Thursday, December 13, 2007

Giving "Peace" a Rest II -- Michael Sfard vs. Yair Sheleg

Once again I was unable to find an English version of a Hebrew op-ed in Haaretz. Either I am visually challenged (considering the typos in my posts, that is a reasonable assumption) or Haaretz did not bother to translate it.

The op-ed was by one of my heroes, Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli Jewish lawyer who represents Palestinians in suits against the settlers. It was a response to another op-ed by Haaretz journalist, Yair Sheleg, who represents the views of the moderate religious right. Sheleg asserted that he was willing to concede territory for the sake of a peace agreement, and he even conceded that ruling over a people against their will was morally defective. What concerned Sheleg was that instead of focusing on peace, and on the benefits it would bring Israeli society, the Israeli leftwing concentrates on the damage wrought by the settlers. Sheleg finds this incomprehensible; as a group, the settlers are no more violent or break the law than other sectors of Israeli society. The example that Sheleg gives is of the secularists who sell merchandise at busy intersections on Shabbat.

Sfard, in the subsequent paragraphs of his op-ed, rips Yair Sheleg's arguments and comparison to shreds. Talk of peace but leave the settlers out? Not when a necessary condition of peace is stopping the organized and ideological crimes of the settlers, often under the protection of the army, against the Palestinians. Sfard lists crime after crime of the settlers, crimes that are familiar to any reader of Haaretz, certainly to Sheleg. How one can talk of peace and not talk about the illegality and immorality of the settlers? From land theft, to physical brutality, to the simple attitudes of lordship over the Palestinian population -- all these are much more important to discuss than peace.

"One serious and forthright discussion about the crimes of the violent sector of the settlers is preferable to countless speeches about "peace". The Israeli public does not need more slogans about how wonderful it will be here if peace would only come. What it needs is a public, penetrating internal examination that will deal with the fascist and racist ideology that guides most of the ideological settlers (and not just the loonies of the outposts), the creation of an organized crime that undermines the sovereignty of the Israeli government, and, of course, a discussion about the moral depths to which the settlers are leading all of us."

Sfard goes on to classify the crimes of the settlers as "hate crimes". Their perpetrators are not thinking of ways how to circumvent the law, as are those who sell merchandise on the Sabbath, which is illegal in Israel. The settlers violate the law with pride.

The criminality of the settlers is different from the criminality of those who sell at crowded intersections on the Sabbath (if one can call that criminality.) Whoever believes in the defense of human rights and making progress towards coexistence between peoples, cannot be satisfied with phantasies of peace. He first has to stop the madness of the settlers.
Many of my readers will think that the above is self-evident. It is a pity that you don't read the "talk-backs" to Sfard. It is not self-evident to many Israelis. It is not self-evident to Yair Sheleg, who is not a Kahanist or a blatant racist. It is not self-evident to AIPAC and the Israeli lobby.

What I believe Sfard is saying is "ENOUGH OF THE TALK ABOUT PEACE." Peace is not the main issue; it is, or should be, the sideshow.

Not Peace Now, but Justice Now, Morality Now, Dignity Now.

One of the first songs I learned as part of my Zionist indoctrination was "Ba-Shanah ha-ba'ah, Neshev al ha-Mirpeset." "Next year, when peace comes, we will sit on the porch counting birds...oh, how good it will be when peace comes....."

The belief in the peace that will come "next year" is a secular Israeli substitution for the traditional Jewish belief in the future Coming of the Messiah -- a point emphasized by the right wing, who likes to talk about the false messianism of Peace Now. And they are correct -- it is a false messianism, because it allows us to postpone dealing with the present state of injustice as long as we concentrate on the future state of peace.

The dirty truth about messianism is that all messianism is false messianism. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz used to say, the traditional Jew believes with all his heart that the Messiah WILL come, but the traditional Jew almost never believes that he actually comes -- and when he does, it ends disastrously for Judaism.

Where was Peace Now -- where was I -- during the Oslo years, when thousands of dunams of land were confiscated and expropriated from the Palestinians for the building of "temporary bypass roads" -- the first step in the horrible and immoral unilateral separation (again, much worse that S. African apartheid) that has been taking place, and is taking place? All this was justified by the "exigencies of peace." How many times have we heard the claim that only when peace comes will we be able to remove the walls, normalize relations? How many times have we heard that we can hardly expect us Israelis to behave decently to the Palestinians when we are war with them?

But we are always at war with them. We have been war with them for sixty years. Our national existence is defined by that war.

I don't believe that doing the right thing can be postponed indefinitely. War is hell, and by its very nature immoral. Sometimes it is necessary, I know; I am not a pacifist. The internment of Japanese Americans in WWII was a horrible stain on the United States, and cannot be eliminated. But the crime lasted for five years. We are now talking about a sixty year war, a sixty year occupation, the last forty of which has not even a scrap of legitimacy.

It is time that people stop promising to put away the bullets one day and start biting them now. And the bullet that I am prepared to bite now is this:

If I thought for a minute that there was no alternative for the State of Israel than to preserve the status quo until peace came, then the State of Israel would OBVIOUSLY be illegitimate. A no-brainer. For no state, no people, has the right to self-determination in the form of a state, at the expense of another people with at least equal claims. It certainly does not have the right to rule over another people by force. If the alternative is packing it up, and closing the shop on the regime founded in 1948,then I cannot understand how any moral person would not choose that alternative.

No Zionist leader, from Herzl to Jabotinsky, ever envisioned a situation in which the Jews, in order to have a safe and secure state, would need to keep millions of Palestinians without human and citizen rights. No British government would have proclaimed a Balfour Declaration; no UN would have agreed to a Jewish State. Nobody would have considered it legitimate. Why, then, now?

Fortunately for me, since I love Israel, I don't believe that there is no alternative to the status quo. There are many alternatives, some more risky than others. But there is no worse alternative than the status quo. Better be a victim than a perpetrator. That is part of the essence of Judaism. And better be neither.

As for my critical comments about Peace Now -- I know that the peaceniks are good, moral people, and I don't want to cast aspersions on their morality or their dedication. I know that they want to end the Occupation and that they work hard to do so, harder than I do.

But Justice Now, Dignity Now, Morality Now -- these are the "nows" that are in my blood. I can live without peace. I cannot live knowing that my right to self-determination must come with such a cost.

Sorry for the emotional tone. I haven't written for close to a week, and all that stuff exploded on the screen....


Anonymous said...

yeah, all of the Palestinians that attended the Hamas rally sure want peace.

Jerry Haber said...

gbacharach, try reading and understanding my posts before you leave a comment. It's not about peace. Palestinians want peace as much as you do. Only they want justice and you want land.

Anonymous said...

I think it is also about getting more Orthodox Jews to sign on for democratic values. I was told by a neighbour, we are both dati, that my views are radical because I support the Annapolis Peace Process, feel that Israeli soldiers who mutiny to preserve settlements should be jailed, and am open to shared sovereignty on Jerusalem. These view really represent the mainstream of Jewish opinion. For me the "settler lobby" of true believers is just out there on the lunatic fringe, like southern slaveholders before the US Civil War.-

David L.

Chicago, IL

Jerry Haber said...

The modern orthodox in the US I know are either tinokot she-nishbu ("captive children") or mafia-morality tribalists, or both. As I wrote on mondoweiss, many modern orthodox Jews I know in the US do not have dual loyalites; they have single loyalties to the State of Israel. It is outrageous that American citizens who are not even Israeli citizens serve in the Israeli army and do not serve in the US. It is outrageous that in many shuls the congregation stands up for the prayer for the state of Israel, but talks through the prayer for the United States -- and I have been in shuls where only the former is recited.
But worse of all are those orthodox Jews who are relatively liberal when it comes to the US, but downright fascist when it comes to Israel. They have no problem accepting the Israeli racism at the heart of the Jewish state founded in 1948, and yet they would be among the first to complain if such racism was directed against them in the US.
Why the double standard? Because Israel is family, and you don't disown your family because they are racist.
One day I will write a post about my former rabbi, Heschy Weinreb, who is now the head of the Orthodox Union. A good man, a moderate rabbi, who is simply incapable of understanding Palestinian grievances.
Christian theology used to call the Jews "spiritually" blind. Such Jews are morally blind when it comes to people outside their tribe, unless they are being massacred by their "enemies" (Darfur), in which case they go up in arms.
Well, why should our Jews be different...and the US modern orthodox Jews are, outside of New York and New Jersey, a lot better than their Israeli counterparts, who range from fascist lite to Judaeo-Nazi.
With some notable exceptions, of course....

Jerry Haber said...

By the way, I would like to add that the other mainstream Jewish religious organizations -- the Conservative and the Reform -- are not much better.
Last summer Reform Judaism magazine ran a cover article, a puff piece, on the high morality of the IDF. The whole piece was by a freelance journalist, who seemed to be a mouthpiece for the IDF. When Breaking the Silence wanted to publish a response, they would allow only a short letter.
Reform Judaism...the religion of social action, justice, and ethical monotheism. Bah! It seems like the Judaism of privilege, money, and sycophantic support of Zionism and Israel. And that is indeed a pity, since many reform Jews are indeed social activists and supporters of the Palestinian causes. The institutions are way behind in the dark ages.
As for conservative Judaism...not much better than orthodox. They are not called "conservative" for nothing.

Anonymous said...

I think Jerry, the other thing that American Jews, especially our fellow Orthodox comrades, fail to take into account is that there is no guarantee that future American presidents will support Israeli policies as they have done in the past. People, including many US Jews, are sick of the hard-line Israel Lobby, and it is very possible that the next President might distance his or her administration away from Jerusalem.

We need only at Rhodesia as an example of this. The late Ian Smith felt that the decision of South African Premier John Vortster to cut his ties with Salisbury, in 1975, basically sealed the fate of Smith's white minority regime. If PM Olmert fails to reach a just settlement with Abbas it is very possible that a future American president might pull a "Vorster" on Medinat Yisrael.

---David L., Chicago, IL