Category Archives: Jewish Fast for Gaza

Ta’anit Tzedek Conference Call this Thursday with Craig and Cindy Corrie, Sami Abdel Shafi

Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza has begun a new initiative: “Resisting the Siege: Conversations With Gazans.” On each monthly fast day (the third Thursday of every month) we will convene a conference call featuring a Gazan Palestinian who will discuss his/her experience of life in Gaza, the effects of the siege, and how we can best support efforts to lift the blockade.

Our next conference call will take place this Thursday, March 18, at 1:00 pm EST and will feature Sami Abdel Shafi (above) an independent political analyst and writer who lives in Gaza. In addition, we will hear from Cindy and Craig Corrie whose daughter Rachel was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 as she tried to protect a Gazan Palestinian home from demolition.

In an article he wrote for The Guardian last December, Mr. Abdel Shafi wrote eloquently about the nature of the crisis facing Gaza:

Almost nothing has been more deceitful than casting Gaza as a humanitarian case. This is becoming exponentially more problematic a year after the war. Gaza urgently needs far more than merely those items judged by the Israeli military as adequate to satisfy Gaza’s humanitarian needs. This list of allowable items is tiny compared to people’s needs for a minimally respectable civil life.

Gaza is not treated humanely; the immediate concerns about the situation have clearly given way to long-term complacency, while failed politics has now become stagnant. The humanitarian classification conceals the urgent need to address this. Moreover, many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions, as though they were unrelated to Israel’s policies – most notably Gaza’s closure after Israeli disengagement in 2005.

I also encourage you to read this piece, in which Abdel Shafi discusses the challenges facing the Palestianian Authority during this latest incarnation of the peace process.

The Corries (left) will be joining our call from Haifa where they are currently participating in the hearing of a civil suit they have brought against the Government of Israel. Following Rachel’s death, the Israeli government promised the Bush administration a thorough, credible and transparent investigation of Rachel’s killing. Now seven years later, no such investigation has taken place.

On a recent interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, the Corries spoke at length about their seven year quest in search of justice and accountability for their daughter’s death:

This is a culmination, really, of seven years of our family searching for some sort of justice in the killing of Rachel. And we’ve tried to do that through diplomatic means, and we’ve asked for a US-led investigation into Rachel’s killing. We also understand that the Israelis, through Prime Minister Sharon, promised President Bush a thorough, credible and transparent investigation of Rachel’s killing. But, by our own government’s measure, that has not happened. So we’re left with simply a civil lawsuit.

So, we’re accusing the state of Israel of either intentionally killing Rachel or guilty of gross negligence in her killing seven years ago. And so, we’re seeking—the only thing you can seek in a civil case is damages. You know, so it’s really a very small part of the story that’s gone on in our lives. But it’s critical to have our time in court.

Our motivation for that was largely that it is an avenue which we understood we would be able to pursue and get information. So, through the discovery process, we were hoping to get a good deal of information. We have gotten some, but they’ve used sort of secrets of state to keep us, block us, from getting other evidence into court. But we’re going forward, and we’re very hopeful that we will get a fair trial.

Today is, in fact, the seventh anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death. I strongly encourage you to check The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice website to learn how you can honor her memory. We might also heed the words of Craig Corrie (again, from the Democracy Now interview):

(One) other very specific thing that people could do, and I’m calling for people to do—the US government has come out against the blockade or the continued occupation and siege on Gaza. The children that were behind the wall that Rachel stood in front of are still under a state of siege. And I think that, very specifically, people around the world and certainly in this country could write, call or fax the White House and say, not only should we be working to have the Israelis lift that siege, but if they continue to be unwilling to do so, then the United States should come in there, work out a way that they could come in and—the Berlin airlift, it sent a message to the world about our ability to protect people around the world and our willingness to do so. If we did something similar by sea to the Gaza Strip, it would change the view of Americans around the world for maybe another fifty years. It is something that’s doable, and it’s something that the people out, your fans, could actually physically do and ask the White House to do that.

To participate in the conference call:

Dial-in Number: 1-517-417-5200 (caller pays any phone charges)

Participant Access Code: 860453

Questions for Conference Call: If you would like to suggest a question for Mr. Abdel Shafi or for Cindy or Craig Corrie, please email your question to rabbrianwalt@gmail.com or ravboaz@comcast.net no later than Wednesday night.

More Join the Call to Lift the Blockade

When Brian Walt and I initiated the Jewish Fast for Gaza last year, advocating for a lifting of the Gaza blockade was not a particularly popular thing to do. I’m gratified to see that situation is beginning to change.

I’ve already reported on the Ha’aretz editorial; and now MJ Rosenberg, a respected Mideast analyst/columnist has recently made a forceful call to end the blockade as well.  In the political arena, 77 members of the British House of Commons have done the same through the introduction of an Early Day Motion. Here in the US, 54 members of Congress recently wrote a letter to President Obama that called for a lifting of the blockade, citing its dire strategic and humanitarian effects:

The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your Middle East peace efforts.

Several American Jewish organizations have publicly supported the letter and I was happy to learn that J Street actively lobbied members of Congress to sign on.  Take a look at all 54 signatories of the letter – if your Rep is not on the list, please consider contacting him/her to express your disappointment. (For my part, I’m very disappointed that my Rep, Jan Schakowsky – an active and vocal supporter of J St. – chose not to sign on).

Finally, if you agree with the sentiments expressed above, please sign on as a supporter of Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza. Our next fast day is Thursday, February 18.

My Favorite Rabbis: Everett Gendler

Most people probably don’t realize this, but rabbis need rabbis too.

And there are a lot of great rabbis out there. Over the years I’ve been personally inspired by many of them: remarkable, talented leaders whose work challenges me, drives me and constantly reminds me why I do what I do. So with this post I’m debuting a new series I’m calling “My Favorite Rabbis:” ongoing profiles of the contemporary rabbis whom I consider to be my own spiritual teachers.

I’ll start by introducing you to Rabbi Everett Gendler, a Conservative rabbi whose moral courage has provided Jewish leadership for some of the most important progressive causes of our day. Today, some fifty years since he became a rabbi, I believe he remains on the cutting edge of the issues that truly matter.

This MLK weekend, it is certainly appropriate to note that Rabbi Gendler was one of the first rabbis to become actively involved in the struggle for civil rights in America and played a critical role in involving American rabbinical leadership in the movement. It’s doubtful that American rabbis would have stepped up to this struggle nearly as much had it not been for Rabbi Gendler’s prophetic influence.

During the early and mid-1960s, Rabbi Gendler led groups of American rabbis to participate in numerous prayer vigils and protests throughout the South. Of course many know that the legendary Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma in 1965. I imagine far fewer are aware that it was in fact Rabbi Gendler who persuaded Heschel to do so.

Heschel biographer Edward K. Kaplan writes:

Despite fears for his safety from his wife and the twelve year old Susannah, (Rabbi Heschel) agreed to join the march at the urging of Rabbi Everett Gendler, a pacifist and former student. Gendler had led a group of rabbis to Birmingham, Alabama to work for voting rights and remained in touch with the Reverend Andrew Young, King’s Executive Assistant at the SCLC. (From “Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America,” p. 222)

Rabbi Gendler was also instrumental in arranging Martin Luther King’s keynote address at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention on March 25, 1968. This now-legendary speech took place at the Concord Resort hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains just 10 days before King’s death. (That’s Rabbi Gendler to the left of Dr. King in the pic above).

Today, decades after King’s death, Rabbi Gendler remains an eloquent Jewish advocate for the path of nonviolence. His work has taken him across the world – most notably to India where he and his wife Mary teach the principles of nonviolence to Tibetan exiles.

I’m personally honored to serve with Rabbi Gendler on the Elder’s Council of the Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence. In this picture, he leads a workshop at JRC in 2008. Shomer Shalom founder Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb (someone whom I may well be profiling in the future) is sitting next to him.

Rabbi Gendler has also been a long time advocate for Palestinian human rights – and his courageous stands have made it possible for new generations of rabbis to find their own voices on this painful issue. When Rabbi Brian Walt and I first began Ta’anit Tzedek and were looking for rabbis to join our campaign to protest the blockade of Gaza, we immediately turned to Rabbi Gendler, who joined our effort without hesitation. It is difficult to describe how much it means to know there are rabbis out there like Everett, someone who has been putting himself on the line for so long, and upon whom we always know we can rely for guidance and support.

Rabbi Gendler was also one of the first Jewish leaders to embrace environmentalism and vegetarianism long before they became fashionable. As the rabbi of a green synagogue myself, I recognize a tremendous debt to Everett, who more than anyone helped to put environmental issues on the radar screen of the Jewish community.

From a 2008 article in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal:

On a ferociously cold evening in November 1978, Rabbi Everett Gendler climbed atop the icy roof of Temple Emanuel in Lowell, Mass., and installed solar panels to fuel the synagogue’s ner tamid (eternal light)…

Gendler’s conversion of that eternal light marks the first known action to green a synagogue, making it more spiritually and ecologically sustainable, and Gendler himself, now Temple Emanuel’s rabbi emeritus, has been hailed as the father of Jewish environmentalism.

There so much more to say about Everett and his work. I suppose the most essential thing I can say about him is that he was and remains a spiritual maverick. His work remains as relevant and courageous as ever.

As we honor Dr. King this weekend, it’s critically important to honor those who continue his to walk his path in our own day. For me and so many others, Rabbi Everett Gendler is the one who teaches us how to walk that walk.

B’tselem Endorses Ta’anit Tzedek

bstelemI’m thrilled to report that the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem has officially endorsed Ta’anit Tzedek.  B’tselem has long been high up on my list of organizations that do right by the Jewish people and we’re incredibly honored to receive their support.

Amidst the intense Jewish community vilification of Goldstone and his report, it’s extremely important to note that B’stelem and other Israeli human rights organizations reached many similar conclusions in their Gaza investigations as well. Witness this excerpt from a September 9 press release on B’stelem’s findings – which were released almost a month before the Goldstone report:

According to B’Tselem’s research, Israeli security forces killed 1,387 Palestinians during the course of the three-week operation. Of these, 773 did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age of 18. Of those killed, 330 took part in the hostilities, and 248 were Palestinian police officers, most of whom were killed in aerial bombings of police stations on the first day of the operation. For 36 people, B’Tselem could not determine whether they participated in the hostilities or not…

Behind the dry statistics lie shocking individual stories. Whole families were killed; parents saw their children shot before their very eyes; relatives watched their loved ones bleed to death; and entire neighborhoods were obliterated.

The extremely heavy civilian casualties and the massive damage to civilian property require serious introspection on the part of Israeli society. B’Tselem recognizes the complexity of combat in a densely populated area against armed groups that do not hesitate to use illegal means and find refuge within the civilian population. However, illegal and immoral actions by these organizations cannot legitimize such extensive harm to civilians by a state committed to the rule of law.

The moral courage of the Israeli human rights community is something of which all Jews can justifably be proud. But I also see little point in this pride unless we are ready to confront the painful truths they bring to our door. B’stelem is among the true modern day prophets of Israel. It is time we heeded their call.

(I’m currently at the J Street conference in Washington DC. There’s much to report – I’ll be sending out some thoughts about my experiences here soon. Please stay tuned…)

On Jewish Hearts and Minds: A Response to Daniel Gordis

Just read Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ recent op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, one of several articles that have given some free publicity to Ta’anit Tzedek.  But it wasn’t Gordis’ offhand slam on TT that really bothered me – it was the decidedly patronizing way he analyzed the gulf between the American Jewish community and Israel – or as he termed it, American Jewry’s “growing abandonment of Israel.”

Gordis’ main premise: American Jewry’s newest generation is essentially self-centered (tainted “with the ‘I’ at the core of American sensibilities”) and simply cannot relate to the national sense of duty embodied by Israel:

In America, the narratives of immigrant groups are eroded, year by year, generation after generation.  In America, we are oriented to the future, not to the past, and if we cling to some larger grouping, it is to a human collective whole rather than to some “narrow” ethnic clan…

Similarly, the recreation of the State of Israel is truly powerful only against a backdrop of centuries of Jewish experience, and is spine-tingling only if my sense of self is inseparable from my belonging to a nation with a past and a people with a purpose.

In today’s individualistic America, the drama of the rebirth of the Jewish people creates no goose bumps and evokes no sense of duty or obligation. Add the issue of Palestinian suffering, and Israel seems worse than irrelevant – it’s actually a source of shame.

It’s not clear to me if Gordis is interested in winning over the hearts and minds of young American Jews, but if he is, I’d suggest that talking down to them from an Israeli ivory tower is not the way to do it.  I’m afraid that record just doesn’t play any more.

Gordis is correct when he posits that the old narratives simply aren’t working on American Jews the way they used to.  But that’s only because a new, more complex narrative is now being written by the current generation. It’s compelling in its own right, though this may be difficult to understand when viewed from the conventional Israeli vantage point.

I work with a great number of American Jews – particularly the 35 and younger demographic that Gordis cites – and from where I sit they look nothing like narcissistic, self-obsessed Americans he describes. On the contrary, most are engaged, seriously seeking Jews.  Yes, it’s true, unlike previous generations they don’t necessarily understand their Judaism in traditionally tribal terms anymore. But that doesn’t make them self-centered. Rather, they are increasingly viewing their Jewishness against a larger, more universal global reality.  In short, to be a Jew and a global citizen is what gives them “goose bumps.”

If, as Gordis suggests, American Jews are abandoning Israel, I’d suggest it’s not due to the lack of a sense of Jewish “duty or obligation” – I believe it’s because they are left cold by an Israeli national culture that appears to them to be overly tribal and collectively self-centered.

Indeed, while most young people today seem to be interested in breaking down walls between peoples and nations, Israel often appears determined to build higher and higher walls between itself and the outside world. It’s a poignant irony of Jewish history: while Zionism was ostensibly founded to normalize the status of Jewish people in the world, the Jewish state it spawned seems to view itself as all alone, increasingly victimized by the international community.

Gordis himself exemplifies this “it’s us Jews against the rest of the world” ethos in the opening paragraphs of his article:

About one thing, at least, the world seems to be in agreement: Israel is the primary culprit in the Middle East conflict, the cause of relentless Palestinian suffering and the primary obstacle blocking the way to regional peace.

The international chorus of opprobrium is growing by the day…It’s relentless, this ganging up, but it’s also not terribly new. The momentum has been building for years, and though we may not like it, we cannot honestly claim to be surprised.

While I understand the psychology of this world view, I don’t think it helps make Israel’s case for young Jews today – nor do I think it promotes a particularly healthy Jewish identity. It seems to me to be the product of self-pity, more than pride – a victim mentality that’s not likely to get us anywhere with newer generations of Jews who are feeling increasingly comfortable with the “outside world” and who don’t particularly identify with the claim that when push comes to shove, all the world really does just hate the Jews.

I will also predict that Gordis’ two cynical references to “Palestinian suffering”  will not resonate for growing numbers of Jews who are legitimately troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.  I understand full well that our criticism sounds galling to most Israeli ears. And no, I don’t believe that we American Jews can even begin to understand how Israelis feel – on so many levels.

But whether Israelis like it or not, there is a steadily growing demographic in the American Jewish community: proud, committed Jews who are deeply troubled when Israel acts oppressively, who feel implicated as Americans and as Jews in these actions, and who are galled at being labeled as traitors when they choose to speak out.

At the very least, I hope that Gordis will understand that if American Jews are identifying with organizations that protest Israel’s oppressive policies (organizations, yes, such as Ta’anit Tzedek) their affiliation does not come from a shame-filled desire to “bash” Israel. It comes from a deeper and much more Jewishly authentic place than that.

I realize that all of this may be too much to ask for. It’s long been clear that the American Jewish and Israeli Jewish communities are two very different animals with two decidedly different ways of understanding what it means to be a Jew in a rapidly changing world.  (Sociologists Steven Cohen and Charles Liebman pointed this out with great insight in their book “Two Worlds of Judaism” twenty years ago).

But it seems to me if we truly want to facilitate the Jewish future, we’re going to have to do it together. And to do that, we’ll  need to meet one another with openness and understanding, not dismissal and judgment.

The Goldstone Interview: Now Go and Study…

We’ve just uploaded the transcript of Ta’anit Tzedek‘s recent rabbical conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone. As I wrote in my last post, you need to read it.  Goldstone addresses a variety of critical issues, including  how his mission conducted its investigation, the report’s suggestion that there were intentional IDF attacks on Gazan civilian targets, whether or not he’s backing away from its findings, how he felt about his experience as a  Zionist and a South African, and much more.

Click below for a cleaned up, very slightly edited version. You can also listen to an audio file of the entire interview here.

Continue reading

A Conversation with Judge Goldstone

Ta’anit Tzedek convened an conference call last night between Judge Richard Goldstone and 150 American rabbis. I’m still sorting through this remarkable, inspiring experience but what I’m mostly left with is this: the world owes Judge Goldstone an enormous debt of gratitude for his commitment to humanitarian ideals and much of the Jewish world owes him a huge apology for the egregious way he has been assailed for his efforts.

A full audio file of the call can be found on the Ta’anit Tzedek website. Kudos to the Velveteen Rabbi, who has already transcribed major portions of the conversation. The JTA has reported on the call today as well.

A full written transcript will be up on the Ta’anit Tzedek website this Thursday. It deserves to be read as widely as possible. Beyond its value as a new item, it provides us all with a profound, resolutely moral statement of purpose.

Please read it.

Reading Goldstone

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Why should we trust the Goldstone report if it was produced by the UN Human Rights Commission – a body which has a notorious history of focusing overwhelmingly on Israel to the near exclusion of other potential human rights abusers around the world?

I posed this very question to Fred Abrahams, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s emergencies division who, together with B’tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell, participated in a remarkable conference call organized by Ta’anit Tzedek yesterday.

Fred, who is currently in Geneva attending the UN discusion of the report, answered that there is ample reason to be concerned about the HRC’s undue attention on Israel, but that this particular mission presented a very real “opportunity” for the council to prove otherwise.

In fact, Justice Richard Goldstone initially refused to chair the mission until it was agreed that Palestinian wartime behavior would be investigated in addition to Israel’s.  Indeed, in the end, both sides were taken to task in the report’s final recommendations. It was a shame, Fred said, that Israel’s abject dismissal of Goldstone might actually be thwarting the HRC in its first genuine attempt to realize its true mandate.

For her part, Jessica pointed out that B’tselem did have some concerns about possible bias in the report – a point she also made in a recent Jerusalem Post article. She did add, however, that Goldstone largely confirms the findings of B’tselem’s own investigations, including the huge number of civilian casualties and the targeting of civilian neighborhoods and Gazan infrastructure that had no clear military objective.

I’ve started reading the Goldstone report myself – all 575 pages of it – and encourage you to do the same (but recommend that like me you save some trees by reading it off your computer screen.)  My initial impression: this report is an honorable and good faith attempt to elucidate the facts of what occurred. Quite frankly, it makes for compelling and often devastating reading.  I am certainly aware that it is not a perfect document, but in the end I cannot accept that it deserves to be dismissed without due consideration  (let alone be painted as “blood libel.”)

And I will only add that after reading the report, I consider Richard Goldstone to be a heroic individual who should be lauded for taking on this enormously difficult task with such moral courage.

I was particularly moved by his willingness to address the critical context of this tragic crisis. Witness this excerpt from his opening statement to the UN upon presenting the report:

The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza.

The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel.

The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the “Hamas infrastructure.”

If “infrastructure” were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of International Human rights Law built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets.

These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes.

The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens. That in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead. This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future.

Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region.

A transcript of our conference call will be posted on the Ta’anit Tzedek website soon. I’m excited to report that Ta’anit Tzedek is sponsoring a conference call between Justice Goldstone and Jewish clergy on October 18.  We have a great deal to learn from him and I look forward to reporting on our conversation.

On Gaza and Yom Kippur: A Call to Moral Accounting

From my op-ed in this morning’s Sunday Chicago Tribune:

The actions of the Jewish State ultimately reflect upon the Jewish people throughout the world. We in the Diaspora Jewish community have long taken pride in the accomplishments of the Jewish State. As with any family, the success of some reflects a warm light on us all. But pride cannot blind us to the capacity for error on the part of the country we hold so dear. We cannot identify with the successes, but refuse to see the failures.

As we approach Yom Kippur, I call on America’s Jews to examine the Goldstone findings, and consider their implications. In the spirit of the season, we must consider the painful truth of Israel’s behavior in Gaza, and understand that we must work, together, to discover the truth — and then urge on all relevant parties in the search for peace.

Gaza: Give Life a Chance

Today was the second monthly fast day for Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza. To mark the occasion, a series of public vigils were held around the country (including one at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) and as far away as Glasgow, Scotland. Here in the Chicago area, it was my honor to lead a vigil at the Evanston lakefront with my good friend and colleague, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian. Here we are with some of the participants, below:

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Our campaign continues to grow. As of this writing we currently have 627 supporters, including 71 rabbis. I encourage you to join us, if you haven’t already – just click on the link above to become a supporter. We are continuously uploading important articles and resources, so be sure to check in regularly.

Speaking of important resources on the Gaza crisis, I commend to you the new report from Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement entitled “Red Lines Crossed: Destruction of Gaza’s Infrastructure.” See below for the full report. Click above to watch “Lift the Closure – Give Life a Chance” – a new online film recently released by eight Israeli human rights organizations to mark the two years of closure that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip.