Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Upheaval in Israel: "What can I Do for Israel Right Now?"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Today (Wednesday 10/21/15), automobile attacks continued in the West Bank. Six IDF soldiers were wounded.  At least one rocket was launched from Gaza. What can I do for Israel right now, asks a Chabad video in my Facebook feed? [See video here: What Can We Do for Israel Right Now?] "Our physical security is tied to our spiritual security," said Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. I think that's right. Chabad is correct that we should get our moral house in order, but they are drawing the wrong conclusions as to what that requires.

The United States has been trying to implement a two state solution in Israel/Palestine for 30 years without success. The parameters of what this looks like were negotiated in the Oslo peace process and they have been clear since before 2000: See this discussion by Ron Pundak and Afif Safieh discussing the history of Oslo in 2010.  There has been insufficient leadership on the Palestinian side, but Israel has been the main reason successive U.S. administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama) have failed to implement the Oslo parameters. If it is to be done, the U.S. and the world must lean a lot harder on Israel to get them to give up the idea of settlement and dominion over all the land. The challenge is a lot harder today than it was in 2000. Rabin's assassination in 1995 did not help.

Rather than tightening the occupation, Israel needs to work hard to end the occupation; rather than extending settlements, Israel needs to move to turn settlements over to the Palestinians; rather than doubling down on security and military rule over 4.5 million people, Israel must work to find a way to extend civil rule, justice, and economic opportunity to Palestinians.

What can we do to help Israel do the right thing? What can we do beyond being pious and have God protect Israel through our righteousness, as Chabad suggests?

A starting point is to realize that Chabad is not framing the issue correctly: it's not 6 million Jews in Israel that need protection. It is 12 million people in Israel/Palestine that need security, peace, justice, and equal opportunities.

"We" as the U.S. can work with the international community to lean on both sides--and provide assistance. We as the American Jewish community, can enable our government to do what needs to be done.  The American Jewish community is broad: as defined by the Israeli Law of Return it includes not only those born of a Jewish mother and converts to Judaism, but also the "child and grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew." This broader Jewish community, by virtue of its unfettered right to immigrate to Israel, bears some responsibility for what Israel is and does in its name.

If we want our government (the U.S.) to lean on Israel to make concessions--to end the occupation and abandon its dominion over all of the land--we must radically alter the character of AIPAC as it is constituted today. We (the expansive Jewish community as recognized by the Israeli Law of Return) must jettison Adelson, Saiban, the birthright program, and our "feelings that we have an ownership stake in Israel."

We (the expansive Jewish community as recognized by the Israeli Law of Return) have to get clear about the kind of Israel we want to exist: not an ethnocracy that will occupy and deny civil rights, and equal protection of the laws to 50% of the people...but a democracy with equal rights, dignity, and opportunity for all. [Note: I don't think this necessarily means a one state solution; but it does mean prioritizing a commitment to equal rights and promoting opportunity for all. I have no preconceptions about what specific political arrangements are necessary to accommodate the value of fair treatment and equal opportunity, but any political arrangement must be measured in light of the values of providing fair treatment and equal opportunity to all] We want a shining light unto the nations, not another Syria.

We (the expansive Jewish community as recognized by the Israeli Law of Return) have to make up our  individual minds that discriminating against Palestinians, segregating them, subjecting them to military rule, denying them justice and equal opportunity, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, appropriating their water, shooting them as a crowd control measure ("treating Palestinians like shit" for short) is not what we want Israel to do in our name. I don't think a majority of the American Jewish community has done this soul-searching; I think too many of us are comfortable with the idea of having Israel continue to treat Palestinians like shit forever.

And if we (the expansive Jewish community as recognized by the Israeli Law of Return) can come around to a consensus that we don't want Israelis "treating Palestinians like shit," then we have to think about the implications. We have to ask ourselves, what needs to happen to create a state where Israel doesn't treat Palestinians as second class citizens; what needs to happen for Israel to work towards providing equal rights for all; what needs to happen for Israel not to treat 50% of the population like shit?

I think one of the implications is that the Israeli Law of Return must be modified.  A law that gives an absolute right of citizenship to me, the spouse of a Jew born and raised in the United States, and denies it to the West Bank spouse of a Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Jerusalem is not consistent with the principle of fair and equal treatment of all citizens of Israel. I think an implication is that the right of Jews in the diaspora to immigrate to Israel must be limited to refugees (as in a need to get away from serious persecution).  Fair and equal treatment can not coexist with a discriminatory Law of Return for any Jew living in the U.S. and Western Europe at this point in time. Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be squared with approximately 8 million Jews in the U.S. (expansive definition commensurate with Law of Return) claiming an "ownership stake" in Israel, while such an "ownership stake" is being denied to the Palestinian diaspora--and to the West Bank spouse of an Israeli citizen.

I think one of the implications of "not treating Palestinians like shit" is the occupation has to end. It can end by giving everyone the vote and equal protection under the law; or it can end by pulling out of the West Bank and working on some kind of workable confederation within the small place that is Israel/Palestine; or bringing about a workable two state solution. We don't know what that path looks like, but we do know what treating Palestinians fairly looks like, what providing equal protection under the law, and providing due process to everyone looks like. It's something we can contemplate every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

We can get clarity in our own minds that we are committed to equal and fair treatment of Palestinians. If we can get clear on that, little things will fall into place. What are little things? Little things like picking up garbage in East Jerusalem on the same schedule as West Jerusalem. Little things like maintaining the Muslim cemetery across from the Ritz Carleton in Jerusalem. Little things like not preventing Palestinian citizens from purchasing property in Jewish towns. Little things like investing in the education of Palestinian citizens at the same rate as Jewish citizens. Little things, like finding ways to integrate the populations rather than to segregate the populations.

Without change that gradually leads to more integration, better infrastructure for Palestinians, better education, better access to employment, a fair sharing of water resources, there will be a perpetual low grade civil war, with a chance for genocide--probably of the Palestinians. It is incumbent on each one of us (the expanded Jewish community as defined by the Israeli Law of Return) to act in such a way that, if Israel continues to slide to the right and towards civil war, our fingerprints aren't on it when it happens.

Chabad's solution is for us (the Jewish community narrowly defined) to rigorously embrace Jewish practice, to say the Shema every morning and night, keep kosher, properly affix a mezuzah, wear tefillin, be pious. The video is full of imagery depicting Jews as traditional victims of a pogrom--with the strong and proud and beleaguered soldiers of the IDF doing what they can, and everyone else doing their pious righteous part. That way... God will protect us 'til the Meshiach comes. It's a nationalist religious vision.  It does not encompass the Palestinians.

I could not disagree more with this messanic vision fused with victimology and jingoistic militarism... yet, by focusing on individual practice and piety, I think Chabad is on the right track. It's not so different from what I am suggesting: do your moral accounting and act accordingly. We just have a very different vision, Chabad and I. Chabad's vision is based on God and end times and is Jew centric; my vision is based on the Enlightenment and justice for all. Fundamentally, we agree on the question "What can I do for Israel right now?" It's get our moral house in order.

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