Sunday, December 30, 2007
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's "Rabbinic Guide to 40 Years of Occupation": Methadone for the Masses?
Sam Bahour sent around Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's booklet, curiously titled, "Rabbinic Guide to 40 Years of Occupation" (What they meant was "A Guide for Rabbis"). The booklet is "aimed at encouraging hundreds of rabbis across the United States to use the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War to lead their congregations in reflecting on the implications of Israeli occupation." I read quickly through the Guide, and, as usual, came away with mixed feelings. On the one hand, one finds the usual liberal Zionist credo that Israel's fall from grace began in 1967, or more accurately, with the beginning of the settlement movement, the Original Sin. The nostalgia for the "paradise" that existed before 1967 is palpable in the booklet. The Guide has poems, memoirs, and statements from sixteen Jews and two Palestinians. Not surprisingly, the only two mentions of 1948 are by the Palestinians, one of whom points out, correctly, that the tragedy of 1967 grew out of the tragedy of 1948. Well, those numbers aren't exactly correct: one of the Jews mentions 1948 when he writes "The period from 1948-1967 established Israel is a fact." So much for the Nakba, and the eradication of Palestine by the Jewish state within the armistic lines. And yet...there is much in the pamphlet to commend. Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom is tuned into a lot of the activism that is going on in Israel, and uses their knowledge to fine effect. The raison d'etre of the booklet is the list provided of Israeli organizations that sponsor tours to the Occupied Territories. (The organization "Encounter" is not listed. Why not?) Yes, the narrative is entirely liberal Zionist (Prof. Irwin Wall's short history occasionally cites the Palestinian viewpoint, but in its selectivity and choice of language, it is clearly a partisan document.) Still, given that the organized Jewish community is so far to the right, anything to its left is commendable. Frankly, I look at documents like these -- and other positions taken by liberal Zionists in the US -- as akin to methodone. They are useful for weaning American Jews from the truly dangerous Israeli spin and mythology. But they are also dangerous and addictive in their own right. If the authors say to themselves, "Well, we have to sound 'balanced' in order to be heard," I can clench my mouth shut and support the effort. Ever the wimpy liberal (I have decided to support Obama rather than Hilary, so you can see how "left" I am), I can still hope that, despite their repeated failures of forty years, the liberal Zionists will make a dent in the Occupation. But if the authors actually believe that 1967 is the root of all evils, and that 1947, or 1917, or even 1897, had nothing to do with 1967 -- well, then they are part of the problem and not the solution. And, like so many times, in the past, the next Intifada will knock them off-balance, disappoint them (remember the "disappointed left" last time?), and send them back to the tribal tent -- only to reemerge after the next quiet spell. For remember -- you can be against the Occupation, think it a disaster for Israel, feel sorry for the Palestinians -- and still be a liberal hawk, or a neocon. Some of my worst enemies oppose the Occupation. Are you, liberal Zionists, going to stand with them when the going gets tough, as you have done for the last sixty years (mirroring the ever-recurring collapse of the Israeli "left" in support of the short-sighted and disastrous policies of Israel's "chauvinist center (ha-merkaz ha-leumani)" to use Hayim Baram's well-chosen phrase)? Or are you going to stand with the Palestinians and Israelis who put everything, including Zionism, on the table, who want a historical reconciliation based on 1897, not 1967?