Friday, February 15, 2008

"Breaking the Silence" at the Washington DC JCC.

Last night, the Israeli veteran's organization "Breaking the Silence," in the US for their annual tour, took part in a dialogue entitled, "What Makes an Army Jewish? Ethics and Tradition: the IDF in an Age of Checkpoints, Village Sweeps and Targeted Killings." For the advertisement and blurbs on the participants, please press here.

The evening was a "trialogue" between Yehuda Shaul, of Breaking the Silence, Adam Harmon, an American Israeli who presented the IDF party line, and Avi West, a local educator, who both faciliated the discussion and presented a Jewish viewpoint.The audience, quite diverse in their viewpoints, behaved in a dignified and civilized fashion.

Because of the time constraints of the dialogue format, Yehuda was not able to develop the BTS message in the way that he usually does, nor could he show more than a few slides. He went for understatement, and in that he succeeded. His counterpart Harmon, a nice enough fellow, and quite respectful of Yehuda, seems not to have read an Israeli newspaper in his life. (One computer slide that Yehuda did show was an article in Yediot that said that according to an internal IDF memo, a quarter of the soliders at checkpoints had abused Palestinians; this was after Harmon had implied that the abusers were only a few bad apples.)

The importance of the evening lay not so much in the message, but in the fact that it took place at all. One of the organizers told me that Shaul's appearance had not been easy to pull off. The DC JCC would not have Yehuda speak on his own, i.e., withough "balance". But as depressing as that may sound, I thought that in the end, the dialogue format worked to BTS's advantage. The evening gave them much-needed respectability in the mainstream Jewish community. What the audience heard was two reservists discussing their Army experiences, and one of them, Shaul, raising disturbing questions. In fact, Shaul repeated his signature line: " We are not here to provide answers; we want people to raise questions." That is a very troubling line for American Jews, who want to believe that there is hope, and that Israel army is capable of cleaning up its act. The truth is that any long-term military occupation inevitably leads to dehumanization of the occupied, to abuse, to immoral and inappropriate behavior. I stress, "inevitable". Of coures, for the liberal-hawk-neocons in the audience, "morality" is a luxury that Israel cannot afford. (Harmon, by the way, as not of their number. He was of the "The IDF-is the Most-Moral-Army-in-the-World" school.) It will be harder to demonize "Breaking the Silence" now that they have appeared in tandem with mainstream speakers in Jewish spaces.

During the Q&A, an older gentlemen with a British accent referred repeatedly to the situation in the Occupied Territories as a "nightmare." He offered no hope of peace, security, or even stability. He just spoke of the nightmare.

He got the message. Will others?


Anonymous said...

We've posted an account of the event on our blog...feel free to add your impressions and thoughts there too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your attendance at my Dialogue progam last Thursday, Feb. 14, and your strong piece of written advocacy. It was only in part of question of balance that had to do with the line up for Thursday's session --but more our dialogue programming ideal of having strong advocacy challenged bluntly and humanely by other strong advocacy. I was delighted that an audience as you put it, "...diverse in their viewpoint, behaved in a dignified and civilized manner". We seek to explore what unites and divides us as Jews or as world citizens who are part of and interacting with a variety of communities. Here's my preliminary brief account of the evening. (url of Washington DCJCC blog posting)

I am this week (and beyond) soliciting further response from the panelists and others who attended.

Stephen Stern, Director of Dialogues & Public Affairs, Washington DCJCC