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Dear Jewish Voice for Peace,

In this first installment to your response to my September 4th post, “Open questions to Jewish Voice for Peace,” I am starting with the general, and in a future Part Two, I’ll get into specifics.

So, here we go:

I remain unconvinced as your response essentially validates my original concern that JVP, in its critiques of Israeli government policies, does not take seriously the existential threats facing us here.  What I see is a clear disconnect between JVP and the existential concerns of most Israelis, myself included.  I found in your response no acknowledgement of the genocidal ideologies held by many of our neighbors who are loud and proud in their calls for our annihilation.

The response left me with the thought that JVP likely dismisses these concerns as hyperbole. And, if our concerns are unfounded because there is no real existential threat against us, and since at bottom this is an oppressor/oppressed relationship, then I can see why you would conclude your response with the following:

Given this reality, we do not think our energies as Jewish activists for justice should be focused on parsing the language of the oppressed to see whether, in their anguish and resistance, they use words that make us uncomfortable.

But, to understand the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict in such reductionist terms is missing the forest for the trees.  I could at this point produce the thousands of statements made by the leaderships of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and others that explicitly call for Israel’s violent destruction through “armed struggle,” a euphemism for terrorism and war.  Often this rhetoric is genocidal.  I could also produce a similar amount of explicitly antisemitic statements by these same leaders that mimics in tone and content the onslaught of anti-Jewish propaganda produced by the National Socialists in another time and place.  This is not “parsing the language of the oppressed” for “words that make us uncomfortable.”  This is seeking to understand the intent of heavily armed state and non-state actors, who have a long record of targeting Jews as Jews in both Israel and globally.

To illustrate my point, I will give one example that indicates intent quite clearly.  Here are the words of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, Iran’s shock troops in Lebanon (Nasrallah alleges ‘Christian Zionist’ plot, Beirut Daily Star, October 23, 2002):

‘Their aim is to redraw the world’s political map,’ he said. ‘It is said that several US presidents are affiliated with the Christian Zionists.’

Nasrallah said their aim was to return the Jews to Israel and rebuild their temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

However, Nasrallah added, ‘if they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’

Yes, these words make me uncomfortable.  Excusing this violent, racist and genocidal rhetoric as the “anguish” of the oppressed engaging in “resistance” is just so much sophistry.  The name of your group denotes that it is a peace organization.  In what moral universe can a peace organization, especially a Jewish one, rationalize this language specifically, and the thousands of other similar statements by other Palestinians, Syrians, Iranians?

Further quoting from your response:

We observe that your view is framed predominantly by fears about Israel’s safety and its very existence.

Yes.  That is correct.  Nasrallah makes his intent perfectly clear, as do many of his colleagues.  Continuing from your response:

From this perspective, Israel’s policies are based on security concerns and the underlying problem is Arab violence and ‘annihilationist politics,’ as you put it.  Our frame includes the security of both Israelis and Palestinians, along with their right to sovereignty, and self-determination.  We believe the occupation and the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people, and the US policies that enable this, are the main obstacles to peace and indeed to Israel’s security. (my emphasis)

What sticks out to me is the phrase “the main obstacles to peace” that you solely define as Israel’s policies.  You do not say “a main obstacle to peace” or “one of the many obstacles to peace.”  You are quite clear: “the main obstacle to peace” is Israeli policies.

Your approach, I believe, misses the mark.  What I hear is that for JVP both Arab ultra-nationalism and radical Islamism in the Arab and Muslim worlds play no role in the perpetuation of the conflict.  Following this logic, if these ideologies do not figure in the conflict, Israelis’ fears of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, et al are therefore unfounded.  Constructing one’s perceptions in this manner thus allows for the dismissing of our apprehensions.

Another framing would argue that it is entirely possible, on the one hand, to support Palestinian rights to sovereignty and self-determination, including voicing opposition to Israeli government policies, while concurrently acknowledging that another “main obstacle to peace” is the radical annihilationist ideologies at the core of Hamas, Hezbollah and their patron Iran.

I would argue further that Islamism and Arab ultra-nationalism, both of which reject Israel’s existence in any form, are much more responsible for the conflict’s continued non-resolution than Israeli policies.

This brings me to my next point.  The name of your organization includes the word “Jewish” demonstrating your choice to be seen as a group of Jews; not Americans, not as citizens of the world, but specifically as Jews.  In this regard, one of your longstanding complaints is how mainstream American Jewish  institutions exclude JVP from the community table.

This exclusion, I believe, is due to JVP’s apparently having excepted itself from one of the most central maxims in Jewish life for centuries:

כל ישראל ערבין זה בזה (kol yisrael aravin zeh b’zeh).

Its literal meaning of “all Israel (Jewry) is intertwined one with the other” connotes that the destiny of Jews everywhere is one, and hence every Jew is responsible one for the other. Please don’t misread me.  I am not suggesting that Jewish identity can only be expressed tribally.  After all, our same tradition teaches us

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself only, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?

I see and experience Jewish identity as a synthesis of often opposite values — sometimes parochial and sometimes universal.  These values are in competition with each other, creating a tension within the Jewish people that is deeply embedded within our culture and history.  Having said that, though, in my moral calculations at this point in our history the existential fate of some six million Israelis Jews (nearly half of the world’s Jewish population) carries a massive amount of weight.

If one pole within the Jewish people is exaggerated tribalism, then the other pole is an exaggerated universalism where concerns for Jewish self-interest in any form are summarily rejected.  The latter is how I have experienced JVP’s positions, which I believe explains the alliances or partnerships made by JVP.

Here is where I stop.  It is one hour before Shabbat comes in and I must get ready.  In my next blog, I will discuss in greater detail the specifics of your positions and alliances as presented in your response.

Shabbat Shalom. שבת שלום