I will go to Shabbat this evening, sharing with my Jewish husband and many other good and faithful people in saying prayers and singing beautiful, haunting songs of God’s power, goodness, and mercy. We will say to each other, “Shabbat Shalom,” sabbath peace.
I have come to cherish this time, to be accepted as a member of the temple, even as I continue my worship and identity as a follower of Jesus. Both Congregation Or Ami, the Reform congregation in Richmond, and Congregation Mishkan Torah, the Conservative/Reconstructionist temple in Greenbelt, recognize our family (Or Ami did so before we were legally married, and I think it would have been the same at Mishkan Torah).
I learn much about faith and living from the wise and deeply spiritual rabbis who lead these two congregations and from other leaders and members, too. Judaism is a beautiful faith and these are beautiful people. I am blessed. I grow in spiritual depth by being fed at temple, and participating in the life of the congregation.
I also am troubled. During recent High Holy Days services, speakers told us about the importance of buying Israel Bonds. They also spoke of how wrong any efforts, such BDS (Boycott Divestment, Sanctions), to change Israeli policy through pressure from the world, were wrong, even evil. We were told that BDS seeks to destroy Israel. I have read and heard people say that Jews who support these efforts are self-hating Jews. Even the idea of selective boycotts–not buying products from selected companies who are part of maintaining control of Palestinians–are judged as anti-semitic. The implication is, for me, that I and other non-Jews who may support at least some of these efforts are anti-Semitic.
Of course, it is hard to escape anti-Semitic attitudes–like white racism, homophobia, sexism, they are part of the air we breathe (even after the Holocaust and a desire for “never again”). But I have worked hard to overcome it, and am committed to opposing it every way I can.
But that does not mean I accept everything done by the State of Israel as good, any more than I accept everything done by the United States of America as good. And it surely does not mean that I want to do to others what has been done to Jews.
Now comes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims it was a Muslim leader, Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who gave Hitler the idea, or if not the idea then the push, to burn all Jews. Historians universally scoff at the claim, as do many Israeli leaders, including some in the Netanyahu cabinet.
The Prime Minister, admittedly never a favorite of mine going back to when he was the Israeli Ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, seems to be seeking to deflect any criticism of Israeli actions towards the Palestinians by suggesting that the current wave of violence, and by extension all the Palestinian anger and violence in prior years, is due to only one cause: an ancient animus of Muslims and Palestinians toward Jews.
It is true that the Grand Mufti was an odious anti-Semite. And it is true that many other Arab leaders, and people, have been so, and continue to be so. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the current President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has not condemned the violence and sought to stem it.
At the same time, there seems to be ample evidence that Abbas and the authority are not inciting it either. Frankly, Abbas is a pretty weak figure, and that is in part due to how ineffective he and his government are seen by the people in changing the living conditions of Palestinians.
What Mr. Netanyahu may want to consider is the contribution his government, and prior Israeli administrations, make to this perception among Palestinians. Perhaps if they could find ways to lessen the Israeli control of Palestinian lives, to allow more movement not less, to stop what would be considered racial profiling in this country, to provide access to more water, to stop bulldozing Palestinian homes (those of the families of bombers as well as just ordinary people), or join the President of Israel in acknowledging some of the wrongs done to Palestinians over the decades–any one or more of these things or others–then perhaps there would be ways to stop or even slow the escalating cycle of violence.
As it is now, the cycle is picking up speed and intensity. Tighten the screws, and Palestinians will react more angrily. Tighten again in response, and more anger, more bombs, more cars used to run over people, etc. Tighten more, more reaction, etc. I for one cannot see that Israel is being made more safe by all this.
My friends who stand with Israel–with only muted criticism, if any–will say Israel can’t afford to be weak, that the Palestinians cannot be trusted not to take advantage of any kindness for their own gain. They have evidence to support the claim.
I acknowledge the risk.
But I also know this. People revolt against what they perceive to be unreasonable authority, people fight back against oppression. And they will not stop until it is over.
This is part of our national history here, too, as our nation overrode the anger of Native Americans to losing their land–by wiping most of them out, and put the rest on reservations. I do not want that for Palestinians.
And I take them at their word that the leaders of Israel do not either. But frankly the Prime Minister’s comments feel all too much like a set up for justifying actions I, and most others, would find odious. I do not say he wants that, but it is a slippery slope he is on. It is too easy to move from mass condemnation of a people to deciding they should be removed or massacred or otherwise overrun. Jews surely know this. The rest of us should know it, to our shame.
And here’s something to ponder: is the history of Islam one long effort to kill Jews? No. When Christians were on vengeful Crusades, it was often Islamic people, among others, who protected Jews.
It is too easy to get inside your own “in group,” into dualisms, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, and decide that the other group is entirely to blame for whatever ails you (Rabbi Sacks writes of this in an excellent book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”). We have to break that cycle in many places in the world, most certainly in Israel/Palestine.
Somehow, some way, these warring peoples have got to find ways to live together. Shalom.
Or they shall die together, not in the dignity of old age but in every growing hostility and conflagration.
God weeps at the prospect.