Monday, September 07, 2009

End of Elul 5769

Well I am back from vacation and some overseas work, and I have to say that it was a pleasure to be out of the routine of reading the Israeli press, the Israel/Palestine blogosphere, and the mainstream media - and then feeling compelled to comment.

But now that I am back, old habits re-assert themselves. So I will share two article that I thought where particularly relevant above the daily noise. Both deal with long term trends, rather than the hot news items of the day. Both are - in their own ways - cries from the heart, and both are appropriate for Jews to consider seriously, as we approach the High Holidays: a time for reflection and repentance.

The first is an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. It is by ex Member-of-Knesset, Naomi Hazan. It reads in part:

... The growing rift between these two major Jewish communities [U.S. and Israel] is not indicative merely of a disagreement over policy directions. It mirrors far more profound processes taking place in both settings.

In the US, Jews have, time and again, evinced steadfast support for the liberal principles of equality and social justice, which they equate with their Jewish heritage as well as with universal values. These binding norms have helped to fuse their collective identity and continually guide their outlooks and their behavior. Concern for the downtrodden, the disempowered and the other has become central to the Jewish ethic in the US. ... These views are an inextricable part of their makeup as Jewish citizens of the US.

Trends in Israel point in quite different directions. As more Jews outside Israel - in Europe and Latin America as well as in North America - have internalized the democratic ethos, those in Israel appear to be disengaging from its roots. Six decades of independent achievement are increasingly being clouded by the acceleration of socioeconomic inequalities, the prevalence of discrimination among Jews of different backgrounds (shamelessly brought to the fore by the effort to exclude pupils of Ethiopian origin from some religious schools in Petah Tikva), the systemically unequal treatment of Arab citizens as well as continuing rule over another people, with all that this entails.

... [There is, in Israel,] an alarming rise in intolerance, bigotry and outright racism which flies in the face of basic democratic principles. A dangerous combination of religious formalism and unfettered patriotism, coupled with an almost inexplicable attachment to neoconservative doctrines, has narrowed Jewish horizons in Israel ...

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Jews in Israel and abroad are drifting apart: The symbiotic relationship which bound them together in the past cannot survive in the free environment of the 21st century unless it is cemented by a renewed commitment to human dignity and the values of justice and equality that give it meaning. ...

There is a steep decline in American Jewish sentiment toward Israel. If, in the annual American Jewish Committee survey of 2006, 37% of US Jews claimed that they felt very close to Israel, by 2008 -scarcely two years later - this figure dropped to 29%. Undoubtedly the Second Lebanon War, corruption in high places, the Gaza offensive and shifting global currents have left a mark on American Jews. They have found outlets other than Israel to articulate their Jewish identity and their ongoing dedication to its moral dictates. ...

source: Jerusalem Post September 3, 2009

I think this article is spot on - except for the last sentence quoted.

I fear that American (and Canadian) Jews who grow disillusioned with Israel - and there are many - will not necessarily find other outlets to articulate their Jewish identity. Certainly some will (I count myself among them - I have become more religious as I have become less Zionist.) But many will just drift away.

The identification of Judaism with Israel has become so strong in the last 40 years - promoted from within the Jewish Community itself - that any disillusionment with Israel will leave most Diaspora Jews wondering what there is left about Judaism to hold onto. Of course, there is a LOT! But 40 or more years of monomaniacal Israel-centric education and community propaganda have obscured that for most people.

Israel is a mess, and it stands a good chance of dragging down Judaism with it. Once Israel was a source of Jewish identification for young Diaspora Jews. Today it is more likely to make them run.

We need to fix what's wrong in Israel to be sure - but we also need to break the identification (as in "they are identical") of Judaism with Israel (and Israel with Judaism). It will good for Israel and good for Judaism.

* * *

The second article I want to share is by Jimmy Carter, from yesterday's Washington Post. The salient section is the following. After have discussed the "two state solution", Carter continues:

A more likely alternative to the present debacle is one state, which is obviously the goal of Israeli leaders who insist on colonizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A majority of the Palestinian leaders with whom we met are seriously considering acceptance of one state, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By renouncing the dream of an independent Palestine, they would become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbors and then demand equal rights within a democracy. In this nonviolent civil rights struggle, their examples would be Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

They are aware of demographic trends. Non-Jews are already a slight majority of total citizens in this area, and within a few years Arabs will constitute a clear majority.

Emphasis mine. Source: Washington Post Sept 6, 2009

Carter says this with no joy. He goes on to explicitly say he prefers a two state-solution.

But lets face it. That possibility seems more and more a remote one. The Palestinians are not likley to accept a state, while Israel keeps most of the settlements.

And while a one state solution with everyone living as equals in a bi-national (or non-national) state would be fine with me (maybe even preferable !) it is unlikely to happen. Israel is the stronger party, and its Jewish population is in no mode to give equality and democratic rights to non-Jews in the West Bank or Gaza (See Hazan'a article above.) Indeed, they barely tolerate rights for Arabs in Israel proper.

The far more likely scenario is a defacto continuation of the status quo - more formalized perhaps. One state: two sets of laws and rights; separate and unequal. The Ol' South, or Apartheid - call it what you want - but it will be a cruel, hard and immoral situation carrying on indefinitely.

For Jews like me - who care deeply about an ethical Judaism and a future of the Jewish People as a people committed to that moral and progressive vision - this is a disturbing, but very real possibility: and something to ponder deeply in the last days of Elul 5769.


Anonymous Shmuel said...

Welcome back Syd. Your comments on Hazan and Carter are spot on (as usual). The degradation of Judaism by Zionism has been on my mind a lot lately. If I believed in biblical style divine wrath, I would say we are really in for it. Our moral corruption and idol-worship have certainly "overfilled their measure".

2:41 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Thanks for the comments.

And speaking of "divine wrath", while on vacation I bought a fridge magnet that says: " 'Don't Make Me Come Down There' -- God".

This probably applies to the whole world, but sadly Israel in particular. And I am still enough of an old fashioned Jew to believe that Jews really should be held to a higher standard - at least by ourselves and our own "God".

10:49 am  
Anonymous Eric Mendelsohn said...

It was best put by a friend "It's not just Chomsky and Fonda any more"

7:44 pm  

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