Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shulamit Aloni at Erez Crossing

I noted in an earlier post, that a convoy of about 1500 Israelis rallied to deliver vital supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip at Erez Crossing on 26 January. There, I linked to a video of event, including the speeches. But it is mostly in Hebrew.

Shulamit Aloni, the grand old lady of Israeli dissent, a former Palmach fighter, a laureate of the Israel prize a former leader of Meretz and Minister of Education in Yitzhak Rabin’s 1990's government was scheduled to speak. But she couldn't make it for health reasons. Her speech was read by by someone else. Below is a transcript.

(I shamelessly lifted this from the web site: Axis of Logic.)

I am dismayed at not being able to be here today and demonstrate with you against the horror, perpetrated in our name, against a civilian population by a witless, merciless regime which is without scruples.

Sixty years ago we fought to create here an exemplary society; a state "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel" [a quote from the Israeli Declaration of Independence -sn]. But there is no justice and no peace and even no freedom. Instead we have terror and fear generated by our acclaimed army, the one called a “defense force”, which for 40 years has been engaged in occupying, robbing, and the crushing of human rights. It has also been engaged in murder.

Our state does not have the death penalty but our army drops cluster bombs on civilians. People are “eliminated” with no evidence and no trial. Our hands are “clean”, for it all gets done from the air. In the process we murder children, old people and ordinary passers-by. Only others have “blood on their hands”.

In the West Bank we have turned every village and town into a detention camp. We have herded the entire population of the Gaza strip, 1.5 million men and women, inside a single gigantic corral. Then we gave them starvation and darkness.

The time has come to drop the Jewish self-righteousness and the nurturing of fears that are used as the excuse for what the army, settlers and politicians are doing, as if everything is being done to improve our security. Let our Defense Minister kindly invest his ambitions in building peace instead of constructing settlements and Apartheid roads. Let him listen to Hamas, which has been requesting a Hudna, a cessation of the fighting, and lets start talking. It is worth trying.

Hubris, arrogance and haughtiness are disastrous for us. We are a strong state. No one will be able to remove us, as long as we respect the Other and understand that the Palestinians too deserve freedom and sovereignty.

Enough of the killing and murder and destruction that are taking place in our name! The time has come for peace with Syria and Lebanon, and especially with the Palestinian people whom we have been oppressing, robbing their land and water, arresting and killing. It is time to treat the Other the way we demand to be treated ourselves.

Enough of the disinformation; halt the spins that end in death! This is my direct plea to the Defense Minister and those who carry out his instructions. The days of the “Spring of Youth” [the name of a 1970's Israeli commando raid, lead by current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, wherein he assassinated several PLO leaders; also shown in the film Munich - sn] have come to an end. The time for thoughtful maturity has arrived. A time for peace.

Translated by Sol Salbe, Melbourne, Australia.

You Shall Not Plant a Tree Beside the Altar

The picture above is of a Hindu shrine on the Island of Bali. The tree is a banyan tree.

The picture above is of the sanctuary of Temple Emanuel of Greater Washington DC.

I guess they where trying to be environmentally sensitive. Its supposed to be a banyan tree. But Jews are specifically forbidden to worship trees! So it seems like an awkward (dare I say inappropriate) symbol to me.

In the Bible, holy trees are called asherot (singular asherah.)

"You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of The Lord your God which you shall make. " (Deuteronomy 16:21)

Now I'm environmentally sensitive, and I am not a fundamentalist, but still ....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Random Stuff

I just came back from two weeks in China. (Thats why I haven't "blogged" in a while.)

So here are some random thoughts that have accumulated.

1) China is big and booming and modern and bleak and totalitarian and chaotic and rich and poor. It the U.S.A. in 1901. It the up and coming world power. Its blowing the hell out of the environment.

2) While I was there I was aware that the following world leaders came to visit Beijing: The Admiral of the U.S. Pacific Command, the Foreign Minister of South Korea, the Foreign Minister of Germany, the Prime Minister of England, and the Prime Minister of India. That was in two weeks, and that was only what I caught wind of on the English Language T.V. station.

3) In one hotel we got 200 T.V. stations (all Chinese, though some had U.S. shows dubbed into Chinese), internet, and NO HEAT. (They don't heat in half of China because its "never cold" - except it is cold. It was around zero degrees Celsius and snowing.

4) Chinese food in China is GREAT. But watch out for the high proof Chinese rice "wine".

5) While there I heard a speech (with translations) by the Chinese President to Communist Party cadre, urging them to improve communications and tend to the spiritual needs of the people. I though that was interesting. What do ubber-capitalist communists know or think about spiritual needs? Or maybe it was some sort of translation error.

On other notes:

What about those Gazans!! Good for them for breaking out and into Egypt. They don't deserve to be cooped up in Gaza like chickens in a coop. This display of people power may disturb and scare both Israel and Egypt, but peoples interests should always come before those of nations or states. On the strategic front thsi blew the hell out of Israel's stupid (and immoral) siege policy. Not only did it not cow the Gazan'a it empowered them. Now they are going to feel more defiant and more anti-Israel than before siege. When is Israel going to learn that it cannot impose its political will (even if that will is reasonable) by force. Israels military is needed for defense (and it is mostly effective in this regard) but it can never succeed - by itself - in creating diplomatic or political progress. How about trying sincere negotiations?

BTW here is an interesting video clip of Israeli citizens peace activists) in convoy of food relief to Gaza. It is mostly in Hebrew, but hopefully interesting to non-Hebrew speakers as well. The first speaker (in the white jacket) is Uri Avneri - 80 year old peace movement icon. Later in the film you can see Jeff Halpern (bald guy with check jacket) of ICAHD speaking in English.

To change subjects again, John Edwards, my second favorite candidate for the U.S presidency Mike Gravel - see here - was my real favorite) dropped out of the race today. I found his concession speech quite moving and sincere. How is it we have moved so far from the days of the "War on Poverty". Its not as if we ever won that war. It just shows how much to the right the the centre of political gravity in the U.S (and Canada too) has moved in 40 years.

Well now it between Hillary and Obama for the good guys. Which is sort of like tweedle dum and tweedle dee - except, of course, on the symbolic level. I challenge anyone to tell me what the substantial policy differences between them are.

But that all might not matter anyway. Polls show that John McCain would beat either if the election where held today. So we can probably look forward to many more years of U.S involvement in Iraq, and no universal health care for Americans. On the other hand, he doesn't beat his dog, and he is somewhat reasonable on immigration. BTW I have bet $34 on McCain to be the next President.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Who is acting like the Nazis?

I am as ready to criticize Israel as the next guy. More ready than most, in fact. But it has to be said that for too many, Israel is the embodiment of all evil. Totally beyond the pale. As bad as Nazi Germany, and a worse offender of human rights then China; more oppressive of national minorities than Sri Lanka or Sudan; more dangerous to the world than Iran or the U.S. And this demonizing of Israel, well beyond legitimate criticism, is becoming more common. See this story form the JTA.

Ms. magazine rejected a pro-Israel advertisement from the American Jewish Congress.

The ad highlights successful women in Israel. It shows photographs of three prominent Israelis -- Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni and the president of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinish -- above the words “This is Israel.”

Harriet Kurlander, the director of the AJCongress Commission for Women’s Empowerment, said in a news release that she was told when she tried to place the ad that it “would set off a firestorm” and that “there are very strong opinions” on the subject, which she believed to mean Israel.

“What other conclusion can we reach except that the publishers -- and if the publishers are right, a significant number of Ms. magazine readers -- are so hostile to Israel that they do not even want to see an ad that says something positive about Israel?” AJCongress President Richard Gordon asked.

Ms. magazine's executive editor, Kathy Spillar, told the JTA that the ad showed political support for one of Israel's parties and thus violated magazine standards.

"We only take mission-driven ads," Spillar said. "Because two of the women in this ad were from the same political party," that showed favoritism, and the magazine's policy is not to get involved in the domestic politics of another country.

Gordon noted that the magazine in its Fall 2003 issue ran a cover story on Jordan’s Queen Noor, and the Winter 2004 issue contained an article on the Ramallah Film Festival called “Images of Palestine.” ...

Ms. Magzines explanation is absurd (would they reject an ad about American women if it did not show equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats; would the "political imbalance" of this ad really caused howls of protest among its readers ?)

The AJCs assumption that Ms editors and/or readers are:

"so hostile to Israel that they do not even want to see an ad that says something positive about Israel?"

is clearly correct. It is a sad comment when people are so sure of themselves they don't want to hear anything that could challenge their world view. I thought the critical press was supposed to challenge conventional thinking. To reject a benign ad like this - because it would cause a firestorm - is either a sad lack or journalistic courage, or just plain bigotry on the part of Ms. editors.

Israel deserves to be criticized - severely and harshly IMO. It does not need - nor deserve - to be demonized as something beyond the pale of humanity. We know where that kind of thinking can lead.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Getting So Much Better Every Day

According to the Jerusalem Post:
Ahead of President George W. Bush's visit this week, Palestinians were not optimistic about the peace process's chance for success. Roughly two-thirds (66%) of those polled said that there was a "slim to nonexistent" chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years, compared to 70% who said they felt that way last summer.
That's a 4% improvement !

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Thoughts On Intermarriage

Here is an except from a posting of mine to the Reconstuctionist email list, about intermarriage. Not sure this entirely captures my thoughts, but its a start.

* * *
Inter-marriage is a fact of contemporary diaspora life. So we better get used to it, and make the best of it. I don't think we should be promoting it, but I do think we should keep our eye on what is truly important.

I am reminded of the quip of a friend, who said: "Who is a Jew? Someone whose grandchildren are Jewish." From the perspective of maintaining the Jewish people's numbers, and from the perspective of passing on one's own world-view, this is indeed the test. Jews, of all stripes, gain great meaning from being part of an unbroken chain, of a struggle and a story spread over generations.On the other hand, the goal of every marriage should be first and foremost the happiness/fulfillment of the parties to the marriage.

I would rather my children found happy marriages with non Jews, than sad ones with Jews. But I really hope they will find happiness with partners who are Jewish, because that increases the chances of the grandchildren identifying as Jews, benefiting from what I feel is a valuable tradition, and fulfilling my wish to be able to see myself as part of the "unbroken chain". But this is all an "odds" game. In today's world, it is possible (maybe likely) that a dual Jewish couple will assimilate to such an extent that "Jewish' becomes a label devoid of meaning and purpose. Conversely many intermarried couples produce children who do identify as Jews, and quite often with more content and meaning than children of two Jewish parents. (This pre-supposes that the non-Jewish parent is willing to have his child brought up as a Jew.) We have several examples of families like this on my congregation.

We must also remember that while words are categorical ("Jew", "Gentile"), reality is not. People exist in a continuum of consciousness, practice, "blood". And things change: secularized people become spiritual seekers, and religious people loose their faith.

Finally there is the issue raised by the question "Do liberal Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims have more in common with each other than the conservatives in their own traditions? Do fundamentalists of all religions have more in common with each other than with liberals in their own traditions?" Last night, Sheryl and I were at a New Year's Eve dinner with several members of our friends. One couple (cultural and political Jews - 100% atheists) had just returned from visiting their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild in Israel. The daughter and son-in-law had become "baalei tshuvah". He was studying in a Kolel. She was studying too, but mostly getting ready to have more babies. They had applied to be emissaries (shlichim) of some Hardei outreach group. The parents were not happy about this. (That's putting it mildly!) Another couple ( founders of our shul, their daughter is married to a reform rabbinical student) had their son and his non Jewish wife visiting. They think she is great. Their new grandson had a brit, and they were discussing the merit of "converting" their grandchild. They seemed very pleased with the situation.

Clearly we are not in Krakow any more.

Thoughts On the Need (or not) For God

I participate on the Reconstructionist email list. Recently there was a thread about "Why practice Judaism, if you don't believe that God commanded the mitzvoth?" Here is an edited version of a response I posted.

> My point was dealing with beliefs in God, what that says about whether there is any meat in Judaism as a religion.

Why does "meat" depend on belief in God? Judaism has always been weak on "theology" and, Maimonides notwithstanding, never had a commonly accepted creed. So why not a world-view that rejects a conscious god capable of literally commanding us. A traditional definition of the balanced Jewish consciousness included love of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), and Torat Yisrael (the Jewish Bible, or more broadly Jewish teachings.) No god mentioned there.

> Doesn't removing God mean there is no religion left in Judaism.

a) who said Judaism was a religion? For Reconstructionists it is a 'religious civilization". It is both more and less than a "religion". It contains literature (including the Bible), philosophy, history, music, food, politics, jokes... These need not be, and in fact are definitely not - logically coherent. It is a RELIGIOUS civilization because a major (perhaps essential) characteristic of this civilization is its obsession with religious issues - ethics, meaning, self-improvement (spirituality for some), transcendence of time (the after-life for some), etc....

> May question is why perform non-moral, non-humanitarian mitzvah if you do not believe in God.

At least three reasons.

One: they are what Mordecai Kaplan called "Sancta" - basically consecrated folkways. Every civilizations has these. The U.S. has Thanksgiving , the 4th of July, and the Superbowl. Jews have Pesach, Israeli Independence Day, and ... (well I guess there is no equivalent to the Superbowl). So part of the reason we have a seder is - just like Thanksgiving - to over eat with our family and friends. Americans do Halloween because its fun. Many Jews do Sukkot for the same reason. Nothing wrong with that. In fact these Sancta are needed to create and maintain a common sense of peoplehood, common points of reference, a common civilization. They remind us that we are part of that civilization.

Two: they can teach us ethical lessons (e.g. Passover -> identify with the "stranger"; Birkhot HaShacar -> help the poor; ...)

Three: they can be good for our psyche (spirit / soul) (e.g . they teach us discipline, humility, self-reflection, hopefulness, gratitude...)

* * *

I personally believe that for many years there had been too much of an emphasis on the first reason above, and too little on the other two. The first reason only motivates you if you are already committed to Judaism ( i.e. a Jewish civilization.) The last two, on the other hand, might give you reasons to want to be committed to that civilization. But the last two can also be controversial. There are differing and often radical ethical or spiritual lessons that can be drawn. Too many Rabbis and too may congregation have been afraid to openly deal with these issues (or at least deal with them deeply) lest they be divisive. (My own congregation is guilty of this as well.) Its also a big topic in itself: one that I don't have time to explore fuller right now, but one I would love to have others pick up on.