Archive for August 2010

The brave Tony Judt

August 28, 2010

Tony Judt,probably the most prominent post-War historian died on August 6 at age 62 of MLS. Until the very end he  wrote for the New York Review of Books. A left-wing Zionist in his youth he became a trenchant critic of modern Israel describing it among other things as a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-state.” Like  many progressive Jews Judt had become disillusioned with the modern state. In one essay he wrote in 2006 he traced the great love affair of the world with the Jewish state and its subsequent  descent into pariah status today

Today everything is different. We can see, in retrospect, that the victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state’s very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country’s shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, “targeted assassinations,” the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish – which means that Israel’s behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society – built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats – still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.

Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians. Indeed, Palestinians have now displaced Jews as the emblematic persecuted minority: vulnerable, humiliated and stateless. This unsought distinction does little to advance the Palestinian case any more than it ever helped Jews, but it has redefined Israel forever.

Progressive Jews today in the diaspora can no longer abide this tragic fall from grace. Their presence has badly split the community.

This of course has not gone unnoticed even by the Israeli leadership. They are trying everything short of the one palliative—Palestinian justice-which could heal the country. They have embarked on a rebranding exercise, using their powerful friends deep pockets in the diaspora. Nothing seems to be working.The sad response to this fundamental problem of injustice appears to be better PR

The latest attempt was seen today in a full page ad in the National Post

Here  we are told “the Jewish People face  many challenges including apathy indifference and lack of knowledge. To this end the United Jewish Appeal has created Actiivism U training young people to “stand up for Israel in the halls of academia where ideological attacks are happening.”

My suggestion in  a letter to the Post was to extend kudos to the UJA for challenging the Jewish community to regeneration and renewal. I wrote “in a consumerist environment which does indeed lead to “apathy, indifference and lack of knowledge”, young Jews as well as young Christians and Muslims need to deepen the well of compassion which is at the heart of the Abrahamic faiths.

Sadly Activism U’s “training of high school and university students to stand up for Israel in the halls of academia  is in danger of pure narrow ideological brainwashing.
I suggest that these kids be immediately sent to Israel with the Torah under their arms to meditate on the meaning of the Exodus and the admonition in Deuteronomy 16:20  to “Tzedek,  tzedek tirdof”-justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live.
The brave Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel will gladly mentor these young folks.

Purity of Arms: “sipping coffee in Tel Aviv.”

August 27, 2010

One of the major lessons (free of charge at that) I received growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in downtown Toronto was the simple fact that Jews are like everybody else! This has served me well throughout life. While loving Yiddishkeit, I neither elevated or diminished Jewish people. I found they wanted the same things in life most others want—decency, fairness, freedom from want, opportunity for their children etc.

When dealing with the idea of “purity of arms” I think I understood the concept  which many diaspora Jews wanted to believe. And I do think initially there was something to this high ideal. It came from those extraordinary early Zionists who built the platform for this brand new country.They surely wanted to be “Lor goyim”, that marvellous, Isaianic vision of becoming a “light unto the nations.”

Setting aside the colonizing of another people ( the same thrust that led Germans, Italians,Belgians, Dutch  Brits etc) to carve up Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, there was something idealistic about those kibbutzim that does merit appreciation. It turned out badly of course as did the imperial adventures of the aforesaid countries. The post war period then saw the European countries begin to abandon their prior projects. in the end, you can not rule another people without paying a terrible price.

Israel now is caught.Their colonizing project over the Palestinian people has become clear to the civilized world and in particular many Jews of conscience.It is surely a painful period for Israelis and Jews in general who quite naturally have deep affection for eretz Israel.

So the purity of arms doctrine cobbled out of idealistic Zionist vision has proven to be irretrievably broken.

Never underestimate the corrosive work of advanced capitalism, a deleterious force which has proven so adept at sidelining ideals all over the world! Amnesia, and I’m all right Jack. As long as I’m OK, I don’t wanna know nothing.Do what you have to do, build a Wall if you have to but don’t disturb me.

One can understand  the following reflection from an Israeli when the pathetic obtuseness of the young Israeli soldier, Eden  Abergil became known.

That Israelis are “shocked” at such photos and such behavior is quite telling. I’m not sure who’s fooling whom, Israelis or those who are shocked at this behavior. One thing is certain, it shows how much cognitive dissonance the average Israeli employs to deal with the occupation, the subjugation of an entire people all the while, sitting safely at a Tel-Aviv cafe sipping coffee and enjoying the summer sun. As this shows, the distance is not merely cognitive. Israelis now live a sheltered life, detached from the cruelties of the occupation, as they live in the equivalent of gated communities.

Purity of arms pt. 1

August 26, 2010

Recently a young Israeli woman-soldier Eden Abergil posted a picture of herself on Facebook mugging in front of  bound Palestinians old enough to be her father.

The picture was taken a year ago when Ms.Abergil was still a member of the Israeli defense Force. Israeli women  give two years of military service when they turn eighteen. She informs us that this period was “the most beautiful time in her life.”  One friend commented on her blog that  Eden was “her sexiest like that.” Eden responded, “Yes, I know. LOL… What a day it was, look how he completes my pictures. I wonder if he’s got Facebook. I have to tag him the picture. LOL.”

Yes, laugh out loud.

Now one should cut a twenty year old some slack for such a sad-making act which she will come to regret as she ages.Now that the pictures are plastered all over Israel I can guarantee most Israelis (like most Canadians, Italians,Serbs etc) are cringing at these Abu-Ghraib like markers of stark humiliation. Her parents are probably mortified.The poor silly woman was stunned at the critical outcry in Israel and around the world.

In an Israeli radio interview this ethically-challenged kid  said she could not understand the outrage over the photographs.

“What’s wrong with that? I don’t understand,” she told Israel’s Army Radio. “There was no violence in the pictures, there was no disrespect.”

An Israeli army spokesman commented, “This is shameless behavior by the soldier. In light of the fact that she was discharged last year, all of the details have been turned over to the commanders for further attention.”

A reason not to quit on the Israeli people is the remark of Yishai Menuhin on the widely read YNET. He is  the director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a local NGO,  “These types of pictures reflect the customary norms of IDF soldiers… and the treatment given to Palestinian detainees.”

This statement would probably not be made in many places in the Jewish diaspora, but in Israel there is a much broader debate and readiness to criticize the state and its armed wings.Defensive North Americans  still trot out the unbelievable and discredited  idea of “the purity of arms”, that Israel has the most moral army in the world.”

Closer to the truth were the words of Mondoweiss the much read website “devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.”

“This highlightes the cold indifference and cruelty that has come to characterize the Israeli occupation.”

Why? Teenagers and death

August 25, 2010

He was just 17 when  his life ended. A typical teen-age male having a blast at summer’s end with a bunch of his cronies.His fatal mistake…he tried to beat a bus across a strip where busses move quickly. The bus won and his family’s world crashed.

As I walked as I do very early along the beautiful boardwalk I spied the inchoate cries of rage plastered all over a public building near the scene of his death. Typical teen-age cries in the night when the unthinkable happens: Why Jimmy? We’ll never forget you.He was a sweet kid.

This is the way a growing lost generation of young people grieves today. Disconnected from Christianity for whatever reasons, they are totally oiut of touch with communal wisdom and liturgy which could help them on  one of life’s many boundary situations.

This is where the conservative voice rings true.Sadly it has become  an almost bitter voice at the loss of the Church’s power.It has become accusatory, lacking much compassion or understanding as to why the Church has lost much voice. Secularization it must be said has nio deep answers to life’s rude and hard edges.

These poor floundering kids felt it was OK to assuage their grief by defacing a public building. They mourned in the way many do today.They placed flowers near the tragic death. This should not be mocked.It is a real cri de coeur but it falls radically short.

Sadly most churches have not found ways to connect their deep wisdom to young lives today.They pontificate from on high, talk at the young.Few really know how to walk withythem.

Pity, these kids who defaced that building could have used intelligent succour. One family’s pain could have been more easlly born

Dead theology: The Israel Fluff Tour

August 21, 2010

They trudge through the Unholy Land and miss the many splendoured thing the dignified lives of the Palestinians under occupation. IN my latest sojourn to Israel/Palestine I saw numerous “fluff tours”, depressing journeys to an ahistorical dead Jesus.I saw tour after tour salivate over dead objects- stones, churches, artiifacts which may or may not have some connection with the Galilean peasant we call Jesus Christ. Here is my letter to one “traditionalist” priest from Virginia.

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?


Dear Father

In the lectionary yesterday I read these vital words from Ezekiel

“Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house”.

When the young priest told me he had been to the Holy Land for his 5th anniversary of his priesthood.I asked him about it. He went on and on about the   holy places, Mt of Beatitudes, Bethlehem, etc.

As his former theology teacher I stopped him.

“Did I teach you nothing?”

I asked him if he had spent any time with those in whom Jesus especially locates himself, (Matt 25:31-46) the disfigured lives of the Palestinian people?

He grabbed his head as the penny dropped.

I got the feeling in talking to your pilgrims  that your tour was similar,

On our pilgrimage led by a Basilian priest Fr Bob Holmes we met the most amazing nonviolent Palestinians (try Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour inter alios) who were struggling for dignity in the unholy land.

We met incredible  Jews with the same shalom orientation.

In other words we wanted to hear from “the living stones” not the dead ones. We wanted real tradition not traditionalism (“The dead spirit of the living”, Jaroslav Pelikan).

By visiting the holy places and the living stones we wanted to be in a living tradition. We wanted the living Christ not bad nostalgia.

Peter’s letter  reminds us,”You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…”

To do this we must know the context of our lives or the Incarnation means nothing. As Jesse Jackson famously said, “Any text without a context is a   pretext.”

Any visit to Israel/Palestine that bypasses the marginalized in the quest for higher spiritual ground misses the point and bad theology leads to bad practice. Your tour was a journey to the past without contemporary relevance.

Two sleepy people- West Bank check point

August 13, 2010
Crossing from the West Bank into Israel involved going through one of the noxious check points Palestinians deal with every day.

Here we met two sleepy people, young Israeli women, puting in their two years of service. I was astonished at their utter boredom.They were literally laying virtually parallel to the ground, waving people through. Had a police chief in Toronto seen this unprofessional behaviour, they would have been reprimanded severely for their job performance.

And there they were, at the first line of defence, surrounded by cameras and  the infamous Wall which has already stolen about 10% more Palestinian land.

Canadians simply showed their passports and were waived through.Then came Palestinians, mainly men old enough  be their fathers and grandfathers, having to place their hand prints on a machine which is part of the brilliant Israeli security apparatus.  Israel has perfected  ways to pen up and cage  a proud people, refugees in their own native  land. It is a multi  billion dollar industry for the state.

How much more impressive it would be if they took that brilliant Askenazic talent and put it at the service of empathy and understanding. Instead it takes these young kids at 18 and gives them literally the power of life, death and movement over another people yearning to be met as equals as “blood brothers and sisters.”

How much more meaningful it would be for these young women to do state service  in a day care in Gaza or a summer camp in Hebron where they could meet their “cousins” and hear their stories.

Instead we watch two kids, half asleep doing the state’s bidding, looking at their watches and wondering with the rest of the world, when will this finally be over.

Hebron, West Bank August 3

August 11, 2010

Aug. 3  Hebron, West Bank   Israel/Palestine

Another eventful day in this strange Palestinian city of 160,000 Palestinians  400 settlers from Brooklyn who think it is their land and 2,000 israeli soldiers to protect the “true believers.”

I did not take my passport to a check point—along with  Mario and  his wife Margie —no entry though it was obvious we were with group. So I had a long talk with the young guard whose English was excellent.

I told him my background as a Shabbes Goy and a lover of all things Jewish, my experience as the first teacher of the Holocaust in Catholic schools  etc. “You know this does not make friends for the Jewish state”. He hung his head a bit. “I know you have a job to do but this is ridiculous…the group will be  back in half an hour.” I  made my point then he warmed up and he asked me about my work and Canada. We had a nice chat and shook hands after that.” A smart kid, about 22, toting a sub machine gun at a Hebron check point. It’s bad enough that we let teenage kids drive  car but putting heavy heat in the hands of a 22 year old kid is mad. As one boy soldier told me, “As soon as I finish my 3 years of army service I am leaving this crazy country.”

The guards from Jerusalem have little time for these fanatical settlers in Hebron—imagine the money to pen up  400 people in this almost totally  Palestinian city of 160,000. and what of the 2,500 soldiers of the IDF doing this dirty job of defending such noxious betrayers of Torah? The money spent on this must be formidable. How long can this continue until Israeli citizens realize the futility of such oppression. As more and more internationals trek through the West Bank, Israel loses more and more credibility. It’s bad enough that Judaism represented by people like this, takes another body blow, much to the emnbarrassment of the holy ones who try to live Torah wherever they may be.

One of the merchants in the market  showed us the eggs dropped from above (settlers’ homes) which ruined  his beautiful hand-woven rug. An American offered to buy it for 2,000 dollars “Not for sale”, so instead  he shows it to foreigners. He’s lucky. One kid’s face was disfigured by acid tossed from above. One local was killed when a huge nail punctured his brain. Here there is no manna from heaven—but urine, feces and projectiles of all kinds.

Then there is the strange case of Mr. Gopnik of New York City who offered $200 million for two small shops in Hebron. Again Not for sale. Reminded me of the blockbusting in American cities which produced white flight.

This is the praiseworthy Sumud that many Palestinians show…steadfast resistance to Occupation.

Trying to document this for US and Canadian consumption seems to be well lnigh impossible. The phenomenal Franciscan nun we met Sr. Paulette Schroeder from Toledo, Ohio told me that her diocesan newspaper refuses to run her  first-hand witness. Little truth seen or heard regarding Israel in church organs. And Jesus the Palestinian Jew laments, “Oy vei iz mir”!

Reminds me of that Jewish prophet Groucho Marx who said, “Who do you believe, me or your eyes?”