How can historical facts like ethnic cleansing, Apartheid and the Palestinian struggle for justice in general, be subject to “diverse opinions” by 100 liberal rabbis so highly committed to the Jewish tradition? How is that possible?
The 100 rabbis who signed a letter in defence of Michelle Alexander published by Tikkun Magazine perplex and confuse me. What exactly do they stand for? Tikkun’s own slogan confuses and perplexes me. Their voice is supposed to be “The Prophetic Jewish, Interfaith & Secular Voice to Heal and Transform the World” — i.e., it has the corner on practically everything under the sun — except, of course, Palestine in relation to the sanctity of the Jewish state.
At the heart of my confusion is the difficulty I have in untangling what the term “Jewish” means. Do these rabbis represent Judaism, as one would automatically and naturally understand the designation of “rabbi”, or do they represent Jewish nationalism or both? If the latter two, how in the world do they reconcile their social justice system of belief, as religious men and women whose main concern is the spiritual realm, with their embrace of Jewish nationalism, a construct that exists in Israel (to me Palestine) as bigotry and apartheid?
So what are these hundred rabbis saying in the letter with high-sounding moral values and commitments? Here are the messages I got upon reading the letter:
They support Michelle Alexander for writing “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” which was published in the New York Times on January 20.
They support her, because she is being attacked by other Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic.
They say, correctly, she deserves their support because she is a principled black woman whose liberal credentials in speaking out against racism, incarceration and other issues are stellar.
Professor Alexander’s prophetic voice moves them because their own voice is prophetic too. They “believe that her words are rooted in the same deep commitment to defending the rights and freedoms of oppressed communities.”
Professor Alexander’s prophetic voice reminds them that they “must take their spiritual teachings and apply them to the world we live in.”
But wait a minute, aren’t they doing that already by supporting the “right” of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in either partitioned or all of Palestine? Aren’t they applying something in their scriptures to a political, territorial issue in the world Palestinians of all religions live in?
In the letter, they have a disclaimer on top, saying: “While we hold diverse opinions regarding the origins of and solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are moved to speak publicly in support of Professor Alexander.”
What in the world does “we hold diverse opinions regarding the origins of and solutions to” the conflict mean? So the history of Palestine, as well as the solutions to the conflict, are subject to Midrash (biblical exegesis) for these rabbis? Are historical facts of ethnic cleansing “an opinion”? Have they not heard Angela Davis say justice is indivisible? Maybe they should read B’Tselem’s latest report titled ‘Fake justice’.
In their ringing commitment to social justice, why are these rabbis looking for “solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” rather than being in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation in Palestine?
Meanwhile, this in the news on 9 Feb 2019: Israeli ministers sign petition to settle 2 million Jews in West Bank. . First “the Jewish people” colonize a part of Palestine and now they are “settling” the rest of it. This is our ongoing Jewish State Nakba.
I ask these rabbis, if not now, for God’s sake (any God), when? What they are doing, however well-intentioned, falls short of the mark. They need to stand up, all one hundred of them, in their “Jewish liberal movements” and call for the liberation of Palestine. “Defending the rights and freedoms of oppressed communities” ought not to be subject to “diverse opinions” by people who claim to be so highly committed to the Jewish tradition that teaches “we have a responsibility to protest when we see injustice”. Palestinian human rights and the Palestinian struggle for justice ought not to be “diverse” or, in Angela Davis’s word, “divisible”.
Rima Najjar is an activist for justice and liberation in Palestine