Category Archives: Holocaust

Anti-Semitic Violence in Copenhagen: Responding With Solidarity, Not Cynicism


Another week, another tragic hate crime – this time in Copenhagen, in which a gunman attacked a cultural center during a program on freedom of expression, killing 55 year old film director Finn Nørgaard, then shortly thereafter shot and killed Dan Uzan, 37, who was guarding a synagogue during a Bat Mitzvah celebration. Three police officers were wounded during the first attack and two during the second. The gunman, whose identity has not yet been made public, was reportedly “on the radar” of Danish intelligence services and may have been “inspired by militant Islamist propaganda.”

There was a chilling similarity between this attack and a murderous incident in a Parisian kosher market in which four Jewish hostages – Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada – were brutally executed. I use the word chilling because I know all too well that incidents such as these conjure up our worst fears about Jewish life in Europe.

Alas, there are many in the Jewish community who are more than willing to respond to these kinds of attacks by cynically playing on those fears. None more so that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu who, in the wake of the Paris killings exhorted French Jews to flee Europe and immigrate to Israel:

To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home…This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism.

At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder at the twisted logic of Netanyahu’s invitation: telling the Jews of France to flee their homes to the safety and security of a over-militarized Jewish garrison state in the Middle East, where just last summer Israeli citizens spent day after day running for their lives to bomb shelters?

And on still more twisted level, I couldn’t help but note how Netanyahu’s attitude toward Europe ironically plays into the designs of the worst European anti-Semites. Ha’aretz bureau chief Chemi Shalev nailed it perfectly with this tweet:

Call for mass Jewish emigration helps terrorists finish the job started by Nazis and Vichy: making France Judenrein.

Following the Paris attacks, I was enormously heartened by the strong response of French Jewry to Netanyahu’s heavy-handed overtures. After he spoke at a Paris synagogue, he was forced to stand by awkwardly when the congregation spontaneously burst into the French national anthem. He was also dressed down by Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, who said in an interview:

Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are. The reality is that a large majority of European Jews do not plan to emigrate to Israel. The Israeli government must recognize this reality… and cease this Pavlovian reaction every time Jews in Europe are attacked.

Netanyahu clearly has not gotten the message. Following yesterday’s attacks in Copenhagen, he’s played the same cynical card, calling for “massive immigration” and making a thinly reference to the Holocaust by telling Danish Jews:

Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish. This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe – Israel is your home.

Again, it seems European Jewry is having none of it. Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior has said today that he was “disappointed” in Netanyahu’s remarks, adding “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.”

No, the answer to European anti-Semitism is most decidedly not to adopt a Zionist victim mentality and urge the poor Jews of Europe to flee for their lives. Quite the opposite.

I said as much during my sermon this last Yom Kippur:

What should be our response as we read these reports of rising European anti-Semitism? I would suggest that the answer is not to put our faith in nationalism and militarism to keep the Jewish people safe. I believe our first response should be to understand that anti-Semitism is but one form of racism and prejudice – and as such it is no different than the intolerance that is directed toward any people or group in the world who are perceived as “other.” The appropriate response, it seems to me, is not to recede behind higher walls or build stronger weapons, but rather to find common cause and solidarity with all who are being targeted in this way. To publicly affirm that the well-being of the Jewish people is irrevocably connected to the well-being of every group victimized by racism.

From Paris to Chapel Hill to Copenhagen: the answer, as ever, is to redouble our efforts toward solidarity, democracy, and pluralism no matter where we happen to live.

A Rabbi at AFSC: Quaker and Jewish connections – Part 1

American Quaker Marjorie McClelland with Jewish refguee child, Vichy France (photo: Ha'aretz)

American Quaker Marjorie McClelland with Jewish refugee child, Vichy France (photo: Ha’aretz)

(Crossposted with Acting in Faith)

When I tell people that I’ve just started working for the American Friends Service Committee, some will inevitably scratch their heads and ask, “What is a rabbi doing working for a Quaker organization?”

Those who know me well, know enough not to ask. During my twenty-plus years as a congregational rabbi/activist, I’ve often worked alongside AFSC staff and progressive Quakers, particularly on the issue of Mideast peace and justice. I’ve cultivated a wonderful ongoing relationship with the Friends Meeting in my hometown of Evanston and have spoken there on more than one occasion. During the course of my travels throughout the peace and justice activist community in Chicago and beyond, I can say without hesitation that some of my best friends have been Friends.

For those who do ask, I explain that while AFSC is a Quaker organization, it is wonderfully multi-faith in its composition. I’m certainly not the first Jew to work for AFSC (nor am I even the first rabbi – my friend and colleague Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb served as Co-Director of AFSC’s Middle East Program in San Francisco from 2007 to 2009). Since the announcement of my hiring, in fact, I’ve heard from increasing numbers of Jewish friends and colleagues who have told me of their involvement in AFSC in various capacities over the years.

Of course this connection is more than merely anecdotal; there are in fact important historical affinities between Quakers and Jews. During the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, our respective communities have been proportionally well represented in progressive movements of social change, particularly in the American civil rights and anti-war movements. Our faith communities are also historically linked by the heroic efforts of Quakers and the AFSC to help save thousands of European Jews during the Holocaust and to provide relief for scores of Jewish refugees in the war’s aftermath.

Quakers from AFSC handing out blankets in Gaza, 1948 (photo: AFSC)

Quakers from AFSC handing out blankets in Gaza, 1948 (photo: AFSC)

In more recent years, it would be fair to say that the Quaker-Jewish connection has become somewhat fractured over the Israel-Palestine issue. While this subject deserves consideration in another blog post, I will only say for now that I have long been dismayed at the hypocrisy of those in my community who applaud the Quakers’ work on behalf of Jewish refugees, yet bitterly criticize them for applying the very same values and efforts on behalf of Palestinian refugees. I would add as well that there are increasing numbers of Jews like myself who reject the nationalism/militarism of Zionism in favor of a Jewish vision that promotes peace with justice and full rights for all who live in the land. I do believe that this trend is providing an important new place of connection between Jews and Quakers – particularly among a younger generation of activists and organizers.

Beyond these historical connections, I’ve become increasingly interested in exploring a different form of Quaker-Jewish encounter: namely, the deeper spiritual commonalities between our respective faith traditions themselves. I do believe that this Jewish-Quaker connection transcends simple political affinity. In this regard, I’ve been particularly struck by Jews who identify deeply with the Jewish people and Jewish tradition while at the same time unabashedly embrace Quaker practice and spirituality.

For instance, Claire Gorfinkel, who worked for the AFSC for many years and attends both a Quaker Meeting and a Jewish synagogue, explored this territory memorably in her 2000 Pendle Hill pamphlet, “I Have Always Wanted to be Jewish – And Now Thanks to the Religious Society of Friends I Am.”

For Gorfinkel, the most critical point of commonality between these two faiths lies in their rejection of Divine intermediation as well as their powerful ethical traditions:

For both Quakerism and Judaism, God is directly accessible to the seeker, without need for priests or other intermediaries. God appears in the faces of our community and in the wonders of our natural world.

For both traditions, faith and the words we use are far less important than how we treat one another and our environment. Our human worth is measured in acts of loving kindness, “doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with your God.” (p. 31)

More recently, Jonathan Zasloff, a Jewish law professor at UCLA wrote a powerful piece for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal entitled, “Some of My Best Jews are Friends.” In his article, a commentary on Prophetic portion for the Sabbath of Hanukkah, Zasloff revealed that he regularly attends a Quaker meeting – and that the practice of silence “has deeply enhanced (his) Jewish practice.”

Contending that “silence and individual spiritual expression” are “absent from modern Judaism,” he suggested “there is no reason why Jews cannot adopt Quaker practice:”

Some form of silent worship has a long tradition in Judaism, one that our people has regrettably allowed to lapse. The Talmudic sages would “be still one hour prior to each of the three prayer services, then pray for one hour and afterwards be still again for one hour more.” (Moses Maimonides) interpreted this as silent motionlessness in order “to settle their minds and quiet their thoughts.”

As a Jew who also finds a comfortable spiritual home in the Quaker community, I’m encouraged and excited by these kinds of connections. In our increasingly multi-faith 21st century, I firmly believe it is time to seek out those places where we might lift up and celebrate our spiritual commonalities rather than simply fall back upon a religious tribalism for its own sake.

As I think more about potential areas of further Jewish – Quaker encounter, I am particularly intrigued by the parallels between Quaker Testimonies and Jewish religious values. Indeed, when I first read AFSC’s booklet “An Introduction to Quaker Testimonies,” I was immediately struck by a myriad of connections – causing me to think more deeply about the similar ways these ideals have been understood and acted upon in unique ways by our respective faith traditions.

As I read through them, I’m struck by a number of questions. As a Jew who has found a comfortable home in the Quaker community, I wonder:

To what extent do these testimonies/values reflect the unique experiences of our respective faith communities?

What is ultimately more important: the uniqueness of our paths or our shared vision of universal peace and justice?

And how might we find the wherewithal, despite our differences, to travel this road together?


For Yom Hashoah: A Tribute to Pacifist Heroes André and Magda Trocmé

Andre Trocme

In honor of Yom Hashoah, please read about the sacred work of Pastor André and Magda Trocmé, the courageous pacifist Christians who saved 3,000-5,000 Jews from certain death in South Central France. May their memory be for a blessing.

The biography below is reposted from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection:

André and Magda Trocmé are perhaps best known for their work in the small French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where, during World War II, they inspired the villagers to help protect and sometimes to assist in the escape of Jews and other poltiical refugees. This quiet and courageous assistance was given without resorting to violence. Historians estimate that about 3,500 Jews were harbored in the area in and around Le Chambon.

André Trocmé (1901-1971) was born in St. Quentin in the north of France to Huguenot parents. After seminary in Paris and graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained into the French Reformed Church and served for eight years among the coal miners and steel workers of Maubeuge and Sin-le-Noble, two small towns in the north of France. He preached nonviolence at a time when such views were unpopular in France. In 1934 André Trocmé accepted a call to be pastor in the remote Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in South Central France. These parishioners were more sympathetic to his views on nonviolence.

Magda Trocmé (1901-1996) was born in Italy to an Italian father and a Russian mother. She graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in literature and earned further degrees in French. She and André Trocmé met in the United States while she was attending the New York School of Social Work, and they were married in 1926. The couple had four children, Nelly, Jean-Pierre, Jacques, and Daniel.

In 1938, André Trocmé, and his pacifist colleague Édouard Theis, founded L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenol in Le Chambon, a Protestant, co-educational secondary school. In addition to the usual French secondary school curriculum, tolerance, honesty, and nonviolence were taught as well. L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole soon gained an international focus, and after World War II the name of the school was changed to Collège Cévenol. Magda Trocmé taught Italian at this school which is still in operation today.

During the first part of World War II Le Chambon was located in the “free”( unoccupied) zone of France. By 1942 the Germans had occupied the entire country. However, the population of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon continued to aid an increasing number of refugees. In 1943, André Trocmé, Édouard Theis, and the head of the public school, Roger Darcissac were interned in a camp by the Vichy police. These men were arrested for their part in assisting the refugees of the area. Trocmé, Theis, and Darcissac were released from prison after one month, but Trocmé and Theis went into hiding for the next ten months.

In the late 1940s André and Magda Trocmé traveled as European Secretaries for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). After their move to Versailles (France) in 1950, the Trocmé’s founded La Maison de la Réconciliation. The Maison de la Reconciliation became an international peace center and the headquarters of the French and Continental Secretariat of the IFOR. During travels in the United States, under IFOR auspices, André Trocmé delivered the Robert Treat Paine lectures which became the basis for his book The Politics of Repentance, published in 1953. During the strife between France and Algeria, André Trocmé helped start Eirene (International Service for Peace), located in Morocco, which provided alternative service for conscientious objectors. He was also active in the movement against atomic weapons, becoming president of the French Federation Against Atomic Armaments in 1959. In 1960, André Trocmé accepted a call to become one of the ministers of the Saint-Gervais Church in Geneva, Switzerland. Many of the sermons he preached at Saint-Gervais were broadcast. His book, Jésus-Christ et la Revolution Non Violente was published in French in 1961 and subsequently in other languages (Orbis Books edition, 2004). In 1965, André Trocmé accompanied a peace mission to Vietnam.

After World War II André Trocmé was awarded the Rosette de la Résistance by the French government. The story of the Trocmé’s pacifist leadership inspired Philip P. Hallie, a professor at Wesleyan University, to write the book Lest Innocent Blood by Shed, published in 1979. Eleven years later Pierre Sauvage produced the documentary Weapons of the Spirit (1988), explaining how his family survived Word War II, through the efforts of the people of Le Chambon.

André Trocmé died in Geneva on June 5, 1971, just a few weeks after he had been scheduled to receive the Médaille des Justes from the government of Israel. As more and more people were recognized as “Righteous Gentiles,” the Yad Vashem honored all the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding area. In their memory an engraved stele and rock garden were installed in the park of Yad Vashem (Israel).

After the death of her husband Magda Trocmé moved to Paris with Alice Reynier (“Jispa”), a close family friend who had lived with the Trocmé family since 1942. Alice Reynier shared their family life and their work. Magda Trocmé received an honorary degree from Haverford College in 1981 in the name of the people of Le Chambon and the surrounding area She died in Paris in 1996. André, Magda, their sons Jean-Pierre and Daniel, and Jispa, are all buried as a family in the cemetery of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Stanford Professor, Poet and Ex-Sixties Radical Hilton Obenzinger on What it Means to Be a Jew

obenzingerHighly recommended: this recent interview with Stanford professor Hilton Obenzinger, who among other things is a prolific writer and poet and was one of the student leaders of the 1968 Columbia University protests which led to the six day takeover of the President’s office.  Obenzinger definitely speaks my heart on all kinds of issues. (h/t: Susan Klonsky)

A few choice excerpts:

What makes you proud to be a Jew?

Jewish culture is rich and varied with a transnational sense of peoplehood. In Europe, my ancestors were everything from ultra-orthodox to Polish nationalists, to escape-to-America émigrés, to Zionist and Communist. The Nazis murdered almost all of them. In the face of that horror and other horrors of history, Jewish survival is astonishing.

I’m especially proud of the American Jewish experience that pushed me, and others, to join the civil rights and social justice movements. I’ve heard it said that support for equality and justice flows from Jewish ethics and from the history of Jewish persecution. I’d like to believe it.

What are you most ashamed about Jews as an ethnic group?

From my point of view, Zionism turned out to be a moral disaster for the Jews. American Jews have been suckered into supporting Israel in unthinking ways. This has been changing, but not enough American Jews are yelling and screaming to stop Israel’s expansion.

Forty years ago, did you believe there would be a resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?

Yes. And I still do.

Do you see a resolution to the conflict in your own lifetime?

Assuming I live another decade or two, probably not. But you never know. Who would have thought the Soviet Union would collapse? Or a black man would be president? I may not live to see it but it’s likely to happen.

Do you think that there can be a one-state solution to the conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis?

Of course, there can be — which doesn’t mean it will happen, at least in the near future. The conflict is not at root religious and it hasn’t been going on for thousands of years, as many claim. It started about 130 years ago when Zionism, a Western political movement, called for the settlement of Palestine and the exclusion of the native people. It’s a conflict started by people, not by God; humans created it; humans can fix it.

What do you see happening now?

Israeli Jews are a nationality with their own language and culture, as are the Palestinians, so it would take a lot of good faith to fit all of them together, including the refugees. Good faith is not an abundant commodity nowadays. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been doing all it can to prevent a two-state solution by expanding settlements and uprooting Palestinian communities.

One state may be inevitable, since the foundations for a viable Palestinian state have been greatly undermined. Israel might move further in its current colonialist direction, creating reservations for the natives and a large open-air prison in Gaza. I don’t care if there are one or four states, actually, just so long as equality and democratic rights are at the core of all of them.

What have you learned from studying the Holocaust?

When we protested the war in Vietnam many of us didn’t want to be “good Germans” — people passively accepting evil and genocide. My family’s murder always weighs on my mind, so for me it’s imperative to speak out about injustice.

I produced my aunt’s oral testimony called Running through Fire about her escape from the Warsaw Ghetto. I learned from her that everything is muddy — with some Germans acting morally and courageously and some Jews acting in a craven fashion. I also leaned that in a situation of utter horror, no matter how smart and skilled and, in her case, how beautiful you were, pure luck is a determining factor. I’ve also learned to keep my passport up-to-date.

What does it mean to you to be a Jew?

After my son’s birth I felt compelled to pass on to him a positive Jewish experience without the corruptions of anti-Arab racism, and the “Jewish Disneyland” kitsch that American Jews love. I wanted my son to laugh, to enjoy the bar mitzvah experience, to feel comfortable being Jewish and Filipino — which is his mother’s ethnic identity.

What do you think Jews and Arabs have in common?

I told my aunt who survived the Nazis that if she could meet Palestinians in refugee camps she would like them, and that they were a lot like her. Palestinians, like Jews, value education and culture, and they insist on persisting. They, too, have historical memories that they won’t allow to be erased and that they act upon. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinians have also managed to drive each other insane. It’s painful watching two peoples destroy each other.

My “Wrestling” Interview with Truthout

Check out my wide-ranging and freewheeling conversation with Truthout’s Mark Karlin, which focuses on my book, but also touches on subjects such as Zionism, BDS, the two-state solution and Palestinian solidarity, among others.

Here’s a taste, below. Click here for the full interview.

Mark Karlin: Stereotyping any group of people is dangerous. In polls during peaceful periods, most Palestinians and Israelis appear to support peace. A lot of what Netanyahu appears to do is stir up the pot so that there will never be a long enough period to negotiate a peace. That’s not to excuse those in Hamas and Hezbollah who have their own motives in heating up the conflict now and then, along with other parties who have vested interests in stalling peace. When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?

Brant Rosen: At the end of my book I addressed this issue directly:

As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.

For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.

In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.

I’ve come to believe that solidarity should ultimately be driven by values, not tribal allegiances. It should be motivated by the prophetic vision that demands that we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful. Of course, in the case of Israel, this form of solidarity presents a very painful challenge to many Jews. I understand that. But at the very least, shouldn’t we be talking about this challenge and what it represents for us?

Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.

Rabbi Brian Walt Imagines a Judaism Without Zionism

My dear friend and colleague Rabbi Brian Walt just posted a transcript of his talk, “Affirming a Judaism and Jewish Identity Without Zionism” – a breathtaking piece that deserves the widest possible audience. I don’t know exactly how describe it except to say it’s at once an intensely personal confession, spiritual autobiography, political treatise and most of all, an anguished cri de coeur.

I finally had to admit to myself what I had known for a long time but was too scared to acknowledge: political Zionism, at its core, is a discriminatory ethno-nationalism that privileges the rights of Jews over non-Jews. As such political Zionism violates everything I believe about Judaism. While there was desperate need in the 1940s to provide a safe haven for Jews, and this need won over most of the Jewish world and the Western world to support the Zionist movement, the Holocaust can in in no way justify or excuse the systemic racism that was and remains an integral part of Zionism.

In the past I believed that the discrimination I saw – the demolished homes, the uprooted trees, the stolen land – were an aberration of the Zionist vision. I came to understand that all of these were not mistakes nor a blemishes on a dream – they were all the logical outcome of Zionism.

As a Jew, I believe in the inherent dignity of every human being. As a Jew, I believe that justice is the core commandment of our tradition. As a Jew, I believe that we are commanded to be advocates for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. Zionism and the daily reality in Israel violated each of these core values. And I could no longer be a Zionist. I will always be a person with deep and profound connection to Israel and my friends and family there, but I was no longer a Zionist.

I’m sure many readers will not agree with Brian’s conclusions. I’m even surer he will be attacked viciously by many for such “apostasy.”  As for me, I salute the courage it took for him to venture out onto such a precarious limb by sharing his thoughts.

Whatever your reactions, I hope you will be open to the challenge he lays before us.

For Yom Hashoah: A Palestinian Meditation on the Holocaust

In recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day, please read these words of Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of Knesset, who offered the following words before the Israeli Parliament in 2010:

This is the place and the time to cry out the cries of all of those who were and are no longer with us, the cries of those who have remained and who are struggling, justifiably so, to unburden themselves from the scenes of death and horror. I will once again repeat that I am full of empathy for the families of the victims of the Holocaust wherever they may be around the world, including those with whom I live on the same land, in the same country.

This is the moment in which every individual must relieve oneself of all of his nationalist or religious hats, relieve oneself of the otherness and wear just one robe: the robe of humanity. One must look at himself, look around him, and be human. Only human.

Full speech here.

What Must Be Said: We All Profit from Occupations

There’s been a great deal of analysis written about German writer Gunther Grass’ now-infamous new poem, “What Must Be Said” (in which Grass criticized Israel’s nuclear program as endangering an “already fragile world peace.”)  For me, the most astute response by far comes from Mideast historian Mark LeVine, writing in Al-Jazeera.

LeVine skillfully parses the psychology and the politics behind the uproar – but it is his identification of the larger context of the issue that resonates most powerfully for me. Here’s a long excerpt from a much longer article. The entire piece is well worth reading:

Israel has always sought to portray itself as a “normal” country, yet goes out of its way to ensure no one “names it” – to use Grass’ words – as what it is, a colonial state that every day intensifies its occupation of another people’s land. And so Grass has taken it upon himself to “say what must be said”, to name Israel as what it is, a “nuclear power” that “endangers the already fragile world peace”. It’s worth noting he doesn’t even mention the occupation, which is the far greater threat to world peace.

I have no idea if Grass really believed himself to be “bound” to Israel; if he did, we can imagine the bond is broken today, at least by Israel, now that he’s banned from returning. But Grass’ feelings are not what’s interesting or important. What’s important is the larger context, all the other “facts” which refuse to be accepted as “pronounced truths”.

These facts are that Israel, however egregious its crimes – and anyone who denies them is either completely ignorant or a moral idiot – is but one cog in a much larger global machine, one that includes too many other cases of occupation, exploitation, and wanton violence to list comprehensively here (we can name a few – Syria, China, Russia, India, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, the Congo, and of course, NATO and the United States – whose oppression, exploitation, and murder of their own or other peoples is a far more concrete “fact” than the potential for mass destruction caused by Israel’s nuclear programme)…

The larger fact is that the global economy is addicted to war, to militarism, oil and the rape of the planet for the minerals and resources that fuel the now globalised culture of hyperconsumption that will doom our descendants to a fate we dare not contemplate. Israel’s gluttony for Palestinian territory, and its willingness to encourage a regional nuclear arms race to keep it, is ultimately no different than the the gluttony for the 60-inch TV, the iPhone/Pad, the cavernous homes and cars, the ability to live at levels of consumption that are only sustainable if most of the world lives in poverty that increasingly defines all our cultures.

Israel has gotten Palestine on the cheap, and it costs relatively little to continue the occupation. Far less than it would cost to end it. So why bother? Especially when everyone else is doing, more or less, the same thing and, it’s clear, no one really cares anymore. Germany, whose remarkable economic stability in the recent global financial crisis is in good measure due to its central role in this global economy of hyper-consumption (think of all the energy and resources that go into making and driving all those fancy German cars), is certainly playing its role all too well.

If Grass is right that we must talk about the threat to world peace posed by Israel’s nuclear programme – and far more by its ongoing occupation – then we must also talk about the threat to global peace posed by the sick global system of which Israel is merely one of the more easily identifiable symptoms. Unlike my parents, I’m happy that Germans finally feel secure enough publicly to speak critically about Israel. But if they want their words to have a chance of bringing about a change in its behaviour, they, and everyone else, needs to broaden the discourse to include their own role in enabling and profiting from the system that Israel’s actions so benefits, and the global scope of the victims it daily produces.

Of course, this discourse would require a much longer and more complex poem, written by an even better poet than Grass. If someone manages to write it, I hope it will get the same publicity as “What Must Be Said”.

Ahmed Moor on the One-State Solution

Last Thursday, Ta’anit Tzedek hosted a fascinating, stimulating conference call with Palestinian-American journalist Ahmed Moor. Moor, who was born in Gaza, has reported from Lebanon and Egypt and is currently a graduate student in public policy at Harvard.  He has been an outspoken advocate of a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine – and during our conversation he elaborated extensively on a subject not commonly countenanced in the American Jewish community.

We recorded the call and will be posting it on our website soon. In the meantime, I’ve transcribed portions of our conversation and have posted them below. Personally speaking, I find Moor’s way of thinking to be fresh and important and I believe these kinds of ideas deserve a fair hearing in our community.

On the notion that Israel must exist in order to safeguard Jewish culture:

First I want to address this idea that a Jewish state has a right to exist because Jewish culture is valuable.  Jewish culture is valuable. Hebrew culture is valuable. It is intrinsic – that’s true whether or not Newt Gingrich thinks it’s invented. But the question of whether culture needs to be mapped on a geographical space in a state environment, I think, is one that is open to discussion.

And so when we think about Jewish life here in America, I don’t know that many people would disagree with me when I say that some of the most vibrant examples of Jewish life are here in America, in the diaspora, amongst non-Jewish people. So right-wing Israelis like to make the argument that where Hitler failed, assimilation is going to succeed. Intermarriage is the biggest threat to the Jewish people, not Iran.

Well, if you believe that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and that it’s the only state guarding Jewish culture, well then you are in a sense aligning yourself with those arguments.  It’s illiberal, fundamentally illiberal.  We know from American experience that a multiplicity of cultures can exist alongside one another and engage with one another and strengthen one another and maybe, even yes, impact one another in positive ways.

And when it comes to Palestine and Israel, American Jews say, “Well this is kind of the homeland of the Jewish people, it’s going to preserve Jewish culture for us,” but it’s almost a relationship apt to an amusement park. “I don’t want to live there – I want to experience it for two weeks. I want to take some of the symbols home with me, but I don’t really want to engage with it in the way that I do at home.”

Well, that’s unfair. No matter how much you value Jewish culture, and no matter how much you believe Israel needs to exist for the preservation of Jewish culture, if it’s a museum, which I don’t think it is, you’ve got to realize that your cultural progress is coming at the expense of somebody else’s freedom. And I think that there’s an asymmetry there in what matters.

On the notion that Israel should exist in case another Holocaust should occur – and Israelis’ fears that a one-state solution is just a pretext for “throwing them into the sea:”

I think that first we’ve got to look at the reality today. The status quo is about expelling Palestinians from Jerusalem, their land in the West Bank, and disenfranchising them in greater ways in Israel proper…So the reality is exactly the opposite. The status quo, the two-state solution process, is about pushing the Palestinians not into the sea, but in the other direction.

First I want to address Jewish American fear, and I hear this from a lot of Jewish Americans of a certain age, when they talk about the Holocaust, which is obviously an evil, genocidal but I want to emphasize, a historical act. I had the benefit of speaking with (New York Times columnist) Roger Cohen recently, and we talked about American Jewish life and I asked him whether he feels unsafe in America. And he was unequivocal: “Absolutely not, America is safe for the Jewish people, we’re welcome here, we’re part of the people, we’re part of the cultural fabric. We are America. America is us.”

Do you ever believe as American people that there’s ever going to be something like Kristallnacht or a pogrom targeting the Jewish people in America?  If the answer is yes, well then perhaps it’s time to move to Israel – and that’s what most right-wing Israelis say. If the answer is no, well then you’ve got to realize that you are opting for the preservation of an insurance policy, but the price of that insurance policy is being borne by another people. The Palestinians are paying the cost of a Jewish American insurance policy. There’s that asymmetry again. That doesn’t work. That’s not a moral position to take and it’s unsustainable.

As for Israelis’ fear about whether we seek to ethnically cleanse them, I think there’s again a gap in perceptions of realities. The Israelis are the ones with the guns. The Israelis are the ones with the American support. When the one-state solution is actualized, it’s going to be necessarily through Israeli consent. The idea that the Middle East or Palestine has to be in any way ethnically cleansed of Jewish people is a European action transplanted onto Palestine.

On Israeli historian Gershon Gorenberg’s recent claim that a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine would create civil war à la Lebanon:

Gershon’s fear is related directly to governmental structures – the way in which you structure multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies, or sectarian societies. In Lebanon I think it was structured exactly the wrong way. In Lebanon, whether you’re liberal or you’re somebody who’s more conservative, whether you believe in one policy versus another, the state almost compels you to vote along sectarian lines.

In Lebanon the Speaker of the Parliament has to be a Shia Muslim, the Prime Minister is a Sunni and the President has to be a Maronite Christian. That’s constitutionally true – that’s mandated. And so what that means is that you end up voting – where your vote is impactful and meaningful – is in your sectarian group. The Lebanese demography there is so sensitive – they haven’t had a national census since 1932 or 33, I think.

You have the American case, on the other hand – the structure of this country is along a federal basis. Federalism enabled this country to recover from the wounds of the Civil War and to persist for another 150 – 160 years since the Civil War ended.

It’s important that we think about questions like the ones Gershon is raising, but I don’t think that those questions necessarily stand in the way of a one-state solution. So there are good federal structures, confederal structures even, for dealing with ethnic or religious strife in democracy.

What I’m thinking of specifically is a state with four federal units: the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem is its own district, sort of like Washington DC, central Israel and the Negev and finally the West Bank and the Mediterranean corridor so now you’ve got four districts and Jerusalem. And each of those federal units would be defined geographically and every one of them, with the exception of the Strip, would be made up of minorities either of Jewish people or Palestinian people.

And so in the West Bank federal state you’d have an expression mostly of Palestinian culture. Why? Because 5 out of every 6 people on the West Bank are Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip you could have an expression of Palestinian culture. In the northwestern state there’s a big minority of Palestinian Israelis, but it’s primarily Jewish. I mean we’re talking about the Tel Aviv – Haifa corridor and that would be a majority Hebrew culture state. Same with the Negev.

So you have parity amongst the states because the states are defined geographically and you enable people over time to move for personal preference reasons. Over time your could get a drift across these federal lines, kind of like what happened in the States. You used to define yourself as an American 100 years ago as a South Carolinian or a New Yorker, but today your primary locus of identity is as an American when you deal with the rest of the world. This was the failure of Lebanon – instead of geographically defining the states, the individual community boundaries within Lebanon don’t allow for that drift, so what they’ve ended up with is kind of ossified sectarian structure.

So I don’t think it will be perfect, I don’t it will be easy, but the idea is that you grant people equal rights and give them the freedom to move back and forth across borders. They won’t initially, but they will eventually. That’s been the American experience.

On the political future of the one-state solution:

I heard an Israeli speak recently, an older guy, an activist, and he mentioned the one-state solution is about where he remembers the two-state solution was in the seventies. And so it’s really about changing discourse, changing people’s thought patterns. Lots of people will come into the one-state conversation because they’ve realized the two-state solution is unworkable and that apartheid is just not something they are capable of supporting.  We’ll achieve a critical mass. It’s impossible to predict how or when, but two states isn’t going to work and apartheid isn’t going to work. And so you can arrive at this position by default even if you don’t actually believe it’s the best thing anyway.

On cultural autonomy in one democratic state:

People talk about a unitarian model where it would be just one man/one vote and I think that’s a great model to think about. My biggest concern there would be preservation of cultural autonomy, which I think many people at this stage really, really value in that part of the world. Palestinians don’t want to give up what it means to be a Palestinian and I think Jewish Israelis have developed a Jewish kind of culture. I don’t know whether its an Ashkenazic culture or a Sephardic culture, I don’t know. It’s not for me to decide. But there is an Israeli culture and I think those people want to preserve it. And when American Jewish people talk about Jewish culture in Israel, that’s something they’d like to be capable of accessing. And so I’m concerned that the unitary system may not permit the kind of cultural autonomy that many people would like.

But we’re still in the early stages of imagining what it could look like and the question of how to get there really does hinge on people of good will standing up and saying no to apartheid.

On the Palestinian right of return:

The right of return today for the Palestinians is actually about the right to be able to go back and live in Palestine. Lots of people still remember native villages which no longer exist, so the practicalities of it are difficult to map out.

The right of return for the diaspora is more about, I think, official recognition of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and in the period leading up to May 15 1948. It’s an official apology, reparations where appropriate and possible and just recognition. And I think the Jewish people probably understand this better than anybody. Once a historical injustice has been done to you as a people, recognition matters. Apologies matter. Reparations matter. Even symbolic measures matter a great deal.

When it comes to the practical implementation of the right of return, (Palestinian researcher) Salman Abu-Sitta has done really great work on identifying where refugees could return to.  Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot, an Israeli organization, has also done a lot of great work on the right of return…

Who do I believe will return to Palestine? I think most of us will not. The Palestinians in the diaspora have done pretty well for themselves. Palestinians in Jordan have done pretty well, the ones in Western Europe, in Latin America, in Northern America are doing pretty well. I think you could draw a direct analogy to the Jewish American diaspora. You want to go you want to visit, you want to go and hang out on the beach and go home to where you’re from.

The only missing group of Palestinian refugees who will actually return to Palestine if they have the opportunity are the 300,000 or 400,000 Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon. Their lot really is very, very poor and the Lebanese state is racist in many ways in the way they interact with Palestinians there – it’s inexcusable, but that’s also the reality. And given the opportunity I think many of them will leave their squalid and impoverished camps and return to Palestine. But everywhere else, I think you’ll get kind of a vibrant interaction with a diaspora community and the country itself, which I think mirrors, in many ways, the Jewish experience.

Daniel Kahn On “Inner Emigration”

I’ve sung the praises of Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird before; my favorite “Punk Cabaret, Radical Yiddish, Gothic, American Folk, Klezmer Danse Macabre” band. Been listening a lot to their latest album, “Lost Causes” – particularly a brilliant ditty called “Inner Emigration.” This song is simultaneously a meditation on identity politics, a treatise on the absurd reality of national borders, but ultimately, I think, a blistering diatribe against the way we all assent to our own inner/outer oppression. It’s also catchy as hell.

Click above for a clip of Kahn performing the song solo in Tel Aviv. Click below for the lyrics. (The song is truly a text study in itself…)

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