Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A New Year's Resolution and Some Grounds for Optimism

Well, the semester is over; things are worse in Israel (and will be getting a lot worse). My day job took a lot of my time, and I didn't blog for a month. Two people let me know they missed my posts.

That's enough for me to get back in the saddle again.

My (secular) New Year's resolution for 2012 is to post at least once a week,  and I hope to do twice a week during semester break. As usual, my posts will be pretty long, probably full of typos, and always from a philosophical and modern orthodox Jewish point of view.

I have learned at my age that repetition isn't such a bad thing, especially when you feel that what you are saying expresses something important. So I plan and intend to repeat myself. Yeshayahu Leibowitz had only  around 10 ideas, but he repeated them until they were hardwired in his audiences' brains. He and his ideas are sorely missed.

So let me start by repeating what I have said before: We are living in a long dark night for Judaism.

No this is no ordinary Jewish pessimism. Historically, American Jews, according to Jonathan Sarna, have often viewed their generation as the last, or next to last, before the American Jewish community went kaput.  My pessimism is of a different sort. If the Holocaust was a hurban, a physical catastrophe for Jews, the "New Chauvinism," euphemistically portrayed as "Jewish Pride" (as if pride were anything but a vice in traditional Judaism), together with  real power and the loss of Eimat ha-Goyyim / Fear of the Gentiles, has been  a moral catastrophe of epic proportions for Judaism.

Every day Haaretz  publishes at least one article, usually buried somewhere, about how Palestinians are being cheated out of the birthright in a variety of ways by Israelis. It has nothing to do with Israeli security; it has nothing to do with Palestinian "terrorism;" it has everything to do with the theft of land, resources, and the infringement of liberty.

And yet, with very few exceptions among my coreligionists (God bless them), NOBODY CARES.  Of course,  people in general, and Jews in particular, need to feel moral outrage about something.  So they aim for a Jewish consensus in their expressions of such outrage.  Palestinians are being thrown out of houses that they purchased or received legally? Why not protest social injustice against Jews by Jews?  Palestinian women undergo humiliating strip searches by private security firms at checkpoints? Why not protest the separation of Jewish women from Jewish men on public transportation?

People need to feel that they are moral creatures -- that explains, among other things, the appeal of the pro-life movement in the US, among those who would expel  children of illegal immigrants who have lived their whole life in the US.  When you are accused of moral wrongdoing, the best offence is to protest against some other morally outrageous situation. If ultra-orthodox men are feeling oversexed because they are living in a relatively permissive era, then they should seek better ways (e.g., therapies) to handle their  situation besides segregating women on buses -- a practice for which there is no Jewish legal precedent. (One can say the same thing about having babies in the double digits.) Orthodox Judaism has enough issues of inegalitarianism without creating more. But as disgusting as this new practice of public separation is, it palls in comparison with what we Jews are doing on a daily basis to Palestinians.  So, yes, there is injustice here, and  I condemn it, -- but Jewish tribalism shouldn't dictate all priorities, and a sense of proportion should not be lost.

But I do see rays of hope in 2012 and beyond, or perhaps I am clutching at some proverbial straws.

1. I still have some hopes for, and belief in, the next generation. My generation, the generation of the children of the survivors and their baby boomer peers, have made a moral mess of Judaism. But there are signs that the coming generations of Russian offspring in Israel will be less chauvinistic than the current one. Voting patterns, I am told, are encouraging. The Putinization of Israel will most probably ebb after the generation that knew Putin close and up-front passes from the stage of history.

2. Good riddance to the old two-state solution. Oslo died a long time ago, and with it, the two state solution envisioned by the framers of Oslo. With more and more mainstream Israelis realizing that the two-state solution is, or should be, dead -- and just today, the moderate Likud Speaker of the Knesset, Ruvi Rivlin, said as much --  we are faced with a horrific status quo for a long time to come. And since the status quo is untenable over the long haul, sooner or later the apartheid like situation between the Jews and the Arabs will drag the 1948 regime down with it, to be replaced, I hope, by something more equitable.

3.  When I said that the two-state solution has died, I don't mean all two-state solutions -- only the sort of "rotten compromises" that have been proposed until now. 

4. Several years ago, I told a friend that one of the goals of my blog was to ensure that if you were an America supporting Israel's chauvinistic center, you were either a Republican or a rightwing fundamentalist, Jewish and Christian. There are signs that this is happening. Tonight I spoke with a prominent Jewish Republican living in Israel. He implied to me that Newt Gingrich he preferred Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney. May all the Jewish Republicans go in his direction...and may the Democrats win.

5. As always, I am cheered by those waging the good fight in Israel and abroad -- Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and non-Jews. These, too, are my people. Yes, I have dual loyalties to both my tribes -- Jewish and liberal. But most of my moral criticism I save for my Jewish tribe. Guess that makes me a Jewish tribalist.

These rays of light do not dispel the darkness in front of us. But they give us hope for some distant future, and some consolation for coping in this horrible present.

And a Happy New Year to you.


David Ender said...

For once I agree with what you're saying :D

pabelmont said...

I've missed your thoughts. And this one is wonderful. If you must, just repeat it from time to time, with updates as appropriate.

May others reprint in whole or in part? Or merely link with praise?

pabelmont said...

3. When I said that the two-state solution has died, I don't mean all two-state solutions -- only the sort of "rotten compromises" that have been proposed until now. (If you don't see why the various proposed compromises are rotten, it is because you back the more powerful side.)

Exactly. Those who say 2SS has died are those who imagine that the power to dispose lies entirely with Israel. If the international community (civil, BDS, and states) can predominate, Israel will no longer dispose, and 2SS may again be a fair possibility. Of course, 600,000 settlers will have to find new housing in pre-1967 Israel.

Jerry Haber said...

I deleted the following line from my post:

(If you don't see why the various proposed compromises are rotten, it is because you back the more powerful side.)

My fellow blogger Jerome Slater pointed out to me that this was not true in his case;that his concern is for the well-being of the Palestinians. I disagree with his judgment that the 2SS would significantly improve the Palestinian's well-being, but I certainly accept his description of his own motivation.

Michael W. said...

Regarding; "supporting Israel's chauvinistic center".

Can you elaborate?

jeremy milgrom said...

I missed your columns, and am thankful that two readers didn't take it sitting down but rather did something about it!

Devir said...

I've also missed you, Jerry. Although I don't have my own computer now ( I'm using my son's )and can't interact with you as much as I used to...
About this post, my only diference with you is that where you see generations I see classes. Class diferences ( and ideologies linked to them ) weight more than other diferences ( age, gender, religion, colour, etc ). Portuguese marxists, joking, use to say: "when we were almost convinced that "they" were right, that classes didn't exist or did not matter anymore, there comes one class,atacking our long fought for aquired rights, reducing us to poverty and reminding us that there is at least one class ( theirs )with its greed and ominous privileges...
I don't know much about Israel but I believe the diferences between, say, Hadash and the right-wing forces in the Knesset are not diferences of age...
Shalom, dear Jerry

evets said...

'Palestinians are being thrown out of houses that they purchased or received legally? Why not protest social injustice against Jews by Jews?'

You've hit the nail on the head. This comfortable ethnocentrism is also a problem among religious Jews in the U.S., where the few remaining 'liberals' have taken a vow of Omerta re: treatment of Palestinians and will only address intramural ethical problems. Even focusing on general societal/moral issues, unrelated to anything touchy like the I/P situation, is considered an exotic undertaking.

Anonymous said...

About your cheering of the 'death of the two-state solution' and hoping for 'something more equitable'. What, exactly, gives you more hope that it will change, and more importantly, change the mind of the Jewish citizens of Israel? I don't want to bore you with the reasons that give Israeli Jews cause for pessimism and fear (as you probably know them already). It goes without saying that I -don't- support any of the horrible situations you believe will happen (nor will I deign to guess what might -actually- happen; I dislike predictions).

On another point, regarding 'Jewish Pride' and 'real power'. I assume you're speaking of either the center-right Zionist movement and the state of Israel. And although I can understand (if not agree) why some Jews think that Israel is a moral tragedy, I can't say I like the attitude before they came into existence. What, exactly, is your alternative? Jews being at the mercy of the world, depending on the moods of the rulers for their existence?

That alternative doesn't appeal to me. Going beyond Jewish history, I look to the world. I see hollow cries of 'never again' repeated while those without 'real power' die by the hundreds, thousands, and more. I will choose the alternative if that means life, and I'll use that life to change the world.

If I misinterpreted what you said, I apologize, as well as my polemic. I hope your New Year was filled with joy, Mr. Haber.

Anonymous said...

And as a follow-up comment to my first post: I find your equivalence between the tragedy of the Holocaust/Shoah and your view regarding the tragedy of 'Jewish Pride' and 'real power' to be grossly offensive. Comparing the massive scale of the Holocaust compared to whatever idiotic/monstrous thing Israel has done in the past seven decades to seven minutes, isn't something I find... 'proper'. I'm against calling people Nazi's, or trying to cast ones opponents as Nazi's, whether it be applied to the Palestinian or Israelis; it's a cheap rhetorical trick that works to shut down debate.

To make things clear, I am not against comparing the Holocaust to other massive crimes, such as other genocides. But such casual use of the words to advance a cause (ironically) reminds of what Finkelstein has accused Jewish organizations have been doing; it reduces the crime and it's grossly offensive.

If I misinterpreted either your or Finkelsteins views, I apologize.

Jerry Haber said...

Michael W,

Sorry, I wrote in shorthand. The phrase "chauvinistic center" (ha-merkaz ha-leumi) was coined by Israeli columnist (and sports reporter) Haim Baram, to denote the ultra nationalist block that include Labor, Kadimah, and Likud. It excludes the Zionist left of Meretz and the Zionist right of the parties to the right of the Likud. Baram coined it because it was silly to exclude the party of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Ehud Barak, from the ultranatioanlist center. Even the Labor that has broken away from Barak is still very much within the ultra-nationalist center.

I hope that explains

Jerry Haber said...


"What, exactly, is your alternative? Jews being at the mercy of the world, depending on the moods of the rulers for their existence?"

Are you living in the eighteenth century, Benjamin?

Jews will always be at the mercy of the world, whether in or outside of a Jewish state. Did having a powerful state in South Africa protect the Afrikaaners?

My alternative to the ethnocracy called Israel is Jews living in liberal societies, constantly vigilant of their rights. That would include an Israel/Palestine that had a large Israeli population. Surely you will agree that a Jew's physical safety living in America is greater than a Jew's physical safety living in Israel -- at least it has been for the last seventy years. All those nuclear warheads didn't protect the Soviet Union or South Africa from imploding, did it?

Anonymous said...

No, I'm living in the wonderful 21st century, and I'm not exactly sure why you think my thinking is old. My main point was that, in my observation of recent history, is that nations won't give a damn about suffering unless it serves their interests. -That- is why I am more sympathetic to the concept of peoples (Jewish, Palestinian, Sudanese, ect ect) wanting 'real power'. Until the world changes to universal brotherhood and the elimination of nations/ethnic tensions, power will be a needed two-edged sword.

Israel will never be the perfect guardian of Jews. To many of Jews/Israeli's I know, Israel is the opportunity to live -as- a Jew, and defend myself as one. And every Sephardi Jew I've met sees Israel as the more palatable choice then the regimes that took power in the Middle-East.

To be cute and superficial regarding South Africa and the Soviet Union, they were never directly attacked by other nations. If I'm correct in my interpretation, you believe that untenability of the apartheid/incompetence was the main cause of the failing. As I said earlier, I don't see the need, or wish to defend whatever folly Israel has done; I -do- see the need to address the (legitimate) issues both sides have. That involves compensation and security agreements, but above all, empathy.

dave banal said...

Hi, I've just discovered this site and I am absolutely thrilled by your subtlety, lucidity and rigour (hello from the UK, btw!). I wonder would it be possible to contact you via email to ask you some questions and perhaps invite you to write for some (quite widely read) outlets I'm connected with?

Clif Brown said...

Jerry, you say

"My alternative to the ethnocracy called Israel is Jews living in liberal societies, constantly vigilant of their rights."

What is good in any philosophy, what is a valuable lesson in history...these can be freely taken on by anyone and everyone.

Ethnicity is a terrible double edged sword. While all can benefit from the good ideas that any group can produce, each group is prone to the desire to exalt itself for identity alone.

So with the Jews who have contributed so much to humanity - much of which the public in general doesn't even realize has a Jewish origin - but now we have the Jewish possessors of a state quite obviously falling victim to the group exaltation for itself alone.

To hear a Jew say, as I have, that Arabs (one and all) are animals only says to me conclusively that each and every one of us, regardless of ethnic group is equally human - for better or worse.