you’ve replaced the wise, wicked, and simple children with courageous, fearful, and bitter. I don’t think being silent is quite the same as ‘not knowing how to ask’, so there seems to be a subtle difference there too. Why did you decide to use these particular descriptors for the children?

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      @Vicky: I didn’t necessarily set out to make a one to one correspondence to the children in the traditional seder – I admit the connections are somewhat loose. For me, the power of the Four Children section was not so much the specific questions themselves but the way they model different questioning impulses – and invite us to consider different pedagogies in how we might answer these questions. I also took my cue from those commentators who suggest that on a deeper level, this section is also about the “questioning children” w/in each of us. Indeed, at any given time, depending on the circumstance we might be any of these children. In this regard, the point is less about how we talk to our literal children than how we answer our own “inner child.”

  7. MFC

    To the contrary, Velveteen Rabbi, the depictions of the Fearful and Bitter Child clearly denigrate those with a different perspective. Rabbi Rosen employs straw-man descriptions of how these characters feel about “all” Palestinians and non-Jews, or what they think is the “only” solution to a problem. I have watched this blog for some time and seen it become increasingly radicalized and one-sided. Presumably the failure to pay heed to “the other side of the story” is what originally motivated Rabbi Rosen; now all data points and examples that don’t fit his worldview are either discarded or caricatured. But at least this shows those of us with more traditional viewpoints about the asymmetry of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and applications of Jewish social teaching what we’re increasingly up against in today’s culture.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      My intention was with this supplement was no to “denigrate’ any of these symbolic children but to suggest, as I wrote at the end, that many of us hear all of these voices within us. On the contrary, I intentionally did not set out a simple “good/bad” paradigm but rather sought to present a model that portrays our Jewish psyche as a mix of many, sometimes contradictory impulses.

      I’m saddened to hear you believe I “discard” or “caricature” points of view with which i don’t agree. While I certainly set out to promote a point of view on my blog, I’ve always welcomed and posted comments that express alternate opinions. Frankly, I’ve always been proud that my blog has attracted a wide range of conversation – including those who hold “traditional views about the asymmetry of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

      1. MFC

        So the proof of a mature resolution of all of these contradictory impulses is to … hold the same viewpoint on “Israel/Palestine” that you do? That’s hardly parallel to the treatment and meaning of the four sons / four children in the haggadah. As far as discarding information, look right at the top of your post. Your first sentence is fine if I just allow you your characterization of the name of the region: “As Jews, how do we respond when we hear the tragic news regularly coming out of Israel/Palestine?” But what would that news be? Oh yes, “checkpoints and walls” etc. That’s it? Nothing else?

        How about this: If I asked you what you thought of the rising tide of blatant anti-Semitism in Scandinavia, would I be the Bitter Child? One thing that has stuck in my mind about your writing is that on the very rare occasion you address the kind of events that you know I’m referring to, you use language like “there very little else to say.” But there is so much to say about the incidents you do want to talk about.

        Thus, one can look at your characterizations of the Fearful and Bitter Child and see either perceptive insights into parts of our personality … or passive-aggressive statements to stifle inputs into the discussion. The wicked and simple child in the original construct to which you are drawing a parallel have just the opposite role – expressing either opposition or at least inability so far to request and absorb information. Do you not see that?

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        This piece does indeed presuppose that the reader finds Israel’s occupation to be a moral issue to be grappled with. For those who this is not the case, I can certainly understand why a reading such as this might leave them cold.

        For those who are morally disturbed by this reality, a mature resolution of these impulses would to examine all the voices and see how or if these they might be operating inside you. Perhaps you will identify with some of them, perhaps not. Perhaps you might be inspired to create additional “children.” My purpose here is to initiate seder conversation, not convince folks of the “rightness” of my opinions. (And I’ve been gratified to hear from many people who used that it did indeed inspire some wonderful conversations at their seders.)

        I would turn your question around to you. Do you feel like the Bitter Child for being concerned about anti-Semitism in Scandinavia? That question is for you, not me, to answer. Again, that is the point of this exercise. BTW: I believe you are very mistaken about the original Four Sons of the Haggadah – there is a very definite agenda behind them. It actually goes farther and tells you how you must respond to them. I purposely did not do that here because I wanted folks to feel free to come of with their own responses. And actually, you’ve done precisely that right here. Thank you for your comments.

  8. MFC

    Your response actually illustrates my point. Palestinian suffering and Israel’s occupation – again I’ll accept your specific wording – it’s something to be “grappled with.” It needs to initiate seder conversation. It should lead to further constructs, e.g. additional children in the current metaphor. By contrast, my mentioning of what’s happening in Northern Europe immediately generates the reverse response. No discussion of the news – actual, concrete events. Instead it’s a problem I have to deal with personally just for mentioning it. It’s a clever (and again, frankly very passive-aggressive) way of pushing the substantive issue right off the table and slightly belittling the party that brings the information into the conversation.

    It’s especially ironic because I’ve noticed that the Jewish Voice for Peace crowd that you’re part of generally flatters itself that its voice is being censored or “muzzled,” and yet selective discussion that borders on its own form of censorship is a core part of its approach.

    Rabbi, this may surprise you, but I’m concerned about the Palestinian people. I’m an American, I believe that all men / all people are created equal (which is no contradiction to the various particularities that we Jews and other people develop for ourselves). What I want to know is how to actually get from Point A to Point B, an improvement in the lot of all people living in the region you’re concerned about. If it turns out that the modes of self-government of those peoples, their connection to and history in the pan-Arab world, the various philosophies both regional and global that overhang the situation, and the distinctive modes of violence engaged in by both sides of conflict impact on this question, then they all need to go into the mix.

    The reason I think this may surprise you goes back to my original point about your caricaturing of the situation. Just because you’re advocating for a point of view doesn’t mean that the opposite view always advocates in the same way. As I say, I’ve watched your blog evolve from open-mindedness to a form of radicalism which tends to employ heavy filters. Just as you are asking readers to examine their impulses, I think you need to examine yours which clearly looks for ways to push back at people with alternate information. I’ll resist the temptation to construct my own haggadah children to allegorize the point, but it could be done.

    1. Vicky


      Some of your wording (about ‘traditional viewpoints of the asymmetry of the Israel/Palestine conflict’, for example) suggests that you see the occupation as a scripture that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some people have got the ‘traditional’ view, others haven’t, and if Brant doesn’t give equal weight to all views, he is being close-minded. This approach treats the various opinions and feelings of Diaspora Jews as sacrosanct, as though those opinions are the most crucial aspects of the whole situation. But they aren’t so crucial to a Palestinian teenager who is being held without charge or trial, access to a lawyer, or his parents even knowing where he’s been taken. For him the most important thing is the denial of rights and dignity.

      That denial is a fact. It is facilitated through Diaspora support, both knowingly and unknowingly. This is why your Scandinavian comparison falls short. (The other reason, of course, is that no army comes for the children of Swedish Jews in the middle of the night, forbids Jews from political protest, withholds their voting rights, or demolishes their homes.) To take one example, the Jewish National Fund is well-supported amongst Diaspora communities, offering to plant trees in honour of bar/bat mitzvahs in exchange for donations. It is also active in the expropriation of Palestinian land, with forestation being used as a method of confiscation. JNF describes itself as ‘caretakers of the land of Israel, on behalf of Jewish people everywhere’. Israel markets itself as the national home of Jewish people everywhere. So when a farmer in Galilee is informed that his land is to be taken, or a house is torn down in Area C, the question for Diaspora Jews is whether they are prepared to let this be done in their name (and in some cases on their dime). It’s still a challenge for groups like JVP to initiate this conversation – because people would much rather stick with safe sterile discussions about whether to support a hypothetical Palestinian state, conducted in suitably abstract language (‘peace process’, ‘compromises’, ‘negotiations’.). Efforts to treat Palestinian oppression as an ongoing reality and to demand an ethical response to it are viewed as tantamount to treason in these circles. By contrast, you would have no trouble in setting up a discussion forum for Scandinavian Jews affected by anti-Semitism. Hillel wouldn’t deny you the use of their premises for this activity. No one would refer to you as ‘a radical fringe group’. You wouldn’t have to convince them that your issue was genuine and important. You can’t reasonably compare the widespread hostility faced by JVP to your dissatisfaction with one rabbi’s Pesach blog post, especially as there is no shortage of forums for you to air views like yours.

      When I read your comments, I was struck by your use of phrases like ‘the other side of the story’ and ‘both sides’. This is a very restrictive way of thinking that seems at odds with your wish to see more nuance in Brant’s reworking of the four children. People’s experiences can’t be neatly split into two, the ‘Jewish’ story and the ‘Palestinian’ story. In reality they overlap. Many of the things I have heard from ex-soldiers who served in the Territories contain painful echoes of what I hear from ex-child detainees, for example. One of the reasons why the ‘narrative’ approach to conflict resolution fails (“We must understand each other’s histories”) is because it is predicated on the existence of a binary that simply isn’t there.

      This understanding of people’s lives as multi-layered and overlapping seems to be reflected in the haggadah. It contains questions from four children, not fourteen hundred, so any description of the children (including the traditional text) is not going to include all possible perspectives. But they do invite consideration of other perspectives. I’ve never yet read a haggadah that didn’t foster engagement in that way. Seeing Brant’s descriptors of the four children, my first thought was of how in my own Catholic faith, ‘sea of bitterness’ is given to Mary as an honorific, because she was so sensitive to the suffering of Christ that it permeated her own life like salt in seawater. I wondered if it’s possible to understand the bitter child in a similar way, as someone who carries grief so deep that it’s become part of them.

      When I came to the fearful child, I thought of an Israeli man who initiated what would become our friendship by calling me a liar and insinuating that I was an anti-Semite to boot. (He improves on acquaintance.) He has often said to me that the only way for Israelis to stay alive is ‘to be better killers than our neighbours’. This friendship is quite challenging for both of us, but I only began to realise how problematic it can be for him when he wrote to me, “To tell the truth, I’m not feeling secure anywhere inside WB without a weapon or a company of armed people at least.” For him even accepting a lunch invitation was hard. He spent his army years in a tank in the occupied Jordan Valley, and will defend pretty much anything the IDF ever does, from torture to the use of white phosphorus. Brant’s description of the fearful child encompasses this support for violence and this sense of only being safe in Israel. But it also encompasses his decision to visit my home (despite no longer having his preferred tank transport) and his ability to be friends with an activist working with Palestinian children in the first place. Fear sharpens people’s awareness that different ways of living exist, in a way that being comfortable never can – so the fearful child who insists on the need for military domination is perhaps the courageous child too.

      It’s important to leave room for the stories of people like him. Brant’s reworking of the four children does achieve this. What we cannot do is to act as though his story can somehow counterbalance the state-sponsored injustice being perpetrated against the teenagers whose detention he supports, or to behave as though the existence of that injustice is up for debate. These are two extremely different things, and it’s far from open-minded to muffle that question of justice so that people may hold on to their more cherished opinions undisturbed.

  9. MFC

    Vicky, I appreciate some of your stories and observations, but running throughout your commentary is an incorrect projection back onto me of a mirror image of your own analytical framework. I do not consider Diaspora Jews’ (or anyone’s) opinion sacrosanct and I didn’t ask Rabbi Rosen to give equal weight to all viewpoints. That’s your red-herring reworking of my observation that your school of thought appears to want to give no weight at all to conflicting data.

    So let’s try this again. You feel it’s a major problem that, accepting your wording, a Palestinian teenager can be “held without charge or trial, access to a lawyer, or his parents even knowing where he’s been taken,” and that can lead to a “denial of rights and dignity.” I agree that’s a meaningful issue in the entire matrix of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (if you will accept my wording). Now, how did things come to such a pass, exactly, and how do we get out of it? By the Israeli military simply stop doing such a thing in all cases? That’s a good basis for discussion.

    By contrast, your curt dismissal of the Scandinavian anti-Semitism example as “of course, no Army comes for them in the night” strongly suggests an unwillingness to even discover whether there might be any equivalent (or worse) affront to dignity at play there, or in many other such recent events. That’s an averting of the eyes that should be contrary to the attitude of human rights activists.

    It’s a short walk from there to the obvious problems in Rabbi Rosen’s Four Children construct, which is conveniently designed to give like-minded individuals the illusion of deep questioning and contemplation while actually providing them cover for the natural instinct not to calibrate positions, and instead sanctimoniously calls only on other people to move their thinking. There’s merit to your story about the former Israeli soldier, but it’s quite telling that the story only involves someone else being moved, not any self-examination on your own part that I can see.

    Regarding Jewish Voice for Peace, yes, I imagine that there are precincts where, if you will, anti-Israel opinions are not welcome. But this has dramatically expanded into self-pitying claims that debate over Israel’s approach to various questions are not welcome in individual synagogues (they certainly are in mine), in broad swaths of American secular liberal culture, and on college campuses (where the claim is made that one cannot get a hearing to criticize Israel on campus – are you kidding me?). This issue here is not about the right to criticize. It’s about participating in efforts to turn Israel into a human rights singularity via support of the BDS movement – unless you can tell me of another country, among the huge cornucopia of those with serious human rights problems, that you are interested in “boycotting.” But I suppose this is a topic for another post and another day, as is your interesting formulation that Israel “markets itself” as the Jewish national homeland. Perhaps we will find ourselves dialoguing about that at some point.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      @MFC: I’ve written extensively on every issue you cite here and have posted numerous comments on my posts citing a variety of viewpoints. Your claim that I “call only on other people to move their thinking” is simply incorrect. While I certainly won’t apologize for my opinions, I never claim to be promoting the only correct point of view. On the contrary, I welcome and post many comments that express opinions strongly divergent from mine. From what I can tell, beyond all of your concern about the “entire matrix of the Palestinian conflict,” what is really going on here is that you just don’t like my point of view.

      You are interested in exploring how the administrative detention of Palestinian children in the West Bank could have come to pass, and how we might “get out of it.” I am as well – and I agree with you that these questions provide “a good basis for discussion.” In fact, I’ve been having these very discussions on my blog for years. On the issue of “how such a situation could have come to pass,” I wrote very recently:

      I fully agree that this is a complicated situation. But I would add that there is nothing complicated about the institutional oppression that the Shin Bet inflicts on Palestinians. While the fears and pain and moral anguish of Israelis is indeed very real, I believe we must be willing to admit that these feelings are largely helpless in the face of a larger infrastructural reality that Israelis have created – and within which, in a very real way, they have become subsumed.

      Critics who condemn those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians often fail to appreciate this point: it is not Israelis to whom we stand in opposition, but rather the oppressive institutions that they have constructed and which we believe threaten the well being and future of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

      On the issue of ‘how we might get out of it,” I’ve made no secret of the fact that I support BDS as a means to leverage the popular pressure on Israel in the absence of meaningful diplomatic engagement. I recently addressed this issue in a post on the Soda Stream boycott here:

      Since no nation or institution seems willing to hold Israel accountable, it seems to me the least any concerned citizen can do is to refuse to patronize companies that directly profit from this brutal and unjust occupation…

      …While I certainly don’t have any illusions that this boycott will bring the Israeli economy to their knees, I do believe it provides us with the means to take a public moral stand against the injustices Israel is committing in the occupied West Bank – and to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are impacted by this oppression.

      (BTW: that post elicited lively debate – there are 25 comments, including many that strongly disagree with my position. I certainly don’t flinch from presenting my own point of view and I welcome open discussion. While I’m happy if my views inspire some to look at these issues in a different way, it is simply disingenuous of you to suggest that my ultimate goal is to “call on other people to move their thinking.”)

      I’ve also written extensively about European anti-Semitism – including the situation in Scandinavia. My point, as I’ve made numerous times over the years, is that we must certainly be concerned and vigilant about anti-Jewish activity anywhere in the world. At the same time, however, history has demonstrated that the most deadly and insidious form of anti-Semitism is the state-sponsored variety. In this regard, while we have every reason to be concerned about European anti-Jewish prejudice, it cannot and should not be compared to the kind of prejudice that is institutionalized and implemented by a state apparatus (as Vicky correctly, I believe, points out).

      My point in my Four Children supplement was not to demean concern over anti-Semitism – rather I was interested in the way we Jews psychologically process our experience of anti-Semitism. I do believe that so many of us (including myself) have become embittered by this legacy, and I also believe we too often refract it against our views on Israel. This is an issue that has been recognized and discussed in a wide spectrum of Jewish venues. For you, my mere suggestion of it means I am “sanctimoniously calling on other people to move their thinking.” I’m not sure how to respond to that except to reiterate that I’m glad that you have seen fit to engage with me on my blog and I welcome this conversation/dialogue.

      Re your point on JVP and the censure of BDS discussion in the organized Jewish community: I’ve addressed this issue extensively on my blog and have entertained a wide-ranging discussion on the comment board. On this you write:

      This issue here is not about the right to criticize. It’s about participating in efforts to turn Israel into a human rights singularity via support of the BDS movement – unless you can tell me of another country, among the huge cornucopia of those with serious human rights problems, that you are interested in “boycotting.”

      My first impression of this statement is that you are singularly attempting to define what “the issue” is – which runs directly counter to your concern over “passive-aggressive statements to stifle inputs into the discussion.” I personally take exception to your insistence on defining the essence of the “issue” at hand. It is patently dismissive of those who believe there is very real censure of debate going on in our community – and in your way, your comment only adds to that censure.

      This is not to say I don’t respect your point of view – it has been expressed many times on my blog by other commenters as well. It was expressed recently – and this is how I responded:

      (It) is not for American “progressives” to call for boycotts of countries who engage in human rights abuse. Boycotts are tools used by those who suffer from these abuses – and who choose to appeal to the world for support and solidarity. Solidarity means treating the oppressed as agents of their own destiny and not deciding for them what the means of their liberation should be.

      In the case of BDS, we have a call that has come out from the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society to support their cause in resisting a very brutal occupation. The question before us, quite simply, is whether or not we choose to answer the call. There are many thoughtful quarters of the Jewish community that believe BDS is a legitimate form of nonviolent resistance – and that since the US government is unable or unwilling to create the necessary pressure to change the status quo, BDS is an important means to leverage popular support to create change. Now we can certainly debate whether or not it is an effective or appropriate tactic – but I believe it is shameful for self-appointed guardians of the Jewish community to shut down debate completely and refuse to even countenance the conversation.

      Again, you are welcome to submit your comments on my blog and I respect them enough to post them and respond to them in kind. I only ask that you respect my point of view enough not to accuse me of “sanctimoniously calling on other people to move their thinking” simply because you happen disagree with me.

    2. Vicky

      Firstly, this meditation was written within a Jewish community for Jewish communities, so it is obviously concerned with attitudes that the author has encountered within that circle, not on anybody’s college campus or in ‘secular liberal culture’. While your synagogue might welcome discussion of JVP’s approach, this level of acceptance can be said to typify Diaspora life as a whole, and it’s hardly self-pitying to make that observation.

      “That’s your red-herring reworking of my observation that your school of thought appears to want to give no weight at all to conflicting data.”

      It is what I honestly understood your post to mean. If you meant something different, and I didn’t get the point, please try and explain more clearly. But I don’t know what else I can conclude from statements like this, which revolve around feelings: “You feel it’s a major problem that, accepting your wording, a Palestinian teenager can be ‘held without charge or trial’…and that can lead to a ‘denial of rights and dignity’.”

      It’s not a question of what I or you or anyone else ‘feels’ or doesn’t ‘feel’ – it is a question of what is happening to those kids. Imprisonment of minors under martial law doesn’t lead to a denial of rights and dignity. It is a denial of rights and dignity. Full stop. I’m not interested in taking part in debates on wording, as though semantics are the central issue at stake. Change my words if you want, and you still don’t change the reality of what those kids experience. I also take serious issue with your suggestion that Jews in Sweden might be experiencing something as bad or worse as child imprisonment and home demolition and not having voting rights (which are a lot more serious than ‘affronts to dignity’ – they can destroy lives) and it’s only my own unwillingness to look that prevents me from discovering these things. Secondly, refusal to allow a discussion of Palestinian rights to be derailed by the introduction of any other situation (Syria being the most popular choice) doesn’t translate as unwillingness to look – more unwillingness to allow one person’s suffering to be diluted by reference to another’s. If you want practical discussion of how to change things in Palestine, one good way to start would be to oppose this tendency instead of falling into it yourself.

      “This issue here is not about the right to criticize. It’s about participating in efforts to turn Israel into a human rights singularity via support of the BDS movement – unless you can tell me of another country, among the huge cornucopia of those with serious human rights problems, that you are interested in ‘boycotting’.”

      Brant has addressed this multiple times, so I will quote what he said in a comment to Ike on a recent post: “Boycotts are tools used by those who suffer from these abuses – and who choose to appeal to the world for support and solidarity. Solidarity means treating the oppressed as agents of their own destiny and not deciding for them what the means of their liberation should be. In the case of BDS, we have a call that has come out from the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society to support their cause in resisting a very brutal occupation. The question before us, quite simply, is whether or not we choose to answer the call.”

      In other words, it is Palestinians who have chosen to initiate BDS, just as South Africans did. International BDS activists are responding to a specific request from a specific group of people; they didn’t wake up one day and decide to selectively boycott Israel. For the record, when it was announced that China would be awarded the Olympics, I joined Tibetan solidarity groups and other human rights organisations in calling for the Olympics to be taken away and for athletes to boycott the event – because that was what groups representing oppressed communities under Chinese rule had asked for. When the debate about sporting/cultural boycott was ongoing, and Isabel Losada was arrested for trying to extinguish the Olympic torch in protest as it was carried ceremonially through the streets, I don’t recall anyone apart from Chinese officials accusing activists of singling out China unfairly, or asking why they weren’t calling for a boycott of other places. The insistence that any discussion of justice for Palestine be qualified by a discussion of Jews in Norway or feature a declaration of support for BDS against some other oppressive regime is just a way of trying to make the Palestinian situation appear less pressing. When I write about disability discrimination, I don’t feel that I should balance what I say by also mentioning my commitment to refugee rights or ecological justice – and no one expects it. I’m not about to start doing that for Palestine either.

      “There’s merit to your story about the former Israeli soldier, but it’s quite telling that the story only involves someone else being moved, not any self-examination on your own part that I can see.”

      I wrote that ‘this friendship has been quite challenging for both of us’. I also wrote that it was only an open admission of fear that led me to realise how difficult it was for him. So yes, I was moved. Before that I was so preoccupied with the challenges of friendship with someone who supports child detention that I hadn’t given any thought to the problems he might have with me. Being able to accept what he wrote and to respond empathetically was only possible because of some soul-searching on my part, which I won’t share in detail. I gave that story as a way of illustrating how fluid Brant’s categories can be and how they can foster a more compassionate understanding of people who resort to and believe in the necessity of violence, not to highlight my friend’s decision to try and visit Bethlehem. Rather than self-pity or sanctimonious thinking, those descriptors can encourage compassion in the reader – and self-examination is an absolute given. It’s an important part of most liturgies. Religiously observant people should know that, and if reading Brant’s four children cements a sanctimonious lack of reflection in them, then I doubt any other haggadah could make them different.


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