(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

On the ground in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas has been devastating. Online and in the public sphere, a different sort of war has been taking place – a broad initiative to delegitimize those who raise questions about and critique Israel’s actions.

This initiative is being carried out both by so-called ‘pro-Israel’ individuals as well as student volunteers enlisted by Israel’s government in its ‘social media war.’ The result: those who merely express empathy for the suffering in Gaza, where over 1,100 people have been killed and 6,000 injured, are tainted as anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas, and those who offer dissenting opinions are labelled as enemies who seek Israel’s destruction.

The goal is to shut down dialogue and debate, something Jon Stewart nailed in a recent bit in which he attempts to discuss Israel, only to be shouted down as a self-hating Jew. It is not a new phenomenon or initiative, though it has become much more intense and widespread as emotions run high over the ongoing violence in Gaza and continued rocket attacks in Israel.

It seems to be affecting everyone who publicly offers critical opinions about Israel’s Gaza offensive, whether celebrities, journalists or anonymous individuals.

The horrible irony is that, as propagandists try to defame dissenters by slandering them as anti-Semitic, thus diluting its meaning, real anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Europe. Anti-semitism is still a real danger, and that danger is being made graver by those who are participating in this online initiative to falsely tar concerned voices as enemies of Israel.

                                                                  –§–

In the past three weeks, I have been targeted countless times with such accusations, both on Twitter and in comments to my articles. Yesterday, it reached such heights, with my views being distorted beyond recognition, that I was compelled to write an essay entitled, "Empathizing with Gaza does not make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human." Responses to that artcle have been overwhelming.

The response has been so strong, in part, because of the vast numbers of people who have been on the receiving end of similar attacks. And that’s outside of Israel. Within it, as Etgar Keret writes in The New Yorker, efforts to silence and delegitimize dissenting voices on Gaza are intense in a society which overwhelmingly supports the military operation.

In the end, such attacks are not personal. In fact, they usually don’t even have much to do with the person being targeted. Instead, such incidents are really just efforts to dehumanize Palestinians and undermine their status as victims in a zero sum game.

I’m just the vehicle. We all are. But like many, I refuse to play this zero-sum game, in which one can be on only one side. Indeed, there is a ‘third way.’ A way to be invested in and care about both sides, viewing the conflict as one in which both sides can win.

Or lose.

My hope is that, in the end, it will be the former. And that’s why I write.

                                                                      –§–

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

In scenes reminiscent of the PBS series "Upstairs, Downstairs," and "Downton Abbey," a luxury condominium complex in New York City's Upper West Side, according to an agreement reached between the developers and City government, when completed, will contain a door for use by wealthy residents only, and a separate door for lower-income tenants. In exchange for permission to build a bigger and taller building, the developers have agreed to include 55 affordable rent-regulated units.

Residents living in these more "affordable" apartments within high-end complexes throughout the City are usually restricted from availing themselves of amenities granted to wealthy occupants, including swimming pools, gyms, and tennis and basketball courts. Since traditionally in New York City the majority of renters and buyers paying market rates for housing are white and the majority of tenants living in rent-regulated units are people of color, these sorts of "agreements" promote legalized segregation based on skin color and the color of money.

No matter how utterly offensive we may consider this arrangement, it does not even begin to represent the enormous economic gap and segregation of communities in the United States today. While economic disparities plague all nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States. No other problem affects the security and the very survival of our nation and other nations across our ever-shrinking planet more than the income and resource gap between the rich and the poor.

From the time of our birth and throughout our lives, we are told and continually retold the tale of meritocracy. The story goes something like this: For those of us living in the United States, it matters not from which station of life we came. We each have been born into a system that guarantees us equal and equitable access of opportunity. Success is ours through hard work, study, and ambition, and by deferring gratification for later in life. Those who do not achieve success must accept personal responsibility. Maybe they did not try hard enough. Maybe they failed to scale any barriers that could have been placed in their way because they did not have the will, the fortitude, the intelligence, the character, or because they simply made bad choices.

Though this narrative stands as the foundation on which this country was constructed, many of us see it for the lie and the fabrication that it is. This ruling class tool, this form of hegemony serves the purpose of mitigating challenges to the inherent and inevitable inequities in "free market" Capitalism, and, therefore, not only perpetuates, but expands the ever-increasing gulf within the socioeconomic class structure.

In the United States, the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.

In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) in the United States lived below the poverty line, with 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18. Approximately 49.0 million lived in food insecure households (available food depleted before the end of the month), including 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.

The compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers' salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today's official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00lessaccounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968.

The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax ratefellby 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50% of the U.S. population combined.

A few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26% of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68% are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp and school lunch safety nets. In reality, a McDonald's employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year.

Some families have the privilege of purchasing two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless.

Ultimately, no one really wins when millions of people have been shut out of the economy. No one wins when people don't have the money to spend on the goods and services in the stores owned and managed by the rich. No one wins when the upper 10 percent own approximately 73 percent of the nation's wealth, and only 85 of the wealthiest individuals own the equivalent of the lowest 3.5 billion (with a "B") people in the world. If this continues unabated, nationwide and worldwide economic disaster and political upheaval will inevitably ensue.

Returning to the example of the two-tiered (multi-tiered) New York City condominium structure, what we are witnessing is a postmodern version of the high-walled city center of Medieval times protecting the nobility from peasants and marauding bands, and the 20th-century gated communities meant to keep out thieves and bandits. These hermetically-sealed containers, nonetheless, eventually imprison us all.

(To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.)

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what's occurring in Israel and Gaza - an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.

There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I'd like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.

1) Why Single Out Israel?

One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there's a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.

This sort of logic simply doesn't hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I've done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.

It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that's the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.

Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication's current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:

On what grounds did we "single out" apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren't there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?

Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.

So, why Israel? Why should what's happening in Israel/Palestine be a progressive political issue in America? The answer is simple: America is inextricably linked with what's going on in the region in ways that are incomparable anywhere else in the world.

The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion annually in funding, more than it gives any other nation, and much of that funding supports Israel's military apparatus. The U.S. has even expanded that funding through 2018 despite the fact that Israel, against U.S. policy, has continued to expand its illegal settlements, making a U.S.-supported two-state solution impossible. America has also continuing this funding during Israel's decades-old military occupation in the West Bank, which denies Palestinians basic human rights while subjecting them to military law, including indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and violent, sometimes deadly suppression of political protest.

And now, during a tragic war of choice in Gaza many international observers view as violating international law, the White House has backed Israel's efforts as hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed, often when their homes are targeted (an issue Jake Tapper raised pointedly with Israel's ambassador).

As citizens, our tax dollars are funding what is occurring.

Now, to be clear: I don't want funding cut to Israel. For example, as Hamas fires crude rockets (it cannot control) into Israel, the U.S.-provided Iron Dome is protecting civilians, my friends among them, and I'm grateful for that. However, I have many concerns about the way Israel is using its disproportionate military force - a force heavily-funded by America. Should we be invested in voicing concerns about how our tax dollars are being spent? As progressives? As Americans?

Absolutely.

2) Let Them Kill Each Other - Regional Hate Is None of My Concern

This is an insidious, dehumanizing and wholly simplistic tact that some people take with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though in their defense, it's a view most media in America perpetuate. I have no intention of engaging in a comprehensive, historical review in this space to counter it, though doing so would certainly be appropriate.

Rather, I'll simply respond to this line of reasoning as follows: this "conflict" is not so much a prolonged war as it is a decades-long, asymmetrical oppression of one people (sadly, my people) over another.

Yes, religious hatred amongst minority groups on both sides exist. Yes, racism and anti-Semitism amongst minority groups on both sides exist. And yes, the continued conflict has worked over decades to imbue each society with mistrust for the other that is difficult to overcome.

However, this is a situation - just like every other geopolitical crisis - which has geopolitical solutions. Here is the kicker, though: no solutions will be advanced, nor will peace be attained, unless outside pressure is brought to bear upon both parties, for neither seem capable of extricating themselves from counterproductive policies on their own.

All the more reason for us to be involved and invested, as progressive Americans, in what is happening.

Yes, as a Jew, I am invested in Israel's future in unique ways. I want it to thrive and survive, to achieve its democratic promise, however difficult that may be. And this investment is, in part, what motivates me to critique Israel: the damage it's doing to the Palestinians is also destroying itself.

However, as a progressive American whose liberal Jewish values align with my U.S.-borne political ones, I find it imperative that we address Palestinian suffering, the denial of their human rights, and the suppression of their right to self-determination.

As Americans partially responsible for and heavily intertwined in the conflict, we have no other choice.

-§-


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Cat Zavis)

I have been struggling with how to respond to the current crisis in Gaza (and frankly, the craziness of so many things in the world right now - including the horrific reality that Obama is closing our doors to refugee children sending them back to their countries to face horrors unimaginable).

My heart is broken. At Shabbat services Friday night, as we sang a prayer for healing, my thoughts turned to all the victims in Gaza - images of their maimed and murdered bodies (that I had unfortunately seen on the internet) flashed before my eyes, resulting in tears running down my cheeks and sobs of sorrow and grief), just as I mourned the death of the three Israeli teenagers. I sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness at the current situation and know many people don't have any idea what to do to stop this madness, nonetheless I am now working to expand our Network of Spiritual Progressives to help spread a different worldview and to bring a voice of compassion and empathy to the situation.

Israel, with its overwhelming power, has a moral responsibility to stop bombing Gaza. Israel is killing innocent civilians under the guise of wiping out Hamas when in fact, this sort of attack will only strengthen militant forces and voices in Palestine who will use the attacks to further their position that Israel (and "Jews") are murderers and only care about controlling all of Israel and Palestine. In addition, this behavior by Netanyahu only perpetuates anti-Semitism and puts Jews at greater risk around the world. When the actions of the State of Israel are equated with the actions of Jews, Jews ultimately suffer.In fact, just today I read about pro-Hamas protesters in Paris trapping hundreds of Jews in a synagogue, chanting "Death to Jews" while throwing rocks and bricks at the synagogue. The police dispersed the crowd. The members left the synagogue - two were lightly injured. Anti-Semitism, like any form of racism, is always illegitimate. But when so many institutions of the organized Jewish communities around the world line up in solidarity with whatever military or political action the State of Israel takes, I can easily see how easy it is for some to equate the activities of the State of Israel with the entire Jewish people (unfair though that is).

At the same time, Hamas is playing into the hands of the Israeli government and Netanyahu. By responding by launching rockets into Israel (even though such rockets do not result in any physical injuries or deaths to people, but nonetheless terrorize the citizens of Israel - and yes, not at all in proportion to the suffering or terror of the Palestinians) Hamas is only perpetuating and bolstering the discourse in Israel that Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the planet and we need to wipe them out once and for all. Hamas would serve the Palestinian people much better if they put down their weapons and engaged in a massive nonviolent response, and publicly accepted Israel's existence as a legitimate homeland for the Jewish people. After all, who wants to negotiate with an enemy who still says that their goal is to wipe you out entirely? But if they changed their discourse, and really allowed themselves to accept that Israel is here to stay and is not going to disappear, they would deliver a mortal blow to the right wing militarists in Israel. If they adopted this kind of nonviolent strategy, Israel would have two options - either continue to bomb Gaza even though there is absolutely no justification for it and lose any credibility it has left or stop bombing and return to a cease fire - thereby ending unnecessary suffering and deaths.

I desperately wish that saner voices would prevail in Israel, Palestine, the United States as well as around the world. And we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives are trying to help build an interfaith movement of such voices because we know that for American policy to change (which is a key part of changing the dynamic in Israel/Palestine) it will require voices from across the religious, spiritual, and secular society.

So what can you do? Challenge the public discourse - again and again - on social media, in the press, in conversations with others, EVERYWHERE.

Educate yourself about the situation - change the discourse from one of us/them to one of understanding and compassion. I know this is extremely difficult to do - how can we have compassion for a state that occupies another people and drops bombs on innocent civilians or for a group that says it wants to wipe a country off the face of the earth? And yet, that is what we have to do. The demonizing of either side only serves to bolster and perpetuate the violence and serves those promoting violence. We have to help people understand that both sides have suffered and that they continue to suffer, while also understanding that the suffering of Palestinians exceeds that of Israelis. If you are Jewish and have been raised in the discourse of Zionism, that Arabs want to kill us, etc., I implore you to read stories from Palestinians experiences of the situation. To open your heart to the possibility that you may not know all the facts - may not see the "Other" as equal.If you are Palestinian and have suffered at the hands of Israel, I also encourage you to read stories from the perspective of Jews and Israelis. To open your heart to their suffering, not in the hopes that you will no longer feel your own suffering but because your desire for peace, your desire to be able to live a normal life depends on it.Do this with compassion for yourself because unpacking a lifetime of stories on which you formed your identity and the identity of your people is no easy task.

I know this because this is exactly what I did 30 years ago - I started to read the history of Israel/Palestine, not from the perspective of my Jewish/Zionist roots, but from a broader perspective that included the stories and histories of Palestinians. I joined Palestinian solidarity groups, became friends with Palestinians and Muslims and broke down the stereotypes I was raised to believe - ones I am not proud of! No, it was not easy - it is never easy to realize that the stories you believed, the "truths" you believed, on which your entire worldview is based, are in fact only one side of the story and that life is actually much more complex than you thought. But I am so grateful I did - life is much more rich when you can see its complexities, its nuances, and its uncertainties. In fact, compassion, empathy and peace cannot be achieved without it.

To help you gain a greater perspective on the history, I encourage you to read Embracing Israel/Palestine. In this book, Rabbi Lerner presents an understanding of the history of both sides. Unlike other accounts that focus solely on the "facts," Rabbi Lerner provides an understanding of the psychological history of both sides in the hopes that doing so will help you understand why certain actions only serve to perpetuate violence, throwing one side or the other into trauma and fear. When humans are operating from a place of trauma or fear, the normal human response is to fight, flight or freeze. As we have seen again and again in Israel and Palestine, the prominent voices and actors choose to fight, causing untold suffering and hardship for the rest of their societies.

It is not enough to know that something is wrong and that people are doing things that are causing great harm and suffering and that this needs to stop, you need to understand how to contribute to a healthy discussion of what are strategically sound and smart ways to respond - ways that will lead to empathy, compassion, understanding and ultimately peace rather than feed the fears of either or both sides. This requires a much more nuanced understanding of the history and peoples than you get elsewhere.

We, at the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), are working to build a spiritually progressive popular, political movement that will bring to the forefront of discourse on all issues spiritual principles and values of love, kindness, generosity, care, seeing and treating each others as sacred beings worthy of respect and dignity like each of us, and responding to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement. It is our belief if we choose to respond in this way to the crises in Gaza and around the world we will be able to slowly find a path to reconciliation, healing, peace and justice. And, I believe that to do so, we have to start where I did in this piece - with allowing the pain and suffering and sorrow of the world to course through our bodies, to move us to tears, to break open our hearts, to feel the depth of our grief because grieving is the birthplace of healing, repair and transformation (tikkun) of self and the world. There are plenty of movements with rational plans for the Middle East - but none has managed to crack through the cynicism and propensity on all sides of this struggle to believe that security can only be achieved through "power over" others. We at the NSP seek to work at this core level, the emotional blocks that must be exposed and then healed if we are to ever achieve peace, justice and true reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. They cynics will say, "It will never happen." But as Rabbi Lerner says, you never know what is possible until you put your life energies, money, and time to promote what is desirable."

I hope that you will join the NSP (to do so, go to our website and click on the join or donate button) and form a local chapter or affinity group so that you can explore these issues in a supportive community of people who share your values and vision for a new worldview. We are working to bring peace, justice and compassion to Israel and Palestine - if this is what you want too, please join our efforts. If you have questions or want support in your efforts, please email me at cat@spiritualprogressives.org.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Growing up outside of Atlanta, I learned to crawl with Bob Dylan’s “Only A Pawn In Their Game” as my soundtrack, anti-war posters hanging on the walls, beckoning me and my raw knees forward. I was weaned with the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. reverberating downthe narrow halls of my parents’ apartment, formed my first words as though delivering a soliloquy on equality.

In first grade, I asked the teacher if the ‘Indians’ still celebrated Thanksgiving. When she asked why I wanted to know, I responded, “Because the people they ate with took their land,” something I’d learned from an honest mother. During a Little League game, my father intervened when coaches tried to initiate a prayer circle, wanting us to give thanks in Jesus’ name. He fiercely believed in the separation of church and, well, everything.

As an American Jew, I was mostly instilled with progressive values as a child. Rather, I was instilled with progressive, American values – particularly those which aligned with liberal, Jewish ones. A love of social justice, human rights, equality. A disdain for racism, fundamentalism, colonialism. Sure, I attended Hebrew school, but my scripture was more the Bill of Rights than the Torah, and my anthems came from hip-hop and rock, not the Book of Psalms (תהילים).

Despite this, my early love for progressivism was accompanied by a love for the State of Israel. As a short, Jewish kid who wanted to be an NBA star, I was naturally inclined to root for the underdog. And at synagogue, we were taught that Jews were the ultimate underdogs, miraculously surviving the Holocaust and a history of oppression to create a contemporary “light unto the nations” which fought with dogged determination against evil and had a cool flag. And I was taught that I was vulnerable, that there were people who wanted me dead, and that Israel was a safe haven, a beacon, a garden to which I could always escape.

Palestinians, accordingly, were portrayed as just one in a series of people who have risen up throughout history to destroy us, being painted as a caricature of evil. As a boy, I nodded and understood. Israel was not just good, it was necessary.

One Sunday morning, my parents dropped me off at our local, liberal synagogue for what was billed as the youth group’s pancake breakfast. Once inside, we were surprisingly herded into a multi-purpose room and sharply ordered to sit against the walls by masked men carrying plastic assault rifles. Stale bread was thrown on the linoleum floor toward me and my friends, perplexed and unsure what the hell this was all about, but smart enough to know it was not actually a dangerous situation. Younger children started crying.

This is what the enemy is like, some teachers told us when it was over.

I nodded. We were the good ones.

–§–

As an adult, I’ve moved away from such naiveté while holding on to both my Zionist and progressive leanings, despite the growing struggle for coexistence between the two. And it’s not as though I’m mildly informed about the region or mildly invested in Israel and my Jewishness. The opposite, in fact, is the case. I’m a Jewish studies teacher at a day school, yeshiva-educated with a master’s degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I’ve authored a memoir about my experience with terror and reconciliation, and write extensively about the region, often critiquing Israel from a progressive perspective while maintaining my desire for a two-state solution to the conflict.

As an adult, I’ve learned about the cleansing of Arab villages which took place from 1947-1949 to make way for the Jewish state. I’ve learned about the ongoing settlement enterprise, the appropriation and bifurcation of Palestinian lands. I’ve learned the horrors of Israel’s decades-old occupation of the West Bank, about the suppression of basic human rights and the atrocities committed. I’ve studied Israel’s use of indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on goods and movement, and the violence visited upon those being occupied.

I’ve learned that – and this is just one example of many – a Palestinian child has tragically been killed every three days for the past 14 years. That bears repeating, since such deaths are rarely, if ever, given any attention in America: Palestinian parents have had to bury a child every three days for the past 14 years.

Knowing all this, I’ve still held fast to my ‘progressive Zionism,’ hoping Israel could become that beacon of liberalism I was presented as a child, a beacon which never truly existed in the first place, despite the country’s socialist roots. Why have I done so? For two reasons: 1) deep down, I still believe in the promise of Israel, and 2) I can’t shake the notion that a Jewish state is absolutely necessary for our security.

Over the last decade, I’ve formed alliances with progressive Americans and the Israeli left, working in my own, small ways to try and move Israel away from those illegal, geopolitical policies causing so much suffering for Palestinians and undermining Israel’s ability to not just thrive, but survive. All the while, I’ve watched the anti-war movement in Israel weaken, watched racism flourish and religious fundamentalism grow, watched Israel’s government build settlements at a record pace and make clear it has little interest in peace.

These realities have forced me to consider the incongruity between my American-borne progressivism and my Zionism. They have forced me to admit, like Peter Beinart, that in order to continue supporting Israel as a Jewish state, with everything it continues to do, I must compromise my progressivism.

However, the mind-numbingly horrific events of the past week have forced me, for the first time, to wonder whether such compromising can be sustained.

–§–

What has happened? This: on June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank by Palestinians belonging to a rogue branch of Hamas. I, along with friends and loved ones, worried they would become three more Jewish victims (added to the 1,100 killed since 2001) in an unending conflict, and watched closely as the Israeli military began combing the West Bank for them. Only, it soon became clear that soldiers weren’t looking for them so much as collectively punishing Palestinians for the crime of a few people. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu falsely blamed the kidnapping on Hamas – a move likely aimed at derailing the PA-Hamas unity government – and vowed they would “pay a heavy price.” But it was Palestinian civilians who paid a heavy price as for weeks soldiers raided over 1,600 sites in the West Bank, indefinitely detained hundreds, and killed five Palestinians.

Israel placed a gag order on details surrounding the teens’ abduction, and reports surfaced that Israeli officials knew the boys were dead, but wanted to justify ongoing military operations under the hope of bringing the boys back. (Alas, it seems such reports may have been accurate.)

And then, on June 30, the tragic news suddenly came: the three teens had been found dead. And just as suddenly, calls for blood and vengeance echoed from Israel, starting with Netanyahu, who turned a Chaim Bialik poem on its head by using it to call for blood:

In turn, calls for blood and revenge began echoing throughout Israel and on social media, with a Facebook page dedicated to such calls quickly receiving 35,000 likes. It featured soldiers posing with weapons, asking for permission to kill, along with countless Israelis calling for revenge:


On the left, Israelis hold a sign that reads,"Hating Arabs isn't racism, it's values! #IsraelDemandsRevenge," while on the right, a soldier post a picture with the caption, "Let us simply spray (them with bullets)."

After the funeral for the three slain Israeli teens on July 1, angry mobs of hundreds began roaming the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs,” attacking Palestinians and promising bloodby nightfall.

Chemi Shalev of Haaretz, witnessing the genocidal chants from Israelis and reading reports of Israeli police saving Palestinian citizens from the mobs, wrote the following:

Make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits.

By nightfall, with the ink of Shalev’s pen barely dried, horrific news came that a Palestinian teen from East Jerusalem had been abducted and killed by Israeli settlers in an act of revenge, with reports revealing the unspeakable: he was likely burned alive.

Since that night on July 1, parts of Israel have been burning, and clashes between Palestinians and police in Shuafat, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where the killed teenager lived, have been particularly intense. The police have beenunrelenting, raining rubber bullets and tear gas down upon a grieving neighborhood. And the scenes have been difficult to watch.

Perhaps the scene that has put me over the edge is one that should hit close to home: an American teenager from Tampa visiting Israel, who happens to be a cousin of the slain Palestinian teen, was almost beaten to death by police, ostensibly for throwing rocks, and remains in Israeli detention. [Video of the incident.]


Mother of the American teen beaten told ABC, "He wasn't recognizable."

I have no words.

–§–

There are parts of me right now that feel defeated. Yes, there have been calls for peace and the denouncing of extremism in Israel, but such calls feel as though they have been drowned out by those still craving revenge. And as Shalev notes, this isn’t an isolated incident – this is the result of a real shift in Israeli society concurrent with the ongoing occupation.

The past week’s events have shaken me to my core, and have forced me to look long and hard at my personal politics. For if this were any country but Israel, my progressive values would not allow me to support, much less love, such an enterprise. Yet the reality is this: I do.

I’m not ready to abandon the dream of a Jewish state that lives up to its democratic promises, and continue to hold tenuously onto the idea of two states for two peoples. However, I have begun, for the first time, to consider what a single, bi-national state might look like, to consider that it might finally end this madness.

And here’s the irony: Israel’s extreme-right leaders, embracing various one-state solutions, have forced me to do so. Hell, Israel just elected as its President a one-state proponent. How can I not consider what that might look like?

As it happens, during all of this, I’ve just finished Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which makes an impassioned case for a democratic, bi-national state as the only way to end this conflict.

The progressive American in me agreed with much of his arguments. The Zionist in me was scared by its premise.

The humanist in me just wants all of this to end. Wants all of the suffering and pain on both sides to end.

If not now, when?

-§-


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

James Risen of The New York Times, using recently disclosed State Department documents, has written a bombshell-of-a-story chronicling how Blackwater's top manager threatened to kill the U.S. government's chief investigator in 2007, thus thwarting an investigation into Blackwater's operations just weeks before the company's guards massacred 17 Iraqi civilians.

The story is characteristic Risen: unflinchingly and thoroughly reported. However, Risen may not be able to write such stories in a matter of months. Instead, he may be sitting in a jail cell as a result of a case being prosecuted against him by the Obama administration.

The case against Risen began in 2008. This is when his book, State of War, was published, which contained information on a secret, botched CIA operation in Iran. The Bush administration, furious at the revelations, subpoenaed Risen and demanded that he reveal his confidential source. Risen has steadfastly refused, and if the Obama administration proceeds this summer to prosecute Risen, the NYT journalist may soon be behind bars.

Here's Jonathan Mahler of the Times on the Risen case:

After more than six years of legal wrangling, the case - the most serious confrontation between the government and the press in recent history - will reach a head in the coming weeks. Mr. Risen has steadfastly refused to testify. But he is now out of challenges. Early this month, the Supreme Court declined to review his case, a decision that allows prosecutors to compel his testimony. If Mr. Risen resists, he could go to prison.

Though the court's decision looked like a major victory for the government, it has forced the Obama administration to confront a hard choice. Should it demand Mr. Risen's testimony and be responsible for a reporter's being sent to jail? Or reverse course and stand down, losing credibility with an intelligence community that has pushed for the aggressive prosecution of leaks?

The dilemma comes at a critical moment for an administration that has struggled to find a balance between aggressively enforcing laws against leaking and demonstrating concern for civil liberties and government transparency. Whatever the Justice Department chooses to do will send a powerful message about how far it is willing to go to protect classified information in the digital age. And journalists and press freedom activists are watching closely for the precedent the decision will most likely set.

The DOJ's case, inherited from the Bush administration and pursued with equal determination, is a monumental one for both Risen and for press freedoms in our country. At a time in which whistleblowers are being prosecuted at record rates, Risen represents a metaphorical watershed: will such prosecutions spill over onto the journalistic landscape, or will the DOJ decide not to prosecute journalists for simply doing their jobs?

Eric Holder hinted recently that the DOJ might not prosecute Risen, expressing before a group of reporters exactly this sentiment, saying, "As long as I'm attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail."

However, the DOJ's case is continuing, which makes one wonder if journalists who use anonymous sources who reveal confidential information - considered law-breaking whistleblowers by the Obama administration - will be treated as whistleblowers themselves.

Risen stated recently that he has two choices, "Give up everything I believe in - or go to jail."

David Pozen, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in leak cases, believes that what the Obama administration decides to do with Risen will establish how such cases will be handled in the future, stating, "If they let Risen go, it would suggest that however else they try to bring these criminal-leak cases going forward, journalists will largely be shielded."

However, with the Wikileaks and Snowden cases in the background, there's reason to believe that the Obama administration would be wary to set such a precedent, particularly with Wikileaks functioning as a journalistic outlet.

Holder has hinted that the Obama administration won't keep journalists from doing their jobs. In order for his words to be true, in order for U.S. journalists to enjoy those press freedoms necessary for the press to truly form a Fourth Estate, the Obama administration must end its prosecution of Risen.

For if Risen is not shielded, the result will likely be the prosecution of more journalists, and the silencing of many who make it their job to report precisely on those things those in power wish to remain secret.

In many ways, the functioning of our democracy in an ideal sense, in which an informed electorate can make choices based upon the actions of those in power, hangs in the balance.

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Brant Rosen)

In the wake of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s recent decision to divest from three companies that profit from Israel's occupation, Jewish establishment leaders have been expressing their displeasure toward the PC(USA) in no uncertain terms.

Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman stated last week that church leaders have "fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel." Rabbi Noam Marans director of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee, declared that "the PC(USA) decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East." And Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, publicly accused the PC(USA) of having a "deep animus" against "both the Jewish people and the State of Israel."

Given such extreme rhetoric, it may come as a surprise to many that the same overture that called for the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions to divest from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewett-Packard and Motorola Solutions also included the following resolutions:

- (To) reaffirm Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with the United Nations resolutions;

- (To) declare its commitment to a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people;

- (To) reaffirm PC(USA)'s commitment to interfaith dialog and partnerships with the American Jewish, Muslim friends and Palestinian Christians and call for all presbyteries and congregations within the PC(USA) to include interfaith dialogue and relationship-building as part of their own engagement in working for a just peace.

- (To) urge all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis."

Do these sound like the words of a "hostile" church committed to a "Jew-free Middle East?"

In truth, these are the words of a religious community struggling in good faith to walk the path of justice while still remaining sensitive to the concerns of their Jewish sisters and brothers.

Such a description certainly comports with my own personal experience. I attended the Presbyterian General Assembly last week as part of the Jewish Voice for Peace delegation and had lengthy conversations with numerous GA commissioners. When I asked them to share their feelings about the divestment overture, the majority responded with a similar refrain: in their hearts they wanted to vote in favor, but they hesitated because they were worried what it might do to their relationships with their Jewish family and friends and colleagues.

This theme occurred repeatedly during the committee and plenum debates as well. Commissioners who opposed the overture relied less on political arguments than upon their concern for their personal relationships with Jews and with the Jewish community at large. Many commissioners who spoke in favor of the overture expressed similar concerns even as they decided to cast their votes as a matter of deeply held conscience.

In the end, the process that led up to the final vote on divestment was one of genuine discernment and faithful witness. To be sure, the final wording of the overture is a nuanced statement by a church that clearly seeks to follow its sacred mission of justice in Israel/Palestine even as it cherishes its long-standing relationship with the Jewish community.

As a Jew, I was deeply saddened that so many Jewish establishment leaders saw fit to resort to what can only be called emotional blackmail in order to fight against a Presbyterian overture that they didn't like. But for all the undue pressure, I have no doubt that the heavy-handed nature of these tactics ultimately contributed in no small way to the success of the final divestment overture.

Notably, during the plenum discussion, one commissioner commented that he was "offended" to see some Jewish opponents to the overture wearing T-shirts that said "Love us or Leave Us." Another asked if Reform movement President Rabbi Rick Jacob's offer to broker a meeting in Jerusalem between Presbyterian leaders and Benyamin Netanyahu if they voted down the overture was somehow a thinly veiled threat.

As a Jewish supporter of divestment, I will say without hesitation that this vote was first and foremost a victory for Palestinians, who continue to suffer under Israel's illegal and immoral occupation. On a secondary level, however, we might say that this was a victory for a religious community that refused to let their sacred convictions be stymied by cynical pressure.

As for us, the Jewish community is left with the very real question: Are we truly prepared to write off one of the largest American Christian denominations over this vote - a vote that was taken in good faith and with profound deliberation? And on a deeper level, we might well ask ourselves honestly, have the Jewish communal establishment's bullying tactics finally reached the end of their usefulness?

Indeed, when it comes to the issue of Israel/Palestine, the unwritten rule of the Jewish establishment has always been, "toe our line or feel our wrath." By voting for divestment, the PC(USA) declared itself ready to stand down this ultimatum.

There is every reason to believe other denominations will now follow suit. Will our community continue to respond with cynical threats or will we finally be ready to model an approach to community relations grounded in trust, understanding and mutual respect?

 

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

In a contentious vote guaranteed to be met with outrage by hawkish U.S. politicians and some Jewish leaders, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310-303 to divest from three major U.S. companies engaged in "non-peaceful pursuits" in Israel-Palestine.

PC(USA) voted on Friday evening at its 221st General Assembly in Detroit to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, three companies which provide equipment and technological implements utilized by the IDF in its military occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank. The church's divestment overture focused only on these three companies, and was careful not to align itself with the international BDS movement or with any efforts to divest from the State of Israel (per a passed amendment during the proceedings).

At the General Assembly before the vote, Caterpillar was singled out for providing the IDF with equipment used in home demolitions, the construction of settler-only roads and the uprooting of Palestinian farmlands illegally appropriated by Israel; HP was singled out for providing biometric scanners used on Palestinians at checkpoints and customized software for the Israeli Navy; and Motorola was singled out for providing surveillance systems used by the settlements in the West Bank.

Two years ago, a similar divestment overture was voted down 333-331. This year's vote represents real movement within the church, particularly after the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks, to recognize that it must act, albeit largely symbolically, to help Palestinians attain those human rights which have been denied them for decades.

The vote also mirrors a growing recognition within America that nonviolent pressure - outside of the political process - must be brought to bear on Israel to end its settlement expansions and military occupation. That recognition, particularly prevalent amongst younger Americans, is showing itself both among progressive American rabbis and college students, particularly those who support the BDS movement. However, it is also a view which is beginning to be shared by those who oppose the BDS movement, but who feel that peaceful pressure must be brought to bear for real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be made.

Before the divestment vote, PC(USA) distanced itself from a publication released by the Israel/Palestine Mission of the church called, "Zionism Unsettled." The paper, which strongly critiques the ideological underpinnings of Zionism as well as the real-world human rights abuses which have occurred over many decades, has been slammed by a number of Jewish leaders across America as anti-Semitic. While the church passed a resolution stating that the paper does not represent the views of the denomination as a whole, it will remain available for purchase through PC(USA) to avoid the spectre of the church bowing to censorship pressures.

That the divestment vote passed given this contextual backdrop further speaks to the distance the church has moved on this issue, and on feelings that actions of conscience needed to be taken as Israeli settlements expand at increasing rates. And the vote was made knowing that, despite explicit language stating otherwise, the Presbyterian Church would be misrepresented by some as anti-Israel and as divesting from Israel.

While the financial impact of PC(USA) divestment on U.S. companies will be minuscule, the vote will reverberate strongly both here and in Israel, where its significance will likely be downplayed by those who most vocally condemn it, thus giving the vote even more symbolic weight.

If nothing else, the vote will amplify a conversation which remains too quiet in mainstream America - a conversation about the true realities of the suffering experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis in an asymmetrical conflict. A conversation about what we, as a society, can and must do to change a status quo our elected officials have failed to alter for far too long.

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily By Cantor Michael Davis and M.J. Rosenberg)

Editor's Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner: We invited the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and J Street, both of which have opposed the Presbyterian divestment resolution, to respond to those who support the Presbyterian resolution. Neither agreed to do so. Tikkun has sought to be a safe space in which both sides could present their thinking. But it's hard to get the two sides in the Jewish world to sit together and discuss the issues, since anyone who supports even the very limited form of divestment proposed by the Presbyterians is, as J Street's Jeremy Ben Ami said recently in explaining his opposition to any form of Boycotts, Divestments or Sanctions, crossing "a red line" and hence, in the view of the Jewish establishment, automatically suspect of being anti-Semitic. We believe a public debate is a more healthy way to conduct this discussion, and so we are disappointed that neither J Street nor the Reform Movement accepted our invitation.

Presbyterian Divestment - A Jewish Perspective
by Cantor Michael Davis, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

The first time I wore a kippa and talit outside of a synagogue setting was four year ago outside a hotel in downtown Chicago overlooking the Chicago river. I was singing with a group of my colleagues, local Reform cantors, to protest the mistreatment of hotel workers. I had the privilege of getting to know worker leaders, edit a national clergy report into worker conditions and organize my fellow clergy in Chicago. This was an exciting time - we took over the lobby of a Hyatt hotel with a flashmob, met with senior executives, collaborated with Christian clergy, traveled to other cities and on and on. Last summer, four years after their last contract expired, the Hyatt workers finally won a fair labor contract from management.

The lessons I learned from this successful worker justice campaign have relevance for me in thinking about how to end Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank.

The lasting lesson this experience taught me was that in any dispute between two parties of disparate power, the more powerful party will object to the involvement of third parties. In the case of the Hyatt labor dispute, management argued that this should be resolved between management and labor; the public should stay out of it. Israel, is by far, the more powerful side in the Israel-Palestine conflict: militarily, financially, politically. In Israel's case, American Jews are told that only the Israelis have the right to an opinion on the Palestinians. After all, their future is at stake not ours. Americans, including Jews, have been accused of anti-Semitism or being fellow travelers of Jew-haters. We are told to stay out of it.

Yet our involvement in Israel-Palestine as Jews and as Americans is necessary and valuable. In the case of Hyatt, management was clearly disturbed by the public's engagement with the issue. Hyatt Corporation's most senior executives devoted many hours to meetings with clergy - particularly rabbis - who supported the workers. In the case of Israel, the international movement speaking up for Palestinian human rights is of great concern to Israel.

In Detroit, in a couple of days, the Presbyterian General Assembly will debate divesting from three companies that are complicit in Israel's military occupation and colonization of the West Bank.

I, an Israeli national who served three years in the IDF, and who has served the Jewish community in Chicago for over 20 years, support the right of our Presbyterian friends to freely explore their conscience on divesting from American companies that benefit from Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank. I will be at the Presbyterian General Assembly arguing for divestment. I believe, along with a growing number of Jews and Israelis that BDS is the best non-violent option to stop the downward spiral to inevitable violence. For Jews - and for Christians - divestment is a principled position. As a supporter of BDS myself, I know how much effort the mainstream Jewish community is putting into shutting down this debate and excluding BDS supporters from the Jewish community. I would challenge those who are trying to shut down the Presbyterian debate to show how the motives of those supporting divestment are anything less than honest. This is unworthy of us as Jews and particularly egregious when directed at our Christian neighbors.First, we should note that under international and American law, Israel's occupation of the West Bank is illegal. Any business involved in the occupation is therefore illegal too. That alone should be enough to keep American companies away from the Occupation. The Israeli government argues that the occupation is necessary in order to keep Israel safe. How does building Jewish cities on stolen Palestinian land or the daily harassment and humiliation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians make Israelis more safe? All indications are that antagonizing Palestinians imperils Israeli lives.

But more importantly, for us as Americans and Jews, the argument itself is irrelevant. The law does not recognize Israel's perceived self-interest as legitimate grounds for making another population suffer. Jewish tradition teaches the same lesson. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, we read of the education of the Prophet Jonah. Jonah was commanded by God to prophesy to the city of Nineveh: let them repent their evil ways and be saved. But Jonah boards a boat to escape that mission. Rashi on the first verse of the Book of Jonah explains Jonah's thinking: "the non-Jews will likely repent. If I prophesy to them, they will turn to God. And so, I will have shown Israel in a poor light since the Jews do not heed the words of the prophets". Jonah was willing to let a non-Jewish city be destroyed, fearing what saving them might mean for the Jews. The ancient rabbis selected this reading for Yom Kippur to teach us that even when saving others in immediate danger now may imperil Jews later, we must choose to save our fellow human beings. If that is the reason for the Occupation, then Jewish tradition rejects that argument.

Let us also remember that the Presbyterian resolution does not call for divestment from the State of Israel, from Israeli companies, from individual Israelis or even from Jewish-owned companies. Rather the resolution calls for divestment from three American multinationals implicated in documented human rights abuses.

The Presbyterian General Assembly will consider divestment from three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Caterpillar (CAT) sells heavy equipment used by the Israeli government in military and police actions to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural lands. It also sells heavy equipment used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, roads solely used by illegal Israeli seIlers, and the construction of the Separation Wall extending across the 1967 "Green Line" into East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The number of outstanding demolition orders in East Jerusalem alone has been estimated at up to 20,000.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) provides biometric ID equipment to monitor only Palestinians at several checkpoints inside the West Bank. 2.4 million West Bank Palestinians are required to submit to lengthy waits as well as the mandatory biometric scanning, while Israelis and other passport holders transit without scanning or comparable delays. The biometric ID is also used to regulate residency rights of non-Jews in Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has revoked more than 14,000 Jerusalem residency cards, with 4,557 being revoked in 2008 alone. HPQ sells hardware to the Israeli Navy that enables it to maintain the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. This blockade has included interdicting humanitarian supplies and attacking Palestinian fishermen.

Motorola Solutions (MSI) Motorola Solutions provided an integrated communications system, known as "Mountain Rose," to the Israeli government which uses it for military communications. It also provided ruggedized cell phones to the Israeli army utilized in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The company also sold wide-area surveillance systems for installation in the illegal Israeli settlements.

Plainly put, corporate revenue is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. And Jewish tradition is clear in its rejection of ill-gained profits.

Caterpillar profits from the destruction of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of Palestinian orchards by supplying the armor-plated and weaponized bulldozers that are used for such demolition work. Destroying homes is not a Jewish value.

Motorola Solutions profits from many aspects of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including developing perimeter surveillance systems installed around dozens of Jewish- only settlements in the West Bank, built on Palestinian land. Defending stolen property is not a Jewish value.

Hewlett-Packard provides ongoing support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land, allows the Israeli military occupation to grant or deny special privileges to the civilians under its control, and denies residency rights to a number of nonJews in Jerusalem by virtue of not being Jewish. Discrimination and segregation are not Jewish values.

Christians, like Jews, have a special interest in what happens in the Holy Land and a special responsibility to its peoples. The Presbyterian Church should be free debate the issues on their merits without fear of being branded as anti-Semites or any of the other harsh responses that have been circulating recently in the Jewish community. Friends allow friends to have their own opinion and to freely discuss their ethical choices.

Let us show our Christian neighbors the same respect that we expect and enjoy from them. Hillel said: Love your neighbor as yourself, this is the whole Torah.

To Support Israelis Fighting The Occupation, Presbyterians Should Vote "YES" On Divestment

by M.J. Rosenberg

A number of people have written to ask if I support the motion before the Presbyterian Church to divest from three companies which produce machinery Israel uses to sustain the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. The companies are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Why those three companies?

Caterpillar manufactures the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes to make way for settlements. Hewlett-Packard supplies Israel with the hardware to maintain the blockade of Gaza and the software to enable Israel to segregate and separate Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints. Motorola provides the surveillance equipment used to monitor Palestinian civilians throughout the West Bank.

These three are to the occupation what Dow Chemical was to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

The Presbyterian Church, with some $9 billion in investment assets, is being asked to divest from all three companies.

Actually, I don't understand why any religious group would invest in any of these companies in the first place. All three are members in good standing of the military industrial complex and have been involved in unsavory activities around the globe. But that argument is for another day.

Right now, the Presbyterian Church has the opportunity to say NO to the occupation in a tangible, concrete way. It has the opportunity to support Palestinians without harming Israelis. I can hardly imagine any progressive voting NO on this resolution, choosing big corporations over the people of both Palestine and Israel.

Don't overlook the latter: the Israelis. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million. good Israelis who are desperate for outside help to end the occupation. Due to the quirks of their political system, they are saddled with Binyamin Netanyahu and his coalition of religious extremists and settlers. Time after time, they have looked to the United States for help and, time after time, the Netanyahu government and its lobby have blocked the Obama administration from providing any.

This resolution provides hope.

For the record, I oppose the Boycott, Divestment & Sanction of Israel in general because I believe that the BDS approach targets all Israelis, not just the government and certainly not just the occupation. The Presbyterian resolution targets only the occupation which is fair and right. If I thought it was anti-Israel in any way, I would not support it. But I believe that being pro-Israel requires opposing the occupation.

This resolution is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and, above all, pro-peace. It must be approved. Voting "NO" is a vote for the occupation. 

 

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

Dear Bob,

I know this is a difficult time for you and your family, which is partly why I'm reaching out, to let you know that I feel a deep kinship with you, despite the many differences in our circumstances and perspectives. While you lean conservative in your political views, I am an unyielding progressive. While you reside in a small town in Idaho, I am composing this from Pittsburgh, the city in which I live. And while your son was held captive for many years by the Taliban - while you struggled to secure his release with the determined focus only a father's love could generate - I have struggled in a different way, working to move beyond the terror attack which injured my wife in Israel, an attack which has propelled me to fight for the human rights and dignity of my so-called enemy.

Despite these differences, our struggles have shared several fulcrum points, and these points have made it so difficult for me to watch politicians and the media exploit you and your family's pain. There are moments this past week in which I have trembled with anger, have felt the need to lash out, to grip someone by the throat and scream, 'Leave them alone'.

But I'm not a violent person. I'm a writer who acts with the pen, not with fists, and as such I've chosen to write to you in public as a way to support you in a country where so many want to reflexively do the opposite.

I hope this letter finds you in peace, and so I'll begin again by saying שלום עלכם (shalom alechem), which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Arabic السلام عليكم (as-salam aleykum).

Peace be upon you.

While I do not understand the full complexity of your trajectory, what I do know makes me feel deep respect and admiration for you. I know that, in order to fight for your son, you immersed yourself in language and culture, learning Pashto as well as everything you could about the Taliban, about both Afghanistan and Pakistan as a way to understand those who held your son. And I know that, as you immersed yourself in such learning, you began to understand in ways so many don't the complexity, and the humanity, of those on the other side.

You learned of the effects our drone program has had, even learning that one of your son's captors had his own son killed by a CIA drone strike. You came to understand the evils of the detainee issue at Guantanamo Bay, of the suffering experienced by both sides in this conflict. And this inspired you to pray for those holding your son, and compelled you to recognize them as victims as well.

Your original goal was to secure your son's release. And that journey brought understanding. In some ways, it's a similar journey I underwent, despite the obvious differences. In 2002, my wife was injured in a terror attack at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an attack which killed the two friends with whom she was sitting and psychologically paralyzed me. Upon moving back to America, I began researching the bombing as a way to overcome it, and immediately learned that the Palestinian man who perpetrated the bombing, Mohammad Odeh, had expressed remorse for his actions - was sorry for the pain he had caused.

This moment propelled me on a journey to meet him personally, a journey which led me to voraciously read Palestinian writers and come to understand the deep suffering and traumatic historical experiences of my so-called enemy in ways I never had. And I took that understanding back to the Middle East and into the living room of Mohammad's family.

Now, my journey was an attempt to free myself from the captivity of PTSD, which seems trite and insignificant when compared with your struggle to free your son from a very real and painful captivity. That said, I know what it means to understand the other side, to come to terms with the other side.

I also know what it means to be vilified for it.

You and your son have been viciously exploited for political gain. You have been called a terrorist sympathizer, you have been cast as anti-American, you have been slandered by those who claim you suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. All of these verbal attacks have been launched not because they represent any truth; they have been launched by those interested in waging a metaphorical war against the White House and a very real, military war against Muslim countries (often driven by a deep Islamophobia). In short, your pain has been delegitimized, your compassion has been delegitimized, and your understanding has been delegitimized by those who wish to use you as an instrument of war.

In a muted way, I understand this personally. I have been vilified in the American Jewish community, called an anti-Semite for legitimizing Palestinians' right to nonviolently oppose Israeli policies, called anti-Israel for recognizing Palestinians' deep suffering and the denial of their human rights, and charged with suffering from Stockholm Syndrome for personally reconciling with the Odeh family.

These attacks are equally bombastic and false, though I understand where they come from: they come from a place of fear. A fear that my people, Jews, will forever be in peril, that Israel as a safe haven will disappear in a world where anti-Semitism has brought unspeakable atrocities.

The attacks against you and your family also come from a place of fear, an irrational fear that anti-Americanism, this case in the Muslim world, will lead to further attacks upon our country. Our post-9/11 world has created this, and we must contend with it every day as our security state increases.

Despite your incredible experiences, you seem determined to oppose this fear. To not allow it to dominate your actions, your views, your will.

I send my deep and sincere wish for all this to pass soon, for your family to find the peace it deserves, and for you to know that there are so many in this country, like me, who support you. As Americans. As global citizens. As fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, as those who understand what it means to lose, what it means to love, and what it means to live with a fear that things could break at any moment.

Please send my love to your wife and to Bowe, if this letter finds you, as so many strangers have done for me. I know how much it can mean to just know there are others out there.

There are others out there, Bob.

Best,
David

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.