Sever Jewish-Israel identity
Only then will Israeli policy change
Sunday, September 12, 2004BY HARRY CLARK
The Sabbath vigils conducted at Beth Israel Congregation by Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends have been criticized for treating religious worship as political activity. However, synagogues may also serve as Jewish national as well as religious institutions, because modern Israel is central to Jewish religious belief.
Jewish Theological Seminary President Ismar Schorsch writes in "The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism," "the centrality of modern Israel heads our list of core values... Conservative Jews ... visit Israel (and) support financially every one of its worthy institutions. Israeli accomplishments on the battlefield and in the laboratory, in literature and politics, fill them with pride."
The "Core Values" were echoed by Beth Israel Congregation Rabbi Robert Dobrusin in his sermon last Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish religious holiday. Referring to Jewish "foundational myths," the rabbi stated that "the two most vital places of myth (are) the State of Israel and the synagogue," and that "insuring the survival of the Jewish State is among (our) greatest responsibilities."
He called for "ending the occupation" and creating "a viable Palestinian state" but appeared concerned mainly with "Israel's soul" in responding to "evil acts of suicide bombing" and "protect(ing) the lives of its citizens." The rabbi held that "Israel ... provides a haven" from "threats to our existence," and is a "place of inspiration."
Conservative Judaism is nationalist as well as religious, illustrating the classic conflict between Zionism and Jewish rights as a minority in liberal society. Many Jews, therefore, opposed Zionism until Nazism and the Holocaust. Today, Israel is not a haven for Jews but a dangerous place, because of its occupation since 1967 of the Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and its policies toward the Arab and Muslim world, which cause criticism (and worse) of Jewish supporters worldwide. The criticism must be acknowledged, not the messengers blamed.
Today Palestinians, not Israeli Jews, face an existential threat. Shlomo Ben-Ami, an Israeli negotiator, acknowledged that the 1993 Oslo agreements were founded on a "neo-colonialist assumption of eternal inter-dependence of structured inequality" between Israel and the Palestinians. The possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state has nearly vanished beneath the settlements, roads for Jews only and the "security barrier," which comprise Israel's "matrix of control" over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli leaders consider Israeli civilian casualties from suicide bombings "soldiers who fell in battle," justifying their smashing of the territories to the point of preventing any possibility that a sovereign state will be able to exist, wrote Hebrew University's Ze'ev Sternhell. But the actions of Israeli leaders, authorizing assassinations of militant leaders (that kill innocent bystanders), provoke bombings. The 1994 massacre of 29 Hebron mosque worshipers by settler Baruch Goldstein preceded the first.
Israel's "security barrier" deep inside the West Bank is confiscating fertile land and devastating Palestinian lives. The World Court declared the barrier's route illegal and ordered Israel to dismantle it, but Israel refuses to dismantle it and build on a route in its territory. The Palestinians fear violent expulsion, or "transfer," which is advocated by some Israeli political parties, with polls showing 40-50 percent support.
Rabbi Dobrusin's exhortation to "rally behind (Israel) to insure her survival as a Jewish state" therefore tragically mistakes the oppressors for the victims. Israel will not change until U.S. Jews seriously oppose U.S. support, now about $14 million daily. Jewish identity should be independent of a Jewish state, as New York University historian Tony Judt argues: "The very idea of a 'Jewish state' -a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded - is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism."
The chauvinism of the Conservative "Core Values" dates from Israel's 1967 conquest of Jerusalem's Old City and biblical Judea and Samaria (West Bank), not Israel's 1948 founding. The 1955 book "Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement" barely mentions Israel. Conservative Judaism still considered itself a minority in liberal society, not part of an ineffable Jewish unity.
In 1982 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches declared apartheid a heresy, and expelled the South African Dutch Reformed Church. Such action by Jewish bodies against Israel and its foreign policies would halt Israel's reactionary momentum and reaffirm Jewish identification with the values of liberal society, based on rule of law, separation of church and state, and equality of citizens irrespective of ethnicity and religion. The synagogue vigils respectfully recognize that, as Bard College professor Joel Kovel writes, "the time has come for the Jewish people to resume their striving toward universality."
Harry Clark is a resident of Ann Arbor and a member of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends.