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Is Anti-zionism Anti-semitism?

Is Anti-zionism Anti-semitism? image Is Anti-zionism Anti-semitism? image
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Month
July
Year
1990
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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Last January 25, Jewish theologian, Mare Ellis spoke at the U-M Law School. The following anide is a transcription of his speech. "When hear 'fllthy Arabs, ' I remember 'fllthy Jews. ' I see Beirut, and I remember Warsaw." I'm very glad to be with you this evening to discuss what I consider to be the future of the Jewish people, an issue that is bound up with the future of the Palestinian people. Although we come from a people who has prided itself on its intelligence and the world has often said we are a very intelligent people, we have lost the ability to think. Last spring Rabbi Marshall Mayer, in introducing me, made a startling commenL He said that today the Jewish people face the greatest crisis since the destruction of the temple in 70 [C.E.] when, in the midst of the loss of our sovereignty, a new course for the Jewish people was f orged. Notice, he _ did not say the greatest crisis since the 1967 war, since the war of independence in 1 948 or even since the Holocaust because today, like in 70, a new course for the Jewish people is being chosen. This time we have power and that power is being used to disperse, dislócate, humiliate and destroy another people - the Palestinian people. This is why Milton Viorst, a columnist for The New York Times and a member of the Jewish journal Tikkun, wrote recently that this is perhaps the most shameful decade in the history of the Jewish people. Now you may wonder (some of you may be religious in background, some not) why I choose to focus on theology, on religiosity. I do that because it represents the deepest aspirations of a person and also a people. It provides the core of our identity, and the Ímpetus for struggle. When I speak about theology and religiosity, I'm talking about those things which move us, those things at the core of our being. Now theology arises within history, and the task of theology is to nurture questions a people needs to ask about the history they are creating. Theology provides a framework for our questions, not an answer to them. Thus, in a long tradition - in the Je wish tradition, in the Christian tradition, probably in the Muslim tradition as well - theo logies come and go but the tradition remains. Theologies come into being when they nurture the questions they need to ask, when they are relevant to our history. They are no longer rele v ant when they no longer ask the questions we need to ask. Theologies help us move toward faithfulness to the history of those who have gone before us. Holocaust Theology Unfortunately, the theology which has guided the Jewish community for the past two decades - Holocaust theology, which was birthed in the struggle to be faithful in the crucible of our suffering - no longer guides us on the road of fidelity . But rather because of the questions it refuses to ask and cannot ask, it is leading us as a people to betray our history of struggle and suffering. What is Holocaust theology? This theology was formed in the courtroom of the Eichmarm trial and in the June 1 967 war, the Six-Day War where Israel won a decisive victory over the surrounding Arab nations. (Adolf Eichmann was the mastermind of the final solution of the Jewish people. Eichmann was captured and tried in Israel in 1961.) Picture for a moment Elie Wiesel before he was famous. In 1961 a Holocaust survivor travels to Jerusalem to be at the Eichmann trial as a reporter for a small Jewish paper. He sees this as the first time that Jews can try a person for crimes against the Jewish people for the first time in 2000 years. He sees in that courtroom a collective presence of the Jewish people. Not just the spectators, but every Jew in the world is trying Eichmann for crimes against the Jewish people. Itbecomes a trial also for Jewish suffering throughout history, not just the final solution, but a whole history in the West of being discriminated against, dismissed, dislocated and murdered. (SEE PAGE 6) ■KWJWWiTRTiíwliMKÍmnÍTiÍM (from paga on) Picture, then, Wiesel flying again to Israel on the second day of the 1967 war convinced, not that Israel would win, but that Israel would be defeated. As a survivor of the death camps, Wiesel feit he had to be where the Je wish people were coming to an end; that was his feeling, that Israel would lose and be destroyed. Yet, and this again is where Holocaust theology is given birth, a miracle happens. Israel is not defeated, but wins a fantastic, miraculous victory - and this is how he describes it - "which becomes a sign, a portent of redemption." But also in Wiesel, in Eichmann, and in the '67 war there's a sense of isolation, there's a sense of being alone against the world, and so even this miraculous victory reinforces the sense of the Jewish people . being alone and I persecuted I ihroughout the I world.ThetakI ing of Jenisa lem in '67 must be recognized as a central part of this new theology, a collective awakening of the Jewishpeople, and it puts front and center the place of Israel. In 1967, Israel becomes the central focus of the Jewish community around the world. And you have the example of the great Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, who comes from a long line of Hasidic masters, who as a social activist in the U.S. marched with Martin Luther King and marched against the war in Vietnam. When he approaches the Western Wall, he cries and says "I have not known how deeply Jewish I was." What I'm describing is the birth of the theology which replaces rabbinic theology and puts front and center the Holocaust and the state of Israel. You carmot understand the Jewish community in the U.S ., Europe, and even in Israel today without understanding the birth of Holocaust theology which changed everything in the Jewish community. So, by the 1970s a theology has been bom which has two dialectical tensions at its core: suffering and empowermenL "Never again will we suffer; we need to be empo wered as a people." And the other part of that dialectica! tensión is the sense of innocence, Jews as innocent on the portent of redemption. So we have suffering and empowerment, innocence and redemption, but something shado ws that suffering and empowerment, that innocence and redemption. If you read Holocaust theology in the 1970s, especially Wiesel and Fackenheim, you see something that I cali "the last stand" shadowing these dialectical tensions. That is, Israel has come into being because: Jews were persecuted, we are innocent as a people, we are on the threshold of redemption, but we are going to perish here. You cannot understand Holocaust theology without understanding that the Holocaust is not only an historica] event, it is a possible future. There is in the 1 960s and '70s no mention of occupation, no mentionof expansionism, no mention of the history of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. It is a great moment in Jewish history. It is our moment. The Palestinians do not exist. From 1974-1988, it is Rabbi Irving Greenberg who charters the second and last phase of Holocaust theology. Summing up the contributions of Wiesel and Fackenheim and also attempting to guide this theology through the second decade of occupation, the Lebanese war, the Pollard spy case, and through the Palestinian uprising, he adds a third dialectical tensión to Holocaust theology, a tensión between specialness and normal ization. Specialness means Jews are special people. It means we need to have a special kind of ethics, but also that we are going through a very difficult process of normalization where we begin to do things more and more like other peoples and nations. That is, when we assume power (and Greenberg at least admits that we do) we are going to do things which are immoral, some of which are questionable, some of which are very difficult. But this is the process of growing up, becoming more normal. So, Greenberg can say quite clearly that though the Jewish prophetic tradition was born when we were powerless, it becomes a danger if it's continued when we are powerful. Any criticism of Israel which endangers the empowerment of Israel is the unpardonable sin. It is, as he and others have said, that sin for which one can be excommunicated from the Jewish community. So Greenberg, in a sense, sees the end of the prophetic tradition with the normalization of the Jewish people. But still you find a profound innocence in him about the founding nature of the state, and even about the policies of the state of Israel. He admits, though, that we have power. Wiesel and Fackenheim were formed in our Holocaust situation. They come from that world. That's where they are focused. They believe in Jewish empowerment, but Greenberg takes it seriously . But still he is profoundly innocent. We could say that Wiesel and Fackenheim, and Holocaust theology in general tells us as Jews who we were. It does not teil us we have become powerful and too often oppressive. When Greenberg published "The Ethics of Jewish Power" in March 1988, it was the end of Holocaust theology as we know it. The Tradition of Dissent I want to suggest that there are three traditions which have been repressed and suppressed in Holocaust theology which need to be brought back to life in order to birth a new theology. The first is the tradition of dissent. From the beginning of Zionism, up to and including the Palestinian uprising, there have been Jews who have dissented from mainline Zionism. But Holocaust theology tells us nothing about that tradition. Let me mention some groups who have dis sented. One would be the Cultural Zionists: Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt. Some of the most famous Jews of the twentieth century who believed in a new and augmented Jewish community in Palestine were Zionists, but they believed in a Jewish homeland, not a Jewish state. Buber, Magnes, and Arendt spent their Uves arguing against the erection of a Jewish state. Why? Because it would, forever in their view, pit us over and against Palestinians, and it would also créate a structure of domination within the Jewish community. This for them was to be a new experiment without domination on another people or ourselves. Now we have to state quite frankly that Buber, Magnes, Arendt, being Western, were imperialists. There' s no question about it. They looked upon Arabs, as they were called then, as lesser than Western, in need of help, and feit that Jews would help Arabs come into the modern world. (By the way, this is how they elicited a lot of Western Christian support, too.) But they also believed that the Jewish community in Palestine would not survive and would not fulfill its mission unless there was absolute equality with Arabs. We have forgotten this tradition. We don' t know this tradition. It is not taught to us. Another aspect of this is the non-Zionist and anti-Zionist tradition. Now let me just take three groups here. Reformed Judaism was formed in the 19th century explicitly denying that Jews were a nation. We were to be in the nations we lived in and were to take our prophetic ideáis and contribute them to the societies that we lived in. Reform Jews believed in liberal democracy. They were very optimistic about the world. If there was to be a Jewish revival in Palestine, it was okay with the Reform Jews, but it had to do with culture and language, not politics and power. Orthodox Judaism formed in the 19th century as well. It did not have a concept of statehood, but rather of synagogue, prayer, and an attachment to the land. Yes, statehood in prayer, sometimes in visitation, but to await the messiah. The Jewish left was universalist, not nationalist They were against colonialism and imperialism and many of the Jewish left feit that the erection of the state of Israel would be nationalist People like Noam Chomsky and Roberta Strauss Feur licht would be an example of that. So we have the non-Zionists and anti-Zionists, and if you look at the history of Reformed Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and the Jewish left, there were pitched battles over the acceptance of Zionism. And, of course, we know that Zionism won. I want to just mention two other groups who protested and dissented. One is Je wish feminists. There ' s a chapter in Judith Plasco w 's new book "Standing Against Sinai" (reprinted in a book that I'm editing by Rosemary Radford Reuther), which has a very interesting discussion about the patriarchal quality of Israeli Ufe and how that separates male and female Jewish Israelis, but also how that separates Jewish-Israeli women and Palestinian women. The second group is the Oriental Jews, who make up the majority of Jews in Israel. A title of a recent article, for instance, is 'The AshkenaziPalestinian War." They didn't say Israeli-Palestinian, basically seeing it as the Europeans against the Arabs. Some believe that Israel keeps up this warf are with Palestinians in order to keep Jews of Arab background down in Israel. The tradition of dissent has been a brutal, bloody battle within the Jewish community. You've even seen some signs today - a bomb threat - which show that they continue. And while the dissenters may take pride in dissenting, it is important to know that they have lostevery battle with Israeli state power. If we're going to continue a tradition of dissent and not be satisfied with just "I 'm a prophetic Jew," we're going to have to understand what that tradition gives us and what we need to do to make it effective in other cases. The Tradition of the Inclusive Llturgy of Destructlon The second tradition is what I cali "the inclusive liturgy of destruction." David Roskies has written a fascinating book titled, "Against the Apocalypse: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe" about the experience of Jews in the ghettos of Eastem Europe where he sees Jewish writers and artists really creating a liturgy. The Holocaust becomes a liturgy, where in a time of great crisis, these Jewish writers and activists and thinkers recover the symbols of our peoplehood. For instance, paintings and writings talking about the destruction of the temple, or our exile from Spain, act as symbols in that time of crisis. It was a way of say ing to the Nazis "we slarted long before you, and our people will live after you, even if you kill us." So that at this time of great crisis Jews began to recover the symbols of their own past in order to form a resistance against those who seemed to be triumphing. The example that moves me the most is Hillel Zeitlin, a modem religious existentialist in the Warsaw ghetto, who began translating the Psalms into Yiddish; and when his ghetto tenement was ed he arrived at the roundup point for deportation dressed in prayer shawl and kaffyeh as a form of resistance. Now af ter the Holocaust, this liturgy of destruction has assumed a public nature. Fot instance, the Bitburg affair: remember in '83 when Reagan went to Bitburg, and Wiesel spoke to Reagan on national televisión? That wasn't so much a speech as a liturgy of out destruction. The liturgy of destruction, and even the collapse of the Berlin Wall - if you saw Elie Wiesel's op-edpiece in The New York Times titled "I'm Afraid of What'sBehind the Wall" - all of it is interpreted in terms of our suffering. Yet from the beginning of Zionism and especially with the creation of Israel in 1947-1948 until the present, there has al so been the recogni tion that this liturgy of destruction has taken on a new aspect, That is, Jews have understood from the beginning that the Jewish liturgy of destruction now inc ludes another people, a people Jews have attempted to destroy - the Palestinian people. Ifyoulookatjust two works by Jewish Israelis on the origins of the state of Israel - first Benny Morris', "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 19471949," and second Tom Segev's book "1949: The First Israel"- you have eyewitness accounts of Palestinians being driven out of their homes by Jewish soldiers, recalling the destruc tion of the temple, the exile from Spain, the dispersión, and the most startling, the experience of Jews under Nazi persecution. Now I want to spend some time on this constant reference to the Nazis in Jewish-Israeli literature. I didn't say Palestinian literature, I said Jewish-Israeli literature. For example, at the gate ofYadVaShem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Buchenwald staged a hunger strike against Begin's policy in Lebanon, after his son - a paratrooper - was killed there. He said, "When I was a child of 10 and was liberated from the concentration camp, I thought that we would never suffer again. I did not dream that we would cause suffering to others. Today we are doing just that. The Germans in Buchenwald starved us to death. Today in Jerusalem I starve myself and this hunger of mine is no less horrific. When I hear 'filthy Arabs,' I remember 'filthy Jews.' I see Beirut, and I remember Warsaw." During the Palestinian uprising, these references are scattered all through Jewish-Israeli literature. I'll recall three newspaper articles published in the Jewish press written by Jewish Israelis. The first is a story right after the uprising, when a local company commander was told to take 12 Palestinians out away from their village and to beat them with clubs, to break their arms and legs, but to leave one with his legs unbroken so he could go back to the village as a warning as to what might happen to others if they continue the uprising. He said, "I can do it only if it's in a written order." He got the written order. They went. They took the 1 2 Palestinians out to a wooded area and beat them with wooden clubs so hard that the clubs were broken. The tille of the article written by a Jewishlsraeli in the Jewish-Israeli press was "The Night of the Broken Clubs." The Night of Shattered Glass, The Night of the Broken Clubs. Another story: Dr. Marcus Levin was called down to position Ansar 2, an Israeli concentration camp. He arrivés and asks "What am I to do?" Another doctor says "You examine patients before and after their interrogation." He said "After their interrogation?" "Yes," the other doctor said. "Yesterday, for instance, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy after the interrogation had two broken legs." Levin looked at hún and said "Excuse me, my name is Marcus Levin not Joseph Mengele, and I refuse to do such things." So, he had to go to the commander and he said to the commander, "My name is Marcus Levin not Joseph Mengele and I refuse to do such things," and another doctor said, "At first you feel like Mengele, but after a while, you get used to it." The title of the article, written by a Jewish Israeli was "You Will Get Used to Being a Mengele." One last story. After the 1967 war, there was a secret unit which was to encourage the transfer of Palestinians by setting up a part of Paraguay where they would pay certain Palestinians to go and then hope their families would come over, and the unit would finance the whole operation. There were several important people on that unit: Abba Eban, the great Jewish liberal was one of them (he was foreign minister at the time), Ariel Sharon (who was the deputy prime minister) and Menachem Begin (who was later to become prime, minister). The title of the article which was just published in a Jewish-Israeli newspaper by a Jewish Israeli was titled "A Final Solution of the Palestinian Problem." Now whai do these Nazi analogies mean? I kept reading them. I was accused of making them. This is the one thing that a Jew should never do. What is being said here? And please listen because people always think I'm saying something else.This is not acomparison between Israelis and Nazis (although some of the policies are comparable). It is not an attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel (although it does attempt to delegitimize those policies which bring destruction and death.) What is it then? It's an intuitive link. It is a recognition that what we suffered we are now causing. It's an intuitive understanding that Jewishpower is attempting to destroy apeople, just like those who in times past attempted to destroy us. Intuitively, we understand this. It's an intuitive link between our suffering and Palestinian suffering, but it's also an intuitive desire to be neither victim nor oppressor. End of Part I. Mare Elll Is a faculty membor at New York's Maryknotl Collega of Theology. His speech was sponsored by the Palestina SolidarIty CommMee and the U-U Office of Ethica and Religión. Any criticism of Israel which endangers the empowerment of Israel is the unpardonable sin. It s...that sin for which one can be excommunicated from the Jewish community.

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