Friday, October 26, 2007

An Orthodox rabbi's plea: let's be honest here


By Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

The question of whether we could bear a redivision of Jerusalem is a searing and painful one. The Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and a variety of other organizations, including Christian Evangelical ones, are calling upon their constituencies to join them in urging the Israeli government to refrain from any negotiation concerning the status of Jerusalem at all, when and if the Annapolis conference occurs. And last week, as I read one e-mail dispatch after another from these organizations, I became more and more convinced that I could not join their call.

It's not that I would want to see Jerusalem divided. It's rather that the time has come for honesty. Their call to handcuff the government of Israel in this way, their call to deprive it of this negotiating option, reveals that these organizations are not being honest about the situation that we are in, and how it came about. And I cannot support them in this.

These are extremely difficult thoughts for me to share, both because they concern an issue that is emotionally charged, and because people whose friendship I treasure will disagree strongly with me. And also because I am breaking a taboo within my community, the Orthodox Zionist community. "Jerusalem: Israel's Eternally Undivided Capital" is a 40-year old slogan that my community treats with biblical reverence. It is an article of faith, a corollary of the belief in the coming of the Messiah. It is not questioned. But this final reason why it is difficult for me to share these thoughts is also the very reason that I have decided to do so. This is a conversation that desperately needs to begin.

No peace conference between Israel and the Palestinians will ever produce anything positive until both sides have decided to read the story of the last 40 years honestly. On our side, this means being honest about the story of how Israel came to settle civilians in the territories it conquered in 1967, and about the outcomes that this story has generated.

An honest reading of this story reveals that there were voices in the inner circle of the Israeli government in 1967-1968 who warned that settling civilians in conquered territories was probably illegal under international law. But for very understandable reasons -- among them security needs, Zionist ideologies of both the both secular and religious varieties, memories that were 20 years old, and memories that were 3,000 years old -- these voices were overruled. We can identify with many of the ideas that carried the settlement project forward. But the fact remains that it is simply not honest on our part to pretend that the government of Israel didn't know that there was likely a legal problem, or that the government was confident that international conventions did not apply to this situation. That just wouldn't be an honest telling.

An honest reading of the story reveals that the heroes of Israel's wars who became the ministers in its government, who were most responsible for the initial decision to settle, were quite aware that by doing so they were risking conflict with the Arab population that was living there. They were aware that these Arabs would never be invited to become citizens of Israel, and would never have the rights of citizens. Nonetheless, they decided to go forward. Some believed that the economic benefit that would accrue to these Arabs as a result of their interactions with Israelis and Israel would be so great that they wouldn't mind our military and civilian presence among them. Others projected that some sort of diplomatic arrangement would soon be reached with Jordan that would soften the face of what would otherwise be full-blown military occupation. These may have been reasonable projections at the time. But as it turned out, both of them were wrong. And it's not honest to tell the story without acknowledging that we made these mistakes.

The Religious Zionist leadership (similar to today's Evangelical supporters of Israel) made a different judgment, namely that settling the Biblical heartland would further hasten the unfolding of the messianic age. Thus, the Arab population already there was not our problem. God would deal with it. This belief too -- reasonable though it may have seemed at the time -- has also turned out to be wrong. To tell the story honestly, this mistake too must be acknowledged.

And the difference that honest storytelling makes is enormous. When we tell our story honestly, our position at the negotiating table is one that is informed not only by our own needs and desires, but also by our obligations and responsibilities. The latter include the responsibility to -- in some way, in some measure -- fix that which we have done. Also included is the need to recognize that we have some kind of obligation toward the people who have been harmed by our decisions. Honesty in our telling of the story reveals the stark and candid reality that we also need to speak the language of compromise and conciliation. Not only the language of entitlement and demands.

To be sure, I would be horrified and sick if the worst-case division-of-Jerusalem scenario were to materialize. The possibility that the Kotel, the Jewish Quarter or the Temple Mount would return to their former states of Arab sovereignty is unfathomable to me, and I suspect to nearly everyone inside the Israeli government. At the same time though, to insist that the government not talk about Jerusalem at all (including the possibility, for example, of Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods) is to insist that Israel come to the negotiating table telling a dishonest story -- a story in which our side has made no mistakes and no miscalculations, a story in which there is no moral ambiguity in the way we have chosen to rule the people we conquered, a story in which we don't owe anything to anyone. Cries of protest, in particular from organizations that oppose Israel's relinquishing anything at all between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, and which have never offered any alternative solutions to the ones they are protesting against, are rooted in the refusal to read history honestly. And I -- for one -- cannot lend my support to that.

Without a doubt, the Palestinians aren't telling an honest story either. They are not being honest about their record of violence against Jews in the pre-State era, or about the obscene immorality with which they attacked Israeli civilians during the second intifada. They are not being honest about the ways in which their fellow Arabs are responsible for so much of the misery that they -- the Palestinians -- have endured, and they certainly are not being honest about the deep and real historical connection that the Jewish people has to this land and to this holy city. And there will not be peace (and perhaps there should be no peace conference) until they tell an honest story as well. But for us to take the approach that in order to defend and protect ourselves from their dishonest story, we must continue telling our own dishonest story, is to travel a road of unending and unendable conflict. Peace will come only when and if everyone at the table has the courage, the strength, and enough fear of God to tell the story as it really is.

For many decades we have sighed and asked, "When will peace come?" The answer is starkly simple. There will be peace the day after there is truth.

Yosef Kanfesky is rabbi of B'nai David Judea in Los Angeles.

Naomi Chazen

By Naomi Chazan Published: 10/16/2007

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Uninformed readers of the general American press these days learn only two things about Israel. One is that it is consumed with war and peace. The other is that this small state of 7 million people deploys -- or does not, depending on whom you are reading -- the most powerful, homogenous lobby in Washington, bending the American government’s actions to its interests at will.

American Jews know better, of course. The quest for a fair and sustainable settlement to conflict in the Middle East is indeed central, but the peace process is not the only challenge of Israel’s continuing struggle for survival as the state its founders intended it to be.

Important, too, are issues that define Israel as a society, as a homeland for Jews, as a democracy. In the long run these and related topics will contribute as much as military and diplomatic matters to answering the question of whether Israel will survive another 60 years.

Since serving as deputy speaker of the Knesset, I have spent more of my time on what I call the struggle for Israel’s character. As a democracy with a thriving civil society, there is plenty of scope for argument in Israel over issues ranging from minority rights to religious freedom. However, there are also voices of extremism, intolerance and ultranationalism that threaten not just the Israeli ideal of a liberal, democratic state but the very mechanisms that allow us to fiercely debate the issues that will define our future.

For example, the independence of Israel’s High Court, the most important guarantor of rights in a country without a written constitution, is under siege from right-wingers inside and outside the government who would like to subject it to political manipulation.

The struggle to impede the theocratic objectives of religious parties continues, with progressives working hard just to prevent further encroachment on what should be a firm religion-state divide.

Perhaps most important, and difficult, is the growing chasm between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, as some of the former continue to perpetuate de facto inequality, and the latter react with an increasingly radicalized vision of an Israel bereft of any identifying Jewish characteristics.

Moreover, Israel is a country facing increasing socio-economic discrepancies. The widening gap between the prosperous Israeli center and the struggling peripheries in the Galil and Negev was exacerbated by last summer’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the difficult recovery in the North.

Overall, the prospects for immigrant youth, Israeli Arabs, mizrachim -- citizens from Middle Eastern and North African lands -- residents of development towns, Bedouin and all the other outsiders to Israel’s thriving economy remain severely constricted.

Women confront gender rights issues every day, and not just in the Orthodox and Israeli Arab communities. The disgusting parade of Israeli politicians accused and found guilty of sexual harassment and worse is the most visible indicator of a society struggling to overcome serious problems with patriarchy.

These and similar issues constantly, if not always consciously, affect the relations between Israel and world Jewry. The notion of a single-minded American pro-Israel lobby that only reflects the worldview of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- Walt and Mearsheimer notwithstanding -- is ridiculous.

In the next week I will be engaging, along with other Israeli progressive social activists, in a nine-city national conversation sponsored by the New Israel Fund titled “Towards a Progressive Vision for Israel.”

Anyone attending these events for even an hour no doubt would conclude that much of the American Jewish community is to the left of some of its “official” spokesperson organizations, and that this large segment deserves a louder voice on key Israel-related issues.

Achieving a more powerful voice for these Jewish voices in the United States is crucial for two reasons. First, the taboo of criticizing Israel must be broken. The issue is not whether Israel is always right or always wrong, as the current discourse aridly asserts. Rather the question is how to deal constructively and creatively with Israel's very real problems. The debate about Israel must be reframed.

Second, the majority of Israeli citizens -- who have achieved real successes advocating in an open, argumentative, self-critical society -- need support from their American counterparts. When the most visible American backers of Israel are the Likud-fellow-traveler Jewish groups and the Christian right, it is almost impossible to counter those powerful and well-financed voices and the retrogressive values they champion.

Americans, whether Jewish or not, deserve more than a sound-bite understanding of what Israel is and where it may be going. Beyond the heartfelt support that most Americans feel for Israel are real dilemmas for the only fragile yet working democracy in the Middle East.

Most Israelis see the threat of religious ultranationalism, minority repression and economic inequity all too clearly. It is time for true democrats in both Israel and the United States to challenge themselves with the reality of Israel in its 60th year: a vibrant, thriving country still striving for ideals not yet attained.

(Naomi Chazan, former deputy speaker of the Knesset, is professor emerita of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and head of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo. She is a member of the New Israel Fund board of directors.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Conservatives and Al Gore's Nobel | Campaign for America's Future

Conservatives and Al Gore's Nobel | Campaign for America's Future: "'...the big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart.' -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr."