The Two State Illusion, Racism in Israel, and Jewish Hubris

On October 16 The Christian Century published my review of Rashid Khalidi’s Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. (Here is the text of the review). The fact that the Century reviewed Khalidi’s book is an indication of the media’s increasing willingness to present viewpoints that challenge the very basis of Israel as a Jewish ethnic nationalist entity. This shift reflects the reality that once you address present-day violations of Palestinian rights, you see that the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was the continuation of the program of ethnic cleansing that began in 1948 and continues to this day with the annexation and carving up of the West Bank and the inhuman siege of Gaza. You begin to understand that the dispossession of the Palestinians was the inevitable outcome of the project to set up a state for the benefit of one people. Read more

Talking about Israel at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK – a Yom Kippur Meditation

I’m back! It’s been a long time – there is a bit of catching up to do, and I’ll begin by posting something from my time last week in the UK at the Greenbelt Festival. How to describe Greenbelt? How about as a Woodstock for followers of Jesus? — a 4-day gathering of over 20,000 people of all ages that has been held annually for 40 years. I was honored to have been invited to give some talks and to participate in the launch of Kairos Britain…The Council of Christians and Jews, a UK advocacy group that bears some resemblance to our Anti-Defamation League, accused me, and by implication the Festival, of fostering anti-Semitic attitudes and speech, [charging] that in challenging Zionism …I am laying “collective guilt” upon the Jewish people and as such I am committing “the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism.” The reference to collective guilt is of course an allusion to the historic deicide charge, the assignment to the entire Jewish people, in perpetuity, responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. The evocation of the deicide charge in this context is something that gets my blood boiling…(click on link above to read the entire post). Read more

Will Israel’s tent protesters awaken to the tents that came before theirs?

The following appeared first in Zochrot, was then picked up by Mondoweiss, and I can only humbly follow in their footsteps. Take the time to read this piece by a young Jewish Israeli woman — it is the only-just-begun-to-be-spoken unspoken heart of Israel: “It is the corner of Seinkin and Rothschild Boulevard, Friday afternoon. We and our Palestinian guests …pass a new and exciting tourist attraction: the huge tent camp which keeps mushrooming in the boulevard. Our guests, some in pious head gear, listen attentively to the story about middle class Jewish youngsters with no place to live, to study and to work from. The tents are so many, so small. They nod in amazement, expressing sympathy or perhaps even some pleasure over the new potential for solidarity. The sharp tongued one is quick to come up with a punch line none of us would have thought of: “Hada Muchayem Lajiyin Israeliyin!” – “A refugee camp for Israelis!” she exclaims. … Some of the women we have with us this evening –exuberant, full of curiosity and passion for fun – have been living in “real” refugee camps most of their lives. Some were born there, others got married and moved to share the fate of large families condensed into crumbling homes that were started as temporary tents at the outskirts of towns and villages in the West Bank many years ago…” Read more

My visit to South Africa, part 2: A Moment of Truth for the U.S. Church

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent appearance before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the shameful behavior of the members of Congress in rising to their feet 29 times to applaud his radical, intransigent positions should shatter any remaining illusions that peace will come through negotiations under current conditions. Politics has failed to bring about a just peace in Israel-Palestine. In fact, the political/diplomatic process, based on false assumptions (Israel will accept a contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders; the U.S. is an honest broker to the negotiation process) is itself actively advancing the building of Israeli Apartheid… Our situation today is strikingly similar to that faced by a group of South African pastors and theologians confronting the intransigence of the South African government in ending Apartheid. In 1985, they sat down to compose a historic, prophetic document. It had been a long journey to reach that point — the result of a struggle of the churches in South Africa to come to terms with their silence and their sometimes active complicity with the system that had poisoned and brutalized their society. By 1985 the church had finally arrived at a place from which there was no escape, no compromise, and no way back…. Read more

My visit to South Africa Part 1: A confessing church,1985-2011

Johannesburg, South Africa, April 2011: Why? I kept asking them. Why are you so wholeheartedly and passionately committed to this cause? Why little Palestine? You have massive problems here. The post-Apartheid era is proving more challenging in some ways than the struggle to end it, as you endeavor to find a way out of deep structural inequality and seemingly intractable economic divisions along racial lines. The answers came without hesitation. First: The world was here for us during our struggle. Second: We know what Apartheid is. We cannot stand idly by. This must be our struggle as well… Read more

Bursting the Bubble of “Liberal Zionism”

Peter Beinart and The Failure of American Jewish Progressivism: Bursting the Bubble of “Liberal Zionism” Aljazeera’s January 23rd release of the “Palestine Papers” may have laid to rest the dream of the “Two State Solution” for yet another group of believers. Besides the revelation of huge territorial concessions and the effective relinquishing of Jerusalem, perhaps the biggest blow, not only for the Palestinians themselves but for anyone who understands that peace depends on redress of the wrongs done to the Palestinians, was the virtual negation of the possibility of return for refugees. This has been a red line for Israelis because the introduction of so many non-Jews would spell “the end of Israel.” And so it would, as long as its future is tied to the Zionist idea of a Jewish state. Recognition is dawning that a just and equitable sharing of the territory will mean, not the end of Israel, but its only hope for a future. The release of these documents is a further sign that the path to peace requires a confrontation with Zionism itself as a political enterprise. But this has been long in coming, even within the progressive camp. When Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” appeared in the New York Review of Books in June 2010, it caused a considerable stir: here was a young Jewish intellectual boldly challenging the human rights record of the State of Israel. But Beinart’s subject was not Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Rather, he was addressing the failure of the American Jewish establishment to successfully promote Zionism as a viable political program. The piece opens with this declaration: “Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age.” To this Jewish American, this is an astonishing statement, and it is tragically off the mark.. Read more

Two Voices from Israel

I am bringing you two Jewish voices from Israel. One is a cry of despair and pain. Amnon Dankner, a veteran Israeli journalist, a man of my generation, born in the heady years just before the birth of the state and part of the mainstream political and journalistic life of Israel, is now crushingly disillusioned, horrified, and in mourning. I am very moved by this piece. Here is an Israeli expressing the desperate feeling of being at the mercy of a government not only unable to protect its citizens, but leading them at breakneck speed toward the edge of the cliff…The second piece is by Eitan Bronstein, born almost a generation after Dankner, in my view one of the most courageous voices in Israel today. In founding Zochrot, he, along with Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappe, is calling on Jews to wake up to an essential facet of our history – the historical and ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people to make way for the Jewish state. In this piece, Ilan makes his farewell as Director of Zochrot and tells the story of its founding… Read more

Peace, peace, and there is no peace

On October 6 The Washington Post ran a story entitled “A key back channel for U.S., Israeli ties.” The story informs us that “Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert, has emerged as a crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government, working closely with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s private attorney – and also Defense Minister Ehud Barak – to discreetly smooth out differences and disputes between the two governments.” The article goes on to describe how Ross is currently working with “[chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak] Molho and [Deputy Prime Minister Ehud] Barak on a package of incentives that the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu to extend a settlement moratorium by 60 days to keep nascent peace talks with the Palestinians on track.” This latest disclosure is another nail in the coffin of the “peace process.” It lays to rest the long-held fiction of the U.S. as an honest broker in these so-called negotiations… Read more

Report from the Presbyterian General Assembly – Part 2, The Jewish Response

There were two groups of Jewish attendees at the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis early this month. One was comprised of several members of Jewish Voice for Peace and me. We were there at the invitation of the denomination’s Israel Palestine Mission Network to support passage of the Middle East Study Committee Report, “Breaking Down the Walls” and other Middle East-related overtures, including divestment from Caterpillar, recognition that Israel’s policies constitute Apartheid, and endorsement of the Palestine Kairos document. The other group was made up of people from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. They were working closely with Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group of Presbyterian pastors and seminary professors that had formed for the purpose of opposing these overtures. The strategy they followed was to allow the Presbyterian group to lead the charge, with the Jewish organizations keeping a low profile. Blocking or gutting “Breaking Down the Walls” was the main objective of this ad hoc alliance. The alliance failed to accomplish either objective. I believe that they were surprised at this outcome – Jewish advocacy groups having the final say on Christian words and actions with respect to Israel and Zionism is a time-honored pursuit. It has been rewarded with success for generations… Read more

Report from the Presbyterian General Assembly – Part 1

I’ve just returned from Minneapolis, having attended the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. The PC(USA) is at the epicenter of the struggle of the Christian community in the U.S. to come to terms with the challenge of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Overtures from presbyteries from around the country urging action on justice for Palestinians would amount to over 40% of the actions considered by the Assembly… Predictably, the forces of opposition had gathered. As early as February of this year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center attacked the report, calling it a “poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church [that] will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel.” The charge of anti-Semitism and the prospect of a disruption in the “interfaith partnership” has been effective in stifling the discourse and in thwarting actions directed at Israel’s policies…I was betting that the tactics of the Wiesenthal Center would serve, as they always had, to muzzle the conversation and block actions that might offend Jewish sensibilities or be perceived as hostile to the Jewish state…. I was wrong… Read more