Friday, September 05, 2014

Liberal Zionism Just Needs Some CPR

I strongly recommend commenting on this one! Disagree with me! Let's start a really awesome discourse about Israel.

A response to Anthony Lerman's "The End of Liberal Zionism" August 22, 2014 The New York Times

            In the words of Anthony Lerman, “The romanticist Zionist ideal, to which liberals…subscribed many decades, has been tarnished by the reality of modern Israel.” Wherever Lerman crafted that sentence, I wonder if he knew that a counselor returning from a liberal Zionist summer camp with over 100 children would read his article on Sunday morning. Spotting the token Israel article in the Sunday Times, I was surprised to learn that my ideals, according to him, were dead. Although Lerman eloquently explained his opinion in the August 22 edition of The New York Times, liberal Zionism survives post-Rabin. Considering that Diaspora Jews no longer cling to the literal philosophy of Theodore Herzl and criticize present close-mindedness, we must revise (in a manner different from Jabotinsky) what it means to think and act like a Zionist in the twenty-first century.
            In spite of Lerman’s best efforts, he overestimated the degree to which liberal Zionists are on “the brink.” Foremost, he equivocates criticism of Israel and that of Israeli policy. As much as a beet-red, Obama-scoffing Republican simultaneously detests their president and lauds American democracy, the liberal Zionist squirms in discomfort as Netanyahu and his cohorts escalate a Gaza mission while feeling ownership over the Sea of Galilee and its cathartic charm. Hating Israel’s post-Begin, individualistic, hawkish political culture by no means perpetuates anti-Semitism. The truly “self-hating Jew” allows one’s brethren to set aside Jewish values in the face of security or sometimes hysteria. In bringing this article to some of my colleagues, they quickly attacked Lerman for his standard definition of Israel as a “Jewish state”. Judaism distinguishes itself from other religions as both a system of prayer and a rich culture with food, languages, and customs, which by no means are universal. Sure, to some of the world, Judaism means long sideburns, tefilin, Kosher dining, and the whole lot, but for others, Judaism extends well beyond halacha (Jewish law). The identity and pride remains, as do many of the shared values- family, education, diligence, and tradition. Therefore, as long as shootings happen at Jewish centers in Kansas or rioters shout “Juif, la France n'est pas à toi!” (Jews, France is not for you!) in the streets of Paris, a sovereignty that opens its doors to Jews of all backgrounds deserves to exist. Lerman claims that perpetuating the Jewish state, “implies policies of exclusion and discrimination”, but the reconciliation of religion, culture, and democracy is what makes being a liberal Zionist so exhilarating. In this sense, the left truly controls the future of Zionism, fostering an empowered, dignified nation for the years to come. Straying from criticism’s frequently negative connotation, the alternatives, joining the hawks or remaining apathetic, only fuel the current occupation and conflict. To conclude his argument, Lerman regards the two-state solution as forgone. Since Netanyahu declined the notion of a just partition between two people engaged in peaceful dialogue and commerce, the whole world might as well abandon their convictions too. Refusing to challenge such disregard for Palestinians’ right to a homeland as much as much as the oppressed Jews’ from Hungary to Argentina right defies basic Jewish principles. From an early age, we are raised to believe in a higher purpose in this world, that we are among a privileged people to repair the world of its evils. Lerman notes that liberal Zionists, “ should know that Israel is not Judaism”, but only Jews who engage with such Zionism can be the ones who bring justice to the Holy Land.
            This summer, with the nearly 2,000 Palestinians killed in the name of Israeli defense, pushed many Zionists to the supposed brink. With all eyes on Israel, we often find ourselves caught in the corner. Do we criticize our homeland while the whole world awaits us to be adversaries? Benyamin Netanyahu, in my opinion, holds the majority of responsibility for this aggression. Only Netanyahu announced settlement construction as Kerry departed from the January round of peace talks, and only Netanyahu ignored Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, when he proposed steps toward a unified Palestinian government, as the Israelis desired. While the United States allows Israel to appease by means of pseudo-shuttle diplomacy, the Israeli right continues to obliterate the progress of the last sixty years. The true fate of Israelis, whether they dream of flying doves or rockets, lies in the hands of solely Israelis. As much as the diaspora supports Israel’s steps toward democracy, only citizens of Haifa, Hertzliya, and Halon decide who occupies the coveted Knesset seats. The most the world can do is persuade an Israeli to vote in their favor, or as I would regard it, tackle a bear.
            Admittedly, the task of a liberal Zionist requires courage and perseverance. For the majority outside the state of Israel, the ways in which we influence Israeli policy seem limited. On the contrary, Lerman’s prognosis of death only indicates that we are not trying enough. To start, we educate the future generations and hope to pass along a zeal for justice in the way they (and not we) see fit. From distinguishing the Palestinian Authority between Hamas to simulating the headaches of Israel’s coalition system to reminding them of how Israel arose in the wake of genocide, we establish a defense system mightier than any iron dome. When the future turns against us, the battle is already lost. If we provide the tools for youth to synthesize their own opinions about Israel’s past, present, and future, we allow for the world to grow and not stifle in clutches of stereotypes and bigotry. The most daunting task for me, however, is this weird role we play as PR rep for the Israeli government. The key to talking to Jews and non-Jews alike is to criticize Israel while explaining that from this disapproval comes love and hope to repair the Holy Land, the region, and the world. As much as I disdain the settlements over the green line and the xenophobia run amuck in the current political climate, I work with Israel out of care for friends affected by the conflict and Jews all over the world who suffer from persecution. When Israel strikes with a punch too heavy, we must be on the frontlines, calling attention to the difference between a secure nation and an Orwellian one. To the disappointment of much of my readership, I must say that posting “Peace Now” or that interesting CNN article is not true advocacy for the state of Israel. In 2012, I lobbied then Representative Edward Markey to urge State Department officials and Foreign Policy Committee members to engage in diplomacy in place of funding unchecked militarism. Joining a campaign or leading a community project establishes the bridge connecting Tel Aviv and Tallahassee. Finally, to be a Zionist is to understand Zion itself. Though a photograph is worth a thousand words and a conversation with an Israeli ten thousand words, a visit to the Holy Land and conversations with dozens of Israelis opens the mind and allows for the mutual steps necessary for peace.
            Although Anthony Lerman largely neglects the zeal for justice and peace of most liberal Zionists, he finishes his opinion piece with an interesting point. As much as JStreet, Hashomer Hatzair, and the Union for Reform Judaism engage with Israel in meaningful ways, the Palestinian voice is only a whisper in the current conversation. Liberal Zionists must not only reach for the hands of Israelis but also the many Palestinians who dislike the political climate. So yes, Lerman, we may be approaching the brink, but hand in hand, we can bridge the gap.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Comments on THIS Year in Jerusalem

            When I put together this evening’s seder, I tried to experiment a little with the repetitive tale of Moses, the Red Sea, and Pharaoh. Throughout the night, I placed anecdotal poems that exemplify the Passover themes of freedom and redemption. These poems, however, share a common author with a unique heritage. Mahmoud Darwish, who many consider to be Palestine’s national poet, wrote “Come From There”, “On Man”, and “The Dice Player”, but Darwish’s words, which speak to the plight of Moses, Miriam and Aaron in ancient Egypt, actually reflect the current-day struggle between the Palestinians and their Israelis occupiers. Interestingly enough, I expected to find plenty of poetry like that of Darwish, involving individual rights and the character of a nation. When I initially searched for Palestinian poetry about freedom though, I found much of it disappointedly militant. Darwish was one of few poets whose attitude toward Israel was not a frontal attack on the Jewish state. When asked about it, he said “I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews”, and for my purposes, that level of tolerance sufficed. Searching so extensively as to research former head of the Israeli state, Yassir Arafat, I found that even he, the man who worked with Bill Clinton and Yitzack Rabin in the Middle East’s most profound steps toward peace and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke distastefully about the Jewish state. Very distraught, I found my seder in ruins, with so few poems that spoke about peace between these two blessed nations who desire the same piece of land that is the size to New Jersey.
            The Internet is by no means the definitive voice of the Palestinian people. To characterize an entire nation based on a few hurtful quotations would be shameful and unjust.  In fact, a visit to the Human Rights Campaign’s page on the Israeli Occupation paints the same cruel picture, maybe even worse when those words reflect action and the ransacking of homes, the deaths of innocent civilians. The reality I endured in my grand experiment was that neither side in this conflict was completely justified. No one in this story of exile or self-determination was Pharaoh, and no one was Moses. Palestinians have used force against the Israelis, and the Israelis have taken advantage of their better public image and relations with the West to maintain an unfair occupation of a separate sovereign state. Ironically, both groups are so entrenched in their own beliefs that they fail to comprehend that they vie for the same result. Darwish’s words represent the larger goal of these two peoples juxtaposed in a tight-knit but volatile neighborhood, the right of religious and national expression, the blessing of freedom.
            With this dynamic in mind, a two-state solution, regardless of the minute details, makes the most realistic sense within the context of the conflict itself. Separating these nations would finally bring an end to the Jim Crow system by which Israel has paternalistically ruled Palestine for sixty-six years. Meanwhile, the Jews would retain their safe haven while maintaining a majority that allows for self-rule. Additionally, when a friend and I discussed Israel’s right to exist, he quickly dismissed the question. Brilliantly, he told me that Israel has a right to exist because it does exist. Whether one agrees with its reasoning for being a country or not, the institutions and generations of people who have lived and prospered there since 1948 are not merely a cluster of religious pilgrims anymore; it means something to be an Israeli. Destroying Israel is akin to dissolving France, Japan, or Australia. One could remove its flag and parliament, but the people and nation would remain in tact. Still, this argument pertains to the West Bank and Gaza. Palestine maintains the right to exist because it did at one time. Before the war in 1948, Palestine lived under the British mandate. Creating two states would lead to two autonomous governments, both of which, logistically rather than ideologically have a right to exist. With a two state solution, all peoples, Israeli and Palestinian would rule their respective nations, and once more the people of the Middle East could unite to altogether enjoy a nice smorgasbord of hummus and pita.
            On the contrary, like Moses, this story of mutual freedom is flawed. Within the context of the conflict, a two-state solution appears to be most efficacious way to please the majority on each side. Except there is a wall. Essentially, Israeli and Palestinians have agreed, with the whole world watching, that the only way to solve a 21st century conflict is to erect a 14th century-style wall. For all the solution’s great intentions, it also means that the only way that the world has decided these peoples can coexist is by not doing exactly that. We have concluded that the sole way to make peace between these people, apparently so narrow-minded and opposite of one another, is to divide them.  Darwish’s words, though, and the story of Passover do not prove this assumption to be true. I find the same hope buried within “I learnt all the words and broke them up/To make a single word: Homeland” as I see within “May all the Jewish people reunite in freedom next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.” To settle this peace process through such brutal separation and to leave it with such a legacy of hate renders it incomplete. Children will grow into old age without ever knowing someone from the “other” side. Perhaps, most startlingly these children’s entire perception of the “other” will be based on stereotypes, and although these nations could live in peace, the overarching goal of tolerance would dissipate. The two-state solution, for all of its perks, fails to function on its own as a comprehensive foundation for peace in the 21st century.

            So what is an American Jew supposed to do? K’vell about it all? Returning back to the Passover story, it is important to notice the grand Israeli irony. As we sit around the seder table, here and in Israel, we continue to stand by as we suppress another people. If anyone should empathize with the plight of the Palestinians, it should be the people who were once slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt. We need to acknowledge that neither side in this conflict is perfect. As flawed as the two-state solution may be, within the context of the issue itself, it is the most viable, temporary solution. Seeing its flaws, however, can lead to improvements in its implementation. To first achieve, the two-state solution would be a victory for the coalition for peace, but then, that same group must acknowledge the imperfections in this plan. We must educate each side, and treat them as the “equal” not the “other”, and we must advocate not for strict social and political integration but cultural tolerance. In the spirit of the Passover story, in the spirit of God, and for the goodness of humanity, both the Palestinians and the Israelis deserve autonomy and the freedom to rule a sovereign, democratic state, but by separating them, peace is as hidden to us as the afikoman to the seder children.

Links to Darwish's Poems:
"I Come From There" -
"On Man"-
"Dice Player"-

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Jewish Feminist....Me?

About half the Jewish population and half of the 7 billion humans on this planet are females. This week, the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and although Rev. King fought for the rights of a different portion of Americans, women all over the world still face a schism between the equality they posses and that which they deserve. Recently, Israel passed a controversial abortion law, requiring the government to pay for such procedures. Buzz Feed contributor Kate Nocera noted the paradox between Republicans’ non-negotiable support for the Jewish state and the party’s platform on abortions. Throughout the US, Jewish and non-Jewish women experience varying circumstances when they desire certain kinds of medical attention as well as a troublesome professional disadvantage. Jon Stewart recently joked about Mary T. Barra, new General Motors chief executive officer, being referred to as the company’s “car gal” by her coworkers. Stewart suggested she tell her fellow board members to simply address her as “CEO”.  Of all the medical and physical struggles for women, media bombards women with ideal values and images on a daily basis. This issue pervades the walls of every synagogue, every Hillel, and every Jewish and non-Jewish household in the country and around the world. 
            Judaism, however, offers insight and opportunity to women that some other faiths lack. People often criticize religion as an obstacle for women’s rights, but Judaism can be extraordinarily progressive when interpreted properly.  The Torah, of all places, recounts a continual recognition of women as participatory members in society society. The stories of the Bible feature Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet they also retell the significant lives of Miriam, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Although one could view the Bible as a primary source of Judaism-some Jews still require women to light Shabbos candles to compensate Eve’s turning against God in Eden, the women of the Bible perform equally magnificent tasks to their male counterparts. As Moses guides the people out of Egypt, Miriam sings praise to God, embodying the spirit of a nation. Sometimes, the women of the Bible act more righteous than the men. While Isaac’s stories feature subterfuge against his father to gain Esau’s inheritance, Rebecca welcomes Isaac into her home in a key Jewish moment about hospitality. The Jewish tradition is not anti-woman when read with a careful, if not occasionally squinting, eye. Some Reform Jews might call this talent, “crafty interpretation” but others simply designate it as adaptation of the ancient text for the 21st century. Feminism and Judaism do not necessarily antagonize each other, but just as with women and men, coexistence between the two ideologies requires a collective effort and widespread open-mindedness.
As with all other aspects of Judaism, the right-wing Orthodox, the middle-grounded Conservative, and the liberal Reform Movements do not agree on the issues facing Jewish women around the world. From a progressive standpoint, the Reform movement believes in the complete equality and freedom of women, but Reform Jews believe in an open discourse between the sects of Judaism. This conservation only exceeds its bounds as it obstructs a Reform woman’s capability to worship as she pleases. The Western Wall, for instance, is divided by gender in an area ratio of about 4 square units for men to 1 for women. Rather than attack Israel’s predominantly right-wing government, progressive advocates hope to partition the wall into even thirds with each of the following designations: men only, women only, and mixed. Seeking coexistence, the Jews of left wish not to demonize or disrespect the right. Furthermore, a politician is not irredeemable for being pro-life, but when he or she uses that political power to close clinics and to inhibit another’s capability to complete this procedure, he or she crosses the boundary between personal value and invasive policy. Conversely, the new Israeli law enables those seeking an abortion without forcing anyone to visit the clinic. Equality is reached when all belief systems are aloud to execute their respect values while not intruding on one another. The chances of convincing one another to switch sides are slim, but the opportunity to peacefully agree to disagree is ever present. From one Torah stems varying value systems, but these separated moralities can not split the cultural roots that connect the Jewish people.
            With abortion, the media, the professional world, birth control, and equal rights at the Western Wall, the role of feminism in our lives often becomes overwhelming or indiscernible.  I work with the following definition: feminism is the belief in the equality of women, be it social, political, economic, or cultural. On the contrary, I view the modern context of feminism to occasionally exceed its bounds. The above definition should neither morph into a demonization of men nor make anyone feel as though he or she walks on path of eggshells toward political correctness. I detest the women who call me misunderstanding for writing this blog because of the gender I possess. Like racism, bigotry, or anti-Semitism for that matter, a difference exists between advocacy and nuisance. Antagonizing supporters, like myself, or embattling the other side makes a feminist weak and equally obtrusive as his or her political enemies. I view myself as a feminist, for I uphold the equality among human beings and believe in its guarantee and the promise of freedom regardless of any circumstances. I also see myself as a Jew who is proud to be part of a religion that has the full potential to welcome women and provide an egalitarian spiritual experience.

            Perhaps my blog covered too much subject matter in too few words because I so rarely engage in women’s issues. Maybe, I should have spent a week on the women on the wall, another on abortion around the globe, another on the effect of Lucille Ball and Miley Cyrus (a reality facing woman not even mentioned), and another on how any number of blogs could not cover the complexity of this issue. All I know is tonight was a start, and it began by putting on shoes and crushing those eggshells.