Recommitting to Solidarity in the Face of White Supremacy: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5778

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Members of Holy Blossom Temple, a Toronto synagogue, form a protective circle around the Imdadul mosque on February 3, 2017, following an Islamophobic shooting at a mosque in Quebec City.  (Photo: Bernard Weil / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Crossposted with Truthout.

When Temple Beth Israel — a large Reform synagogue in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia — opened for Shabbat morning services on August 12, 2017, its congregants had ample reason to be terrified. Prior to the “Unite the Right” rally held in town by white supremacists and neo-Nazis that weekend, some neo-Nazi websites had posted calls to burn down their synagogue.The members of Beth Israel decided to go ahead with services, but they removed their Torah scrolls just to be safe.

When services began, they noticed three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles standing across the street from their synagogue. Throughout the morning, growing numbers of neo-Nazis gathered outside their building. Worshippers heard people shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” and chanting, “Sieg Heil!” At the end of services, they had to leave in groups through a side door.

Of course, this story did not occur in a vacuum. It was but a part of a larger outrage that unfolded in Charlottesville that day, and part of a still larger outrage has been unfolding in our country since November. I think it’s safe to say that many Americans have learned some very hard truths about their country since the elections last fall. Many — particularly white liberals — are asking out loud: Where did all of this come from? Didn’t we make so much progress during the Obama years? Can there really be that many people in this country who would vote for an out-and-out xenophobe who unabashedly encourages white supremacists as his political base? Is this really America?

Yes, this is America. White supremacy — something many assumed was relegated to an ignoble period of American history — is, and has always been, very real in this country. Now white supremacists and neo-Nazis are in the streets — and they are being emboldened and encouraged by the president of the United States.

While this new political landscape may feel surreal, I believe this is actually a clarifying moment. Aspects of our national life that have remained subterranean for far too long are now being brought out into the light. We’re being brought face to face with systems and forces that many of us assumed were long dead; that we either couldn’t see or chose not to see. Following the election of Trump many have commented that it feels like we are living through a bad dream. I would claim the opposite. I would say that many of us are finally waking up to real life — a reality that, particularly for the most marginalized among us, never went away.

It is certainly a profoundly clarifying moment for American Jews. With this resurgence of white supremacist anti-Semitism, it would have been reasonable to expect a deafening outcry from the American Jewish establishment. But that, in fact, has not been the case. When Trump appointed white nationalist Steve Bannon to a senior White House position, there was nary an outcry from mainstream Jewish organizations. The Zionist Organization of America actually invited Bannon to speak at its annual gala.

Israel’s response to this political moment is no less illuminating. During a huge spike in anti-Semitic vandalism and threats against Jewish institutions immediately after the elections, it wasn’t only Trump that had to be goaded into making a statement — the Israeli government itself remained shockingly silent. This same government that never misses an opportunity to condemn anti-Semitic acts by Muslim extremists seemed utterly unperturbed that over 100 Jewish institutions had received bomb threats or that Jewish cemeteries were desecrated across the country. (More than 500 headstones were knocked down at one Jewish cemetery alone in Philadelphia.) And when neo-Nazis with tiki torches rallied in Charlottesville proclaiming “Jews will not replace us,” it took Prime Minister Netanyahu three days to respond with a mild tweet. Israel’s Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett, whom one would assume should be concerned with anti-Semitism anywhere in the Diaspora, had this to say:

We view ourselves as having a certain degree of responsibility for every Jew in the world, just for being Jewish, but ultimately it’s the responsibility of the sovereign nation to defend its citizens.

This is a clarifying moment if ever there was one. Support for Israel and its policies trumps everything — yes, including white supremacist Jew hatred. Just this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu said this about Trump’s speech at the UN:

I’ve been ambassador to the United Nations, and I’m a long-serving Israeli prime minister, so I’ve listened to countless speeches in this hall. But I can say this — none were bolder, none were more courageous and forthright than the one delivered by President Trump today.

Why would the Israeli Prime Minister call a president who panders to anti-Semitic white supremacists “brave” and “courageous?” Because Trump pledged his support to Israel. Because he called the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” Because he vowed American support to allies who are “working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists.”

Historically speaking, this isn’t the first time that Zionists have cozied up to anti-Semites in order to gain their political support. Zionism has long depended on anti-Semites to validate its very existence. This Faustian bargain was struck as far back as the 19th century, when Zionist leader Theodor Herzl met with the Russian minister of the interior Vyacheslav von Plehve, an infamous anti-Semite who encouraged the Kishinev pogroms that very same year. Plehve pledged that as long as the Zionists encouraged emigration of Jews from Russia, the Russian authorities would not disturb them.

This Zionist strategy was also central to the diplomatic process that led to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour announced his government’s support for “the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.” Although Balfour has long been lionized as a Zionist hero, he wasn’t particularly well known for his love for Jews or the Jewish people. When he was prime minister, his government passed the 1905 Aliens Act, severely restricting immigration at a time in which persecuted Jews were emigrating from Eastern Europe. At the time, Balfour spoke of the “undoubted evils which had fallen on the country from an alien immigration which was largely Jewish.” Balfour, like many Christians of his class, “did not believe that Jews could be assimilated into Gentile British society.”

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Israeli leaders are loath to condemn the rise of white supremacy. After all, they have a different enemy they want to sell to us. They want us to buy their Islamophobic narrative that “radical Muslim extremism” is the most serious threat to the world today. And you can be sure they view Palestinians as an integral part of this threat.

We cannot underestimate how important this narrative is to Israel’s foreign policy — indeed, to its own sense of validation in the international community. Netanyahu is so committed to this idea in fact, that two years ago he actually went as far as to blame Palestinians for starting the Holocaust itself. In a speech to the Zionist Congress, he claimed that in 1941, the Palestinian Grand Mufti convinced Hitler to launch a campaign of extermination against European Jewry at a time when Hitler only wanted to expel them. This ludicrous historical falsehood was so over the top that a German government spokesperson eventually released a statement that essentially said, “No, that’s not true. Actually, the Holocaust was our fault.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is pursuing an alliance with the anti-Semitic populist Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. When Netanyahu recently traveled to Hungary to meet with Orbán, leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community publicly criticized Netanyahu, accusing him of “betrayal.”

If there was ever any doubt about the profound threat that white supremacy poses to us all, we’d best be ready to grasp it now. White supremacy is not a thing of the past and it’s not merely the domain of extremists. It has also been a central guiding principle of Western foreign policy for almost a century. To those who claim that so-called Islamic extremism is the greatest threat to world peace today, we would do well to respond that the US military has invaded, occupied and/or bombed 14 Muslim-majority countries since 1980 alone — and this excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisonment of Muslims with no charges. Racism and Islamophobia inform our nation’s military interventions in ways that are obvious to most of the world, even if they aren’t to us. It is disingenuous to even begin to consider the issue of radical Islamic violence until we begin to reckon with the ways we wield our overwhelming military power abroad.

So, as we observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, where are we supposed to go from here? I would suggest that the answer, as ever, is solidarity.

Let’s return to the horrid events at Temple Beth Israel in Charlottesville. As it turned out, the local police didn’t show up to protect the synagogue that Shabbat — but many community members did. The synagogue’s president later noted that several non-Jews attended services as an act of solidarity — and that at least a dozen strangers stopped by that morning asking if congregants wanted them to stand with their congregation.

Another example: Last February, when Chicago’s Loop Synagogue was vandalized with broken windows and swastikas by someone who was later discovered to be a local white supremacist, the very first statement of solidarity came from the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Their executive director, Ahmed Rehab, said:

Chicago’s Muslim community stands in full solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters as they deal with the trauma of this vile act of hate. No American should have to feel vulnerable and at risk simply due to their religious affiliation.

Here’s another example: last Friday, protests filled the streets of St. Louis after a white former city policeman, Jason Stockley, was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black 24-year-old whom he shot to death on December 20, 2011. The St. Louis police eventually used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators. Some of the demonstrators retreated to Central Reform Congregation of St. Louis, which opened its doors to the protesters. The police actually followed them and surrounded the synagogue. During the standoff, a surge of anti-Semitic statements trended on Twitter under the hashtag #GasTheSynagogue. (Yes, this actually happened last week, though it was not widely covered by the mainstream media.)

Just one more example: last January, a 27-year year-old man entered a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire on a room filled with Muslim worshippers, killing six men and wounding another 16. The following week, Holy Blossom Temple, a Toronto synagogue organized an action in which multifaith groups formed protective circles around at least half a dozen mosques. It was inspired by the “Ring of Peace” created by about 1,000 Muslims around an Oslo synagogue in 2015, following a string of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe.

This must be our response to white supremacy: that a threat to any one of us is a threat to all. That we are stronger together. This is the movement we need to build.

However, even as we make this commitment to one another, we cannot assume that oppression impacts all of us equally. This point was made very powerfully in a recent blog post by Mimi Arbeit, a white Jewish educator/scientist/activist from Charlottesville, so I’ll quote her directly:

Jews should be fighting Nazis. And — at the same time — we White-presenting White-privileged Jews need to understand that we are fighting Nazis in the US within the very real context of centuries of anti-Black racism. I have been face to face with Nazis and yes I see the swastikas and I see the anti-semitic signs and I hear the taunts and I respect the fear of the synagogue in downtown Charlottesville — AND please believe me when I say that they are coming for Black people first. It is Black people who the Nazis are seeking out, Black neighborhoods that are being targeted, anti-Black terrorism that is being perpetrated. So. Jews need to be fighting Nazis in this moment. And. At the same time. If we are fighting Nazis expecting them to look like German anti-Semitic prototypes, we will be betraying ourselves and our comrades of color. We need to fight Nazis in the US within the context of US anti-Black racism. We need to be anti-fascist and anti-racist with every breath, with every step.

To this I would only add that when it comes to state violence, it is people of color — particularly Black Americans — who are primarily targeted. While white Jews understandably feel vulnerable at this particular moment, we still dwell under an “all encompassing shelter of white privilege.” We will never succeed in building a true movement of solidarity unless we reckon honestly with the “very real context of centuries of anti-Black racism.”

I’ve said a great deal about clarity here, but I don’t want to underestimate in any way the challenges that lay before us. I realize this kind of “clarity” can feel brutal — like a harsh light that reflexively causes us to close our eyes tightly. On the other hand, I know there are many who have had their eyes wide open to these issues for quite some time now. Either way, we can’t afford to look away much longer. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury to grieve over dreams lost — particularly the ones that were really more illusions than dreams in the first place.

On Rosh Hashanah, the gates are open wide. This is the time of year we are asked to look deep within, unflinchingly, so that we might discern the right way forward. We can no longer put off the work we know we must do, no matter how daunting or overwhelming it might feel. But at the same time, we can only greet the New Year together. We cannot do it alone. Our liturgy is incorrigibly first person, plural — today we vow to set our lives and our world right, and we make this vow alongside one another.

So here we are. We’ve just said goodbye to one horrid year. The gates are opening before us. Let’s take each other’s hands and walk through them together.

Shanah Tovah.

Seeing Palestinian Resistance for Ourselves

Demonstration in Al Ma'asara
Demonstration in Al Ma’asara

Cross-posted with the Jewish Forward

Who will are the change agents of our world? Are they our elected officials and politicians or the ones who march in the streets in order to hold them accountable? These questions were clarified for me in profound ways during my recent trip to the West Bank as part of a delegation of Chicago-area Jews and Palestinian Americans.

The focus of our delegation was the Palestinian popular resistance movement in the West Bank, a phenomenon that is sadly unfamiliar to the majority of Americans and American Jews. In a world far removed from the images reflected in the mainstream media and the postures of political elites, we discovered a decidedly different reality: ordinary men and women struggling to live lives of dignity while actively resisting an inequitable and oppressive military occupation.

During our weeklong stay, we were hosted in Bil’in, a village that is has, along with many other villages throughout the West Bank, long been holding weekly popular demonstrations against the occupation over the past ten years. In Bil’in, as in most villages in this movement, the focus of the protests are Israel’s Separation Wall which cuts into the heart of numerous Palestinian populations centers, devastating these communities by cutting them off from their olive groves and farmland.

These weekly demonstrations have become part of the fabric of West Bank life for the past ten years, though few Americans are even aware of their existence. They have consistently been met with overwhelming military force from the IDF. Scores of Palestinians have been injured or killed in these protests, largely from high velocity tear gas canisters, coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired directly into crowds of unarmed protesters.

As we quickly came to see, the violence faced by Palestinians under occupation is a palpable and all-encompassing aspect of their lives. While the political parameters of this conflict are often characterized by Israel’s demand for Palestinian leaders to renounce and rein in Palestinian violence, the view from the ground reveals a different picture entirely: it is the Palestinians who live within a constant daily context of violence.

This is a difficult concept to grasp for those who have not visited or lived in the Occupied Territories. Every day Palestinian mothers, fathers and children experience physical violence from soldiers and settlers who attack them with impunity. Every day, moment they experience the structural violence of checkpoints, land confiscation, and home demolitions.

Our delegation experienced three violent encounters with the IDF during our short one-week stay. While touring the refugee camp of Aida, we inadvertently walked into the line of fire as the IDF shot tear gas canisters directly at local children. One morning in Bil’in we awoke to the sounds of explosions and gunshots. When we ran outside we found the entire village shrouded in thick, choking tear gas. We later learned that the IDF had chased a suspect in a bus bombing into the area and had killed him in a cave on the edge of Bil’in. Before they left, they bulldozed olive trees, shot up the elementary school and shot tear gas throughout the entire village.

One member of our delegation, Kalman Resnick, spent a day monitoring settler attacks on the Palestinian olive harvest with Israeli organizations Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din. Kalman, a seasoned immigration lawyer from Chicago well versed in the Israel/Palestine conflict returned to our group that evening shell-shocked by what he had witnessed. He showed me nearly one hundred pictures he had taken on his phone – among the wretched images were severely injured Palestinians (including one man with his head split open), rows and rows of olive trees hacked to the ground and farmers literally attempting to harvest olives from dead trees.

As Israeli journalist Mairav Zonszein recently wrote in the pages of the Forward:

These incidents — now particularly heightened during the olive harvest season — are not the aberration from the norm, but a regular feature of life in the occupied West Bank. In 2012, over 7,500 Palestinian olive trees were destroyed. In the 5-year period between 2007 and 2011, there was a 315 percent increase in settler violence

Despite this overwhelming context of everyday violence, we witnessed remarkable examples of principled steadfastness by the leaders of the Palestinian popular resistance. Perhaps the most powerful occurred during the weekly protest in the village of Al Ma’asara, who were celebrating the seven-year anniversary of their participation in the West Bank popular resistance movement.

At the outset, it felt to me that this protest resembled many other American demonstrations in which I have participated over the years. The street was filled with hundreds of individuals: young and old, locals joined together with Israeli and international solidarity activists. There was a joyous air of solidarity as we chanted through the streets and were cheered on by bystanders.

At the end of the main street, however, the tension level changed dramatically. When the marchers encountered a long line of Israeli soldiers in riot gear blocking our way to the Wall, we pressed up close against the soldiers and a standoff commenced. After a military commander announced that we were denied passage, a leader of the local popular resistance committee, Mahmoud Zwhare, stepped forward and starting chastising the soldiers in English.

Careful not to use any physical violence or violent rhetoric, he asked the soldiers why they were not allowed the right to live and assemble freely in their own village. He explained to them they could oppress the villagers all they wanted, but one day like all oppressed people, they would be free. Pointing to their riot gear, their bulletproof vests and their M-16s, he noted that all of the extensive equipment they used to protect the wall was meaningless when the real wall they needed to address was the wall “in their minds.”

The protest ended without violence, though there were some moments of pushing and shoving between soldiers and protesters – and as we left the demonstration we learned that there had been a tear gas attack in another part of the village. As I thought about our experience later, it occurred to me that this was precisely the same circumstance that occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. The demand for justice was the same, the solidarity was the same, the method of civil disobedience was the same, as was the show of force by a brutal and over-militarized gauntlet. Moreover, that particular standoff ended in a way all to familiar to Palestinians. In a very real sense, Bloody Sunday is reenacted every week in villages throughout the West Bank.

In our meetings with popular resistance leaders we heard many common refrains. Our host Iyad Burnat of Bil’in and many others spoke of Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela as role models. We heard a deep disillusionment with political leaders on all sides. And we heard of their desire to create a “Third Global Intifada” worldwide movement of solidarity consciously modeled on the grassroots popular resistance of the First Intifada.

At the same time, however, the Palestinian popular leadership left us with the ominous impression that their movement is fast arriving at a moment of truth. The Israeli military is successfully inhibiting the growth of the popular resistance by jailing its leaders indefinitely and dividing villages from one another through a massive occupation regime. Nearly every leader with who we spoke had spent considerable time in jail, including our Bil’in host Iyad Burnat and Bassem Tamimi of Nabi Saleh.

In numerous conversations, popular resistance leaders expressed the frustration that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain morale and convince new villages to join the movement as Israel’s settlements expand and their oppressive reality continues unabated. Despite the profound steadfastness of so many Palestinians, we sensed a growing fear that if the Occupation’s brutal reality is allowed to continue indefinitely, armed resistance will break out across the West Bank – i.e. that the next mass Palestinian movement will look more like the Second Intifada than the First.

It is time for those who venerate the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement to take a good hard look at these Palestinians who are likewise putting their bodies on the line to resist an unjust and inequitable regime. While many liberals – particularly in the American Jewish community – will clearly be loath to support a “Third Global Intifada,” it is well worth asking: will we continue to put our faith in fruitless political negotiations that only entrench an inequitable status quo or a popular Palestinian movement that is resisting this oppression in the manner of so many similar movements before them?

Who are the true change agents in the world? After living with and marching with the Palestinians throughout the West Bank, I couldn’t help but recall the words written by Dr. Martin Luther King in a Birmingham jail in response to liberal clergy colleagues who urged had urged him not to march, counseling that negotiations were a “better path:”

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Supreme Court Opens the Door: Help End Juvenile Life Without Parole!

Adolfo Davis

Last year I gave a Kol Nidre sermon spotlighting our nation’s shameful practice of sentencing juveniles to life-without-parole. Now less than one year later, I’m thrilled to announce that the US Supreme Court has just recognized the fundamental unfairness of mandatory death-in-prison sentences that don’t allow sentencers to consider the unique status of children and their potential for change.

This decision has very direct bearing on the case of Adolfo Davis – one of the prisoners whose life I described in my sermon. It also has the potential to affect the case of Jacqueline Montanez, who has been in prison for 20 years and is the only woman in Illinois serving Juvenile Life Without Possibility of Parole. Adolfo and Jacqueline are two of nearly 2500 young people in the United States sentenced to life without the possibility of parole before their 18th birthday. As I mentioned in my sermon, the United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without possibility of parole.

At this critical moment, I’m asking you now to lend your voice in asking Governor Pat Quinn to join the Supreme Court in this tremendous decision and ask him to grant executive clemency to Adolfo and Jacqueline.  This past April their cases were heard before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, with petitions seeking clemency.  The final decision to grant executive clemency is now in the hands of our Governor and is not guaranteed or ensured by the Court’s decision.

You can voice your concern by signing both Jacqueline and Adolfo’s online petitions, which can be found here and here.  In addition to signing the petitions, please consider contacting the Governor with your concerns through the State of Illinois website or by writing a letter to:

Governor Pat Quinn
c/o Era Laudermilk
Associate General Counsel
Office of the Governor,
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph, Suite 16-100
Chicago, IL 60601, United States
Fax: +1 312 814 3806

If you have the time, please send copies of your letters to Adolfo and Jacqueline so that they will know of your support. Letters may be sent to:

Children and Family Justice Center
Ms. Toni Curtis
Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University
School of Law, 357 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611, United States
Email: e-curtis@law.northwestern.edu

Thank you in advance for your support of this important and critical human rights issue.  It is my personal dream to some day invite Adolfo, Jacqueline and Cedric Cal to High Holiday services in the very near future so that we may all celebrate the joy of justice finally realized at long last.

Belated Thoughts on the Goldstone Op-ed

I usually try to stay current in my posts but alas, life invariably manages to intervene. Latest case in point: the now all-too-well-known Goldstone Washington Post, op-ed, which came out just as I was leaving to take my son on an extended college visit road trip. So even though this story is yesterday’s news by blogosphere standards, I’d like to weigh in with a few thoughts, belated though they may be:

Many are asking why Judge Richard Goldstone chose to “reconsider” his committee’s report nearly two years after it was presented to the UN Human Rights Council. In fact, Goldstone himself answers this question in the second paragraph of the op-ed: it was written in reaction to the recent release of a report by a UN commitee of experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

But of course for most, it’s not quite that straightforward. Many have speculated that the somewhat conciliatory tone of the op-ed indicates that Goldstone, a lifelong Zionist, may be trying to make amends with Israel and the Jewish community. Indeed, the blogosphere has been positively rife with theories that explain the psychological rationale for Goldstone’s public “reconsideration.”

While interesting, this kind of speculation is ultimately fairly moot. Richard Goldstone himself has never been the issue here. What truly matters are the serious allegations his committee made regarding the events that took place during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. And now: whether or not the new McGowan Davis Report has caused Goldstone to fundamentally recant these allegations.

In his op-ed, Goldstone found it significant that the McGowan Davis Report reported “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.” In particular, Goldstone felt this shed some light on the issue of “intentionality” – which many found to be the most damning finding of the Goldstone Report.

As Goldstone wrote in his op-ed:

While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the (McGowan Davis) report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

Goldstone went on to say that if Israel had cooperated with his commission during its initial investigation, he would have been able to clarify further the critical issue of whether the IDF intentionally targeted civilians or whether these were isolated incidents perpetrated by individual soldiers.

While this may well be true, the issue of intentionality is by no means resolved. In fact, the McGowan Davis Report makes it clear that it cannot determine whether or not civilians were intentionally targeted as a matter of policy until Israel carries out a properly independent and transparent (i.e., non-military) investigation.

From p. 12 of the McGowan Davis Report:

Therefore, the Committee remains of the view that an independent public commission – and not the (Israeli Military Advocate General’s) office – is the appropriate mechanism for carrying out an independent and impartial analysis, as called for in (the Goldstone Report), into allegations that high-level decision-making related to the Gaza conflict violated international law.

At any rate, the issue of intentionality is but one of the many disturbing allegations brought to light by the Goldstone Report. In a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, Jessica Montell, Director of B’tselem, correctly pointed out that even if Israel did not intentionally target civilians, there are any number of troubling allegations regarding the IDF’s behavior during Operation Cast Lead:

In the operation, according to rigorous research by B’Tselem, Israel killed at least 758 Palestinian civilians who did not take part in the hostilities; 318 of them were minors. More than 5,300 Palestinians were injured, over 350 of them seriously. More than 3,500 houses were destroyed, and electricity, water and sewage infrastructure was severely damaged. In many ways, the Gaza Strip has yet to recover from the unprecedented destruction this operation wrought.

The extent of the harm to civilians does not prove that Israel violated the law. But Israel has yet to adequately address many allegations regarding its conduct, including: the levels of force authorized; the use of white phosphorous and inherently inaccurate mortar shells in densely populated areas; the determination that government office buildings were legitimate military targets; the obstruction of and harm to ambulances.

In his only interview since his op-ed, Goldstone has stated he has “no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time.” Two other members of his original commission, Hina Jilani and Desmond Travers have both stated that they fully stand behind their findings as well.

However you choose to characterize Goldstone’s recent words, it is clear that he has not in any way recanted his commission’s report. Indeed, the fury with which Israeli politicians first received the Goldstone Report – and their vociferous insistence that it now be formally withdrawn – is the surest sign of its continuing moral power – and of the continuing need for Israel to conduct an independent, credible and transparent investigation of its actions during Cast Lead.

This was, after all, the most important recommendation of the Goldstone Report – and why, in my opinion, it still remains as relevant as ever.

Spirit in Shiraz

iran8-005

As the sun went down on Friday night, we gather in the venerated shrine of Ali Ibn Hamzeh (above and below). The inside of the mosque is inlaid with countless small mirrored tiles that reflect fragments of light, movement and the faces of everyone inside. As a young boy intones “Allah Hu Akhbar!” over the loudspeaker, worshippers file in, kneel and begin to pray. Even though it’s not my prayer tradition, even though I’m merely a guest, I’m palpably aware that I’m dwelling in sacred space and sacred time. I’m also also all too mindful that our journey through Iran is fast coming to a close.

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Earlier in the day, we visited with the leaders of the Shiraz Jewish community. It’s obviously a smaller community than the Jewish community of Tehran, but it’s vital and active nonetheless.  We learned that there are approximately 6,000 Jews in Shiraz and that their presence here dates all the way back to Cyrus the Great. The current Shiraz Jewish Community Center was founded 70 years ago ; there are 17 active synagogues and though there is no rabbi specifically the city, the community has been trained to take care of all of its essential religious needs. (Below: me and Moshe, who speaks fluent Hebrew and serves as an important religious resource for Shirazi Jews).

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Like the Jewish leaders of Tehran, the Jews of Shiraz reminded us that they consider themselves to be Iranian Jews. I am beginning to understand why they feel this way. After all, for most of Jewish history, Jews have wandered from place to place throughout the world – but Jews have lived here in Iran literally for over 3,000 years. It is their home in a way that most of Jews can only barely begin to understand, and it is clear that they have a deep and sacred bond to Persian culture, land and  heritage.

We had a fairly lively dialogue and we appreciated that they were as interested in learning about us as we were about them. We discussed in particular the differences between living as Jews in a religious nation and living in a country that separates church and state.  They articulate a strong appreciation for living in a country where the Supreme Leader is a religious leader and where religious values are central to the life of their nation. And like the Jews of Tehran, they insist that they enjoy religious freedom in their country and are perfectly comfortable living as Jews in an Islamic state.

It was a warm and fruitful exchange, and when we ended they expressed a very strong desire to have a deep and substantive relationship with American Jews. For our part, the Jews of this delegation share this desire and are already thinking of ways we can build upon the connections we have created here. (Below: Rabbi Lynn and Parisa, the chair of the Shiraz Jewish Women’s Committee.)

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The trip is winding down but there’s still much more to say. In my last post, I’ll offer some concluding thoughts…

Bubbe in the Dojo

rusty-portraitDid you know the undisputed mother of women’s judo is a Jewish great-grandmother named Rena Glickman? And did you know that Japan’s government recently awarded her with one of its highest honors, the Emperor’s Order of the Rising Sun?

I kid you not. The mighty Rena Glickman (known to millions of judo-devotees as Rusty Kanokogi) has been doing her thing since the 1950s, when she had to masquerade as a man to practice her art (a neo-Yentl saga if ever there was one!) A recent Sports Illustrated article gives the backstory:

(Kanokogi) had to collect 25,000 signatures and threaten legal action for sex discrimination against the International Olympic Committee and its TV partner, ABC, to get women’s judo into the Games in ’88…She also found time, in between, to coach the 1988 Olympic team, officiate the ’96 Olympics and provide NBC’s color commentary at the 2004 Games.

I was so sorry to read that Ms. Kanokogi is currently being treated for bone cancer – all the more reason to be proud that she is receiving this unprecedented honor. Mazel Tov Rusty! (Or as the judo masters teach: “Chiri mo tsumori yamato nari.”)

Tweet Your Vote!

The good folks at Twitter are giving us a great way to collect reports on how well/badly our voting experience goes tomorrow. Twitter Vote Report helps voters to use Twitter or simple texting tools to report on how the vote is really going during this election, and they’re making it incredibly simple for everyone (even non-Twitter members) to check in. They will then put all the reports up on maps and graphs to show how voting is going across the country.  Click on the clip above to find out how it all works.

Of course, if you’ve already voted early disregard the above. But if you haven’t, check it out. What a great 21st century demonstration of power to the people!