Would that more American Jews concerned for the integrity of Israel harkened to the message of these brave people.
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I know Elul is supposed to be the month of preparation for the spiritual work of the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kipppur), but I feel as if I’ve been preparing for the holidays since January’s Gaza debacle. (Tikkun)knitting is my typical point of departure, and I have another vigil-like project on the needles that gives me time to think and hope – for a more reasoned and just response to perceived danger than aggression and isolation than the temporary protection of the separation wall ….
Avraham Burg’s The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes (2008) has been on my mind, and I’m working my way through some of his other translated essays. This one, in spite of its date, seems particularly pertinent as the holidays approach and I/we begin the process of searching for the truth of our lives and actions.
A Failed Israeli Society is Collapsing
By AVRAHAM BURG
International Herald Tribune – September 6 2003
The end of Zionism?
JERUSALEM – The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly.
There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Nor is this merely an internal Israeli affair. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out If the pillar collapses, the upper floors will come crashing down.
The opposition does not exist, and the coalition, with Arik Sharon at its head, claims the right to remain silent. In a nation of chatterboxes, everyone has suddenly fallen dumb, because there’s nothing left to say. We live in a thunderously failed reality. Yes, we have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed.
It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.
It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway ›hat takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.
This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.
We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.
Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.
We could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below — from the wells of hatred and anger, from the “infrastructures” of injustice and moral corruption.
If all this were inevitable, divinely ordained and immutable, I would be silent. But things could be different, and so crying out is a moral imperative.
Here is what the prime minister should say to the people:The time for illusions is over. The time for decisions has arrived. We love the entire land of our forefathers and in some other time we would have wanted to live here alone. But that will not happen. The Arabs, too, have dreams and needs.
Between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there is no longer a clear Jewish majority. And so, fellow citizens, it is not possible to keep the whole thing without paying a price. We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world’s only Jewish state — not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish.
Do you want the greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let’s institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages. Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin.
Do you want a Jewish majority? No problem. Either put the Arabs on railway cars, buses, camels and donkeys and expel them en masse — or separate ourselves from them absolutely, without tricks and gimmicks. There is no middle path. We must remove all the settlements — all of them — and draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home. The Jewish Law of Return will apply only within our national home, and their right of return will apply only within the borders of the Palestinian state.
Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.
That’s what the prime minister should say to the people. He should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racialism or democracy. Settlements or hope for both peoples. False visions of barbed wire, roadblocks and suicide bombers, or a recognized international border between two states and a shared capital in Jerusalem.
But there is no prime minister in Jerusalem. The disease eating away at the body of Zionism has already attacked the head. David Ben-Gurion sometimes erred, but he remained straight as an arrow. When Menachem Begin was wrong, nobody impugned his motives. No longer. Polls published last weekend showed that a majority of Israelis do not believe in the personal integrity of the prime minister — yet they trust his political leadership. In other words, Israel’s current prime minister personally embodies both halves of the curse: suspect personal morals and open disregard for the law — combined with the brutality of occupation and the trampling of any chance for peace. This is our nation, these its leaders. The inescapable conclusion is that the Zionist revolution is dead.
Why, then, is the opposition so quiet? Perhaps because it’s summer, or because they are tired, or because some would like to join the government at any price, even the price of participating in the sickness. But while they dither, the forces of good lose hope.
This is the time for clear alternatives. Anyone who declines to present a clear-cut position — black or white — is in effect collaborating in the decline. It is not a matter of Labor versus Likud or right versus left, but of right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. The law-abiding versus the lawbreakers. What’s needed is not a political replacement for the Sharon government but a vision of hope, an alternative to the destruction of Zionism and its values by the deaf, dumb and callous.
Israel’s friends abroad — Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people — should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality.
The writer was speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, from 1999 to 2003 and is currently a Labor Party member of the Knesset. This comment, which first appeared in English in The Forward (New York), was adapted by the writer from an article that appeared in Yediot Ahronot and was translated by J.J. Goldberg.
What truth will American Jews have to tell ourselves? What truth will impel us to speak out, to act, even to act out? It might be possible to find some answers, or colleagues with whom to seek answers to these questions, at the upcoming JStreet conference in Washingtonm D.C.: Driving Change, Securing Peace 2009. Plenty of information is available here. While JStreet may not be a perfect response to the vagaries of the Jewish Right (see Amitai Etzioni’s reasonable views on potential limits of JStreet), it’s one way for liberal and progressive American Jews to try to make their voices heard over the din from AIPAC, the ZOA, and the rest of the Israel Lobby. At least I’m going to find out if it’s possible.
It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s that I often am uncomfortable saying it, because I’m so committed to distinguishing between Diaspora Jewish identity and obligations, and Israeli Jewish identity and obligations.
And I suppose it’s also because – as an outsider, a Diaspora Jew – I really think Israeli Jews have the right to say it, and usually say it better. At least I’m persuaded. Again, by Jerry Haber, the Magnes Zionist, just as he’s done is this post this week:
Posted: 30 Jun 2009 05:40 AM PDT
The key, as is well-known, is a powerful symbol of the Palestinian resistance, and of the Palestinians’ claim that they have a right to return to the land and homes. That key is the house-key that Palestinians took with then into exile and that some of them have kept as a zekher le-hurban, a memorial of the Nakbah. As long as the key is cherished, as long as the memory is left alive, there is hope.
Last week, former Chief Justice spoke of another key, a key to which he has referred in the past as a “golden key”. In explaining how the State of Israel can remain both Jewish and Democratic – albeit, with difficulty, and in constant tension – he described the as a “special key to enter this state.” Only Jews have the key, but once they have entered, there is, or should be, complete equality between citizens, Jews and Arabs. (I haven’t yet seen the speech in English. In Hebrew it is here.)
Two keys, then – Ahmad’s key, which opens a house that probably no longer exists; Aharon’s key, which opens a state that exists, and that provides access to, among other things, Ahmad’s house.
That Aharon’s key impairs Ahmad’s claims is obvious; there is no need to argue that here. But what I wish to show is that the golden key of the Law of Return seriously impairs, and arguably destroys the claim of equality among Israeli citizens that is supposed to be the backbone of Israeli democracy.
Before I explain myself, I will assume as proven the following assumption: That the Israeli Law of Return (together with the Citizenship Law) has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Don’t bother to look for any other country that has the same policies as ; there isn’t any. If you think otherwise, leave responses here. For starters, no other Western nation state considers people belonging to its religio-ethnic group around the world, as already citizens, or potential citizens, simply lacking a formal bureaucratic act. And, to my knowledge, no other Western state lacks a formal route for naturalization for non-citizens or potential citizens In Israel, non-Jews (with the exception of spouses and certain degrees of relatives), can become citizens only on an individual basis. Only a handful – a handful out of thousands – have done so.
To see how the Law of Return inherently discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (a.k.a., Israeli Arabs), consider the following story.
There is a club with eight members, and the club orders a pizza for dinner. At the last minute, four more non-club members show up. They are admitted to the club and given an equal share of the pizza. Now, the original eight are going to get less. This in itself is not unfair, provided that the eight people, or a majority thereof, vote to allow the others in.
But suppose that of the eight people, six are white, and two are black. Suppose also, that the law prohibits, in effect, blacks from entering, and permits, nay, encourages, as many whites as possible to enter. In that case, the blacks as a group are greatly disadvantaged, not only because they have a smaller overall share in the pizza than the whites, but because they will have less say in all subsequent decisions of the club.
Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, Israel admitted well over a million former Soviet Union immigrants as citizens (not all of them Jews, but all of them non-Arabs.) That means that during the last thirty years, the number of non-Arabs in the population increased significantly. Had there been no F. S. U. aliyah, the percentage of Arabs in the population would have been around 29% today. Because of the aliyah, it is around 19%, and it has been so since 1948. So aliyah directly disadvantaged Israeli Arabs because their share of the pie (better, of the crumbs), and their political clout shrank.
In fact, since their political clout was lessened, so, too, their ability to increase their share of the pie in the future, at least, theoretically.
Now, some will argue that Israel is a Jewish state, and as such, its Arab minority will inevitably not be equal to the non-Arab majority. Fair enough.
But Aharon Barak claims that Israel can have both the Law of Return AND equality among its citizens, a Jewish and a Democratic state.
This is a myth, and the sooner it is laid to rest, the better. The Law of Return inherently discriminates against a group of people – who happen to be citizens and natives — on the basis of ethnicity alone.
Say it out loud, and say it often.
What would we American Jews do without his constant example of intellectual integrity and ethical clarity?
It’s been a while since I’ve had enough clarity of thought to “think aloud” here regarding Israel. Preparations for Passover, and especially the effort to sort out an effective “reform” of my family’s Haggadah, stalled me somewhat. My inclusion of alternative passages suggested separately by Rabbis Arthur Waskow (Shalom Center) and Michael Lerner (Tikkun Magazine) prompted some very interesting conversations at table, but left me looking for something different.
It wasn’t long before I crossed paths with Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, published in response to Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza. My encounter with Churchill’ remarkable piece has given me much to work with, and numerous projects are now underway, in various stages of research and progress, and which will find their way here eventually. They have occupied me nearly entirely, with news of Israel’s internal difficulties and elections the backdrop for work.
It’s often difficult to know how, as a Reform Jew, a Diaspora Jew, to respond to Israel’s internal affairs. Obtaining reliable information and sound opinions is usually my first and principal response, and for these I always begin with the Magnes Zionist. Lately Shamai Leibowitz’s blog, Pursuing Justice has also inspired me – a human rights lawyer, Leibowitz’s most recent efforts to publicize the case of Ezra Nawi, jailed Iraqi Jewish human rights activist under prosecution for his opposition to the demolition of Palestinian homes.
So I’ve been stewing, and wondering what to say (again). And then I stumbled on the work of limbo (blog and on flickr). I think he’s from Tel Aviv. I wish I knew more. I’m speechless in the face of his work on the separation wall.
This Rains Smells of Memory:
in continuation of this storyline, or any storyline for that matter, we turn to become vulnerable to the times. these are the anytimes. the end of the world comes and goes, it seems, on a regular basis.
that said, this chapter, or episode functions as the embodiment of the signs of things to come- a telegram or bottle rocket from elsewhere, that in clumsy dialect is telling us that we must overcome.
the times are happening in real time.
the naturally inevitable dynamics of every fear, hope or premonition we could ever have.
and as we feel the times rising upwards like a flood, were standing here knee-deep with our fingers crossed while we hope-fully plea, “we’ll be after everything someday”.
this rain smells of memory. memories creating themselves in real time.
and so its written in the usual but eerily accurate headlines, its written all over our weary faces.
tattooed on our eyelids so when we sleep we are speaking dreams of elsewhere, and subtly and secretly confessing our desperate love for our busted surroundings, and anything or anyone inhabiting them;
and so in that same clumsy, but very eager dialect, we speak a born-again stutter, “the times wont save you, your embracing of them will.”
this exhibition holds nothing but a reflection of where we are now, and offers us nothing but the suggestion of adaptation and (re)adjustment to the current tides.
this is a binding burden, and we’re all in this together.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: a minor proof of human existence on a wall bearing so much of it
This is for the Heavy Hearts Knee-Deep in Worries: “haven been overcome by toungue-tied times, minor orchestras mend together the tune and in a clumsy accent play: ‘please believe'”)
I believe. I hope.
Lest it be thought I have no sense of humor … this is how it feels this year, having endeavored to “clean house” and identify both exterior and interior chametz .. And in anticipation of 18 guests for two seders: baked 8 lbs of brisket, 6 dozen macaroons, prepared pints of mushroom paté, a quart of freshly grated horseradish, and poached 2 dozen pieces of gefilte fish. And polished all the silver.
from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup upon its branching stem-
save that it’s green and wooden-
I come, my sweet, to sing to you.
We lived long together a life filled,
if you will, with flowers. So that
I was cheered when I came first to know
that there were flowers also in hell.
Today I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers
that we both loved, even to this poor colorless thing-
I saw it when I was a child-
little prized among the living but the dead see,
asking among themselves:
What do I remember that was shaped
as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill with tears.
Of love, abiding love it will be telling
though too weak a wash of crimson
colors it to make it wholly credible.
There is something
something urgent I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
And so with fear in my heart
I drag it out and keep on talking
for I dare not stop.
Listen while I talk on against time.
It will not be for long.
I have forgot and yet I see clearly enough
something central to the sky which ranges round it.
An odor springs from it!
A sweetest odor!
Honeysuckle! And now there comes the buzzing of a bee!
and a whole flood of sister memories!
Only give me time,
time to recall them before I shall speak out.
Give me time, time.
When I was a boy I kept a book to which,
from time to time,
I added pressed flowers until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
The asphodel, forebodingly, among them.
I bring you, reawakened, a memory of those flowers.
They were sweet when I pressed them
and retained something of their sweetness
a long time.
It is a curious odor, a moral odor,
that brings me near to you.
The color was the first to go.
There had come to me a challenge,
your dear self, mortal as I was,
the lily’s throat to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth, I thought, held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics in an apple blossom.
The generous earth itself gave us lief.
The whole world became my garden!
But the sea which no one tends
is also a garden when the sun strikes it
and the waves are wakened.
I have seen it and so have you
when it puts all flowers to shame.
Too, there are the starfish stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack and weeds.
We knew that along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
knew its rose hedges to the very water’s brink.
There the pink mallow grows
and in their season strawberries
and there, later, we went to gather the wild plum.
I cannot say that I have gone to hell for your love
but often found myself there in your pursuit.
I do not like it and wanted to be in heaven.
Hear me out. Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life from books
and out of them about love.
Death is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained, I think, in its service.
Its guerdon is a fairy flower; a cat of twenty lives.
If no one came to try it the world would be the loser.
It has been for you and me
as one who watches a storm come in over the water.
We have stood from year to year
before the spectacle of our lives with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
Lightning plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north is placid, blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up. It is a flower
that will soon reach the apex of its bloom.
We danced, in our minds, and read a book together.
You remember? It was a serious book.
And so books entered our lives.
The sea! The sea!
Always when I think of the sea
there comes to mind the Iliad
and Helen’s public fault that bred it.
Were it not for that there would have been no poem
but the world if we had remembered,
those crimson petals spilled among the stones,
would have called it simply murder.
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
sending so many disinterested men to their graves
has left its memory to a race of fools or heroes
if silence is a virtue.
The sea alone with its multiplicity holds any hope.
The storm has proven abortive
but we remain after the thoughts it roused
to re-cement our lives.
It is the mind
the mind that must be cured short of death’s intervention,
and the will becomes again a garden.
The poem is complex
and the place made in our lives for the poem.
Silence can be complex too,
but you do not get far with silence.
It is like Homer’s catalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.
I speak in figures, well enough,
the dresses you wear are figures also,
we could not meet otherwise.
When I speak of flowers it is to recall
that at one time we were young.
All women are not Helen, I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
My sweet, you have it also, therefore I love you
and could not love you otherwise.
Imagine you saw a field made up of women all silver-white.
What should you do but love them?
The storm bursts or fades!
it is not the end of the world.
Love is something else, or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
though I knew you as a woman and never thought otherwise, until the whole sea has been taken up and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else,
a grateful love, a love of nature, of people, of animals,
a love engendering gentleness and goodness
that moved me and that I saw in you.
I should have known, though I did not,
that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many ill who whiff it.
We had our children, rivals in the general onslaught.
I put them aside though I cared for them.
as well as any man could care for his children
according to my lights.
You understand I had to meet you after the event
and have still to meet you.
Love to which you too shall bow along with me-
a flower a weakest flower shall be our trust and not because we are too feeble to do otherwise
but because at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
therefore to prove that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
that I could not cry to you in the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet, to sing to you!
My heart rouses thinking to bring you news
of something that concerns you and concerns many men.
Look at what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in despised poems.
It is difficult to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack of what is found there.
Hear me out for I too am concerned
and every man
who wants to die
at peace in his bed
William Carlos Williams
If you haven’t seen Bob Simon’s recent 60 Minutes report on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the ways in which settlers intend to prevent a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s time to do so.
The complete report in a single video is available on CBS’ site, or in two parts below:
Then scoot over to JStreet and join other rational progressive Jews in sending a message of support to Bob Simon for his accurate, thorough, thoughtful and fair coverage of this critical issue. Now. And point others to the report. It’s about time we advocate the un-settling truth of the West Bank settlements and the dangers they pose to a just and sustainable peace.