Saturday, April 28, 2012

On Celebrating Israeli Independence Day 2012

Israeli Independence day came and went. Since the semester is not yet over, I am still in America, and there is little observance here. My synagogue had a special prayer service, but I wouldn’t go to that. If God didn’t have anything to do with the Holocaust – and He didn’t – He certainly didn’t have anything to do with the founding of the State of Israel. It is theologically shocking to attribute to Him a “miracle” that destroyed as “collateral damage” the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents. I can understand how Jews can be happy about the founding of the state, but leave God out of it.

According to the Midrash, God complained when the angels started singing praises after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea: “My handiwork (i.e., Pharoah and the Egyptian army) is drowning in the sea, and you sing praises?”  Some commentators explain that while it was wrong for the angels to sing praises, it was at least human for the Israelites to do so.  But of course, Pharoah and his army were engaged in the attempt to kill innocent civilians – whereas in 1948 it was the innocent civilians who were  killed or exiled or not allowed to return to their homes. What moral person would sing the Hallel collection of psalms in those circumstances? Some say that one is not reciting the Hallel over the  Israeli victory, but over the restoration of political independence to the Jewish people. That sounds somewhat better, but even better is to leave God – and Hallel – out of it.

In Israel, I do celebrate Independence Day – by attending the Alternative Independence Day Ceremony organized by Yesh Gvul. This year my neighbor, Prof. Lev Luis Grinberg of Ben Gurion University, a prominent political economist and sociology, and a founder of Yesh Gvul,  lit one of the torches and gave a moving speech. I asked him to provide me with a translation and here it is:

Torch Lighting Speech, Yesh Gvul Ceremony, April 25, 2012

I, Lev Luis Grinberg, am happy to light this torch in honor of the members of Yesh Gvul Movement, who thirty years ago dared to object to the first war ever declared as a ‘war of choice’; and in honor of thousands of reserve and regular soldiers, and the high school kids (Shministim) who have since then obeyed the dictate of their conscience and refused to take part in wars, military operations and occupation beyond the sovereign borders of the State of Israel. In their willingness to serve their country in prison, they have marked the moral and legal boundary of the State of Israel.

I grew up under a military regime in Argentina, and after I arrived in Israel I had no difficulty to identify with the Palestinian people under military rule, or to object to illegal commands and the State of Israel’s anti-democratic conduct. Nevertheless, I did join the IDF because I saw that there was in Israel a sincere belief in the existential threat to the Jewish people, rooted in the traumatic memory of the Holocaust. It was only later that I realized that the governments of Israel are systematically using that truama and the basic insecurity of the Jewish people to conceal illegal activities of land and water theft, and exploitation of defenseless Palestinian laborers.

The act of objection and refusal is an individual’s declaration of independence, which is a prerequisite for the true independence of the collective. The conscientious objectors’ impressive achievement has been the de-legitimization of the war in Lebanon and the repression of the Intifada in the 1980s, which eventually led to a mutual recognition by the State of Israel and representatives of the Palestinian people. But since then, we have regressed into another round of violence, which swept the majority of the public, beginning with the repression of the second Intifada, through the second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, to the planned imminent war against Iran. These are all wars of choice, which did not encounter the mass opposition they deserved. Yitzhak Rabin’s attempt to deliver Israel out of the mythical world in which it is entrapped, and his assertions that “Not the entire world is against us”, and that “We did not arrive in an empty country”, was brutally trampled upon in October 2000. The repression of the second Intifada has enabled the creation of a strong sense of insecurity which justifies Israel’s violence as if this was a war of no choice.

The memory of the Jewish people, persecuted for centuries by ultra-nationalism and racism, is being tarnished day by day by the utra-nationalism, racism and aggression of the State of Israel, which is in denial of its responsibility for its own actions. Done in the name of the Jewish people, these actions turn into the shame of the Jewish people. But there are still those who have not forgotten what it means to be a Jew: what it means to be a minority persecuted by a violent and aggressive majority. In the last thirty years, many important organizations have come into being, which spread and extend the reach of the original concept of selective conscientious objection upheld by Yesh Gvul. These include the Shministim and New Profile, Courage to Refuse and the Pilots’ Letter, Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, women’s organizations and binational organizations against the occupation and the war. I am lighting this torch in their honor as well, and in honor of the democratic state that we must build, a state grounded in the Jewish universal tenets of justice and equality for all citizens


pabelmont said...

Thank you for publishing widely these beautiful words, yours and his.

In America we have somewhat the same problems. Today is an anniversary of the Rodney King events in LA, marking a history of police violence, government neglect, and business disinvestment in the neighborhoods of "people of color" (as Americans call our Palestinians).

the successive governments of America have been engaging in wars without end -- in the service of imperialistic designs and the demands of the war industries (now including mercenary fighters such as Blackwater -- quasi parallel to Israeli settlers' gangs of armed toughs) -- which do not serve the needs of ordinary Americans and are opposed by many if not most.

And, of course, the Jewish people in America need to win independence from the "leaders" such as the "presidents" and AIPAC who claim to represent us but do not, and from official Israel -- not from folks such as Yesh Gvul -- in Israel who teach that the Jewish way is the way of making war and doing oppression.

Thanks again.

Richard Witty said...

I don't know of the theological concerns around reciting Hallel.

If you believe that God is in the world, in everything in the world, then both the holocaust and the independence have God involved, and actively, and even as some prophetic significance.

The real issue for me is this is the next day. We got enlightened and free yesterday, so what are we going to do with it today?

Enjoy it certainly.
Protect it so that it is possible tomorrow (as if a repeated invocation of the real doesn't devolve to less than full appreciation).

But, most importantly, apply it, in the form of helping others to be free, internally and externally.

Independence AND the next day can both be of God, certainly rather than declaring that God is not here in some today.

Adonai echod, doesn't mean "some" situations, it describes "all".

Jerry Haber said...

Some folks have contacted me and wondered what I meant by "leave God out of it." After all, as a religious Jew, don't I believe that God acts in history?

My answer is yes, I do believe that God acts in history -- but only indirectly. God was in the founding of the State of Israel, and in the Holocaust, in the same way as He is in the writing of this comment. No more -- but also no less.

But it's too beautiful a day here in DC for theology....or theodicy.