Let me reiterate why I bother to post stuff like this. Or this.
It’s a selective reading of news, I know, to pick out the parts of our community most shameful for public review, as if there were nothing else redeemable about Jews, Judaism, Jewish culture or Israel. Even though here on Jewschool it should go without saying that, though we question the assumptions and priorities of Jewish life as we see it, we do this because we are engaged and care deeply about Jews, Judaism, Jewish culture, and Israel. But I’ll explain a little more.
There are compelling realpolitik and pragmatic reasons for discussing our dirty laundry in public. Not only do Israel’s true-to-life detractors feed off these events, making it important to distance ourselves from said events and to understand how we are perceived by others. But it’s also impossible to do otherwise these days. And it’s important to shake off their fence-sitting the Jews who politely demure from facing our own culpability regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Posting these things is pushing something clearly indefensible forward and saying, “Our shit too stinks.”
Those realpolitik and pragmatic reasons are not under discussion right now.
My love of Israel is not for its materialistic and militarized culture, its marvelous multicultural hype, and certainly not its fried chickpea patties. I am not wowed by its Nobel prizes trophies, its environmental inventions, the number of universities it hosts, its place as the only gay-friendly military in the Middle East. There is nothing impressive to me about those factoids used to lure young Jews into pride. Mine is real, thank you very much.
Many of us leave unexpressed the “love” of Israel that drives our posting because we hate the very vocabulary of a sinfully simplistic upbringing and the framework of the right-wing which dominates amongst the Jews. Unlike on all other issues of domestic and international concerns, on this issue we must obey special loyalty oaths. Must I “prove” that I “love” health care before I can criticize health care policy? To hell with the oaths.
My love of the place and peoplehood is rooted elsewhere. It’s not a love that most Jews are confortable with, even, including many Jews who have found their way to progressive Israel work.
My love and pride is rooted in the furious indignation of ragtag Israeli activist friends against the demolition of their Israeli Arab friend’s home in East Jerusalem, and who chained themselves together in his living room. And when they were dragged out and the house toppled, they cried together with him.
It is rooted in the compassion of a lone rabbi serving as the caretaker of the Bedouin camp at the edge of Jerusalem where corrugated aluminum shacks and windowless concrete boxes are home to destitute families. He does his silent ministry without acclaim in the shadow of Maale Adumim’s red tile roofs not a quarter mile away, which remains oblivious to its disenfranchised neighbors.
It is fueled by the look in a 25-year-old Israeli veteran’s face as he described to a zealous American college student the feelings in his soul when he pulled a 40-year-old Palestinian man out of a checkpoint, beat him to a pulp, and returned him to line as an example for the rest of the checkpoint. Daily. For three years. I am also 25. What have I done that compares?
It is the scores of women’s rights, religious pluralism, gay rights, poverty, racism, and environmental activists who are waking up in increasing numbers in Israel to the discontent around them, the distrust of the politicians, the disgust with their society’s zero-sum excuses. What have I done similar for my country?
Any pride I may have an activist in America is eclipsed by their work. Their passions seem laced with both hellfire and choirs of angels. Their language is offensive as they sling about “apartheid,” “police state,” “Nuremburg Laws” and “ethnic cleansing” and see the parallels that raise red flags. Israelis are rough and crude and pushy and insensitive — I could never live among them long — and yet I have fallen in love with the Israelis who have bent their full irritability towards the righting of relationships in the Holy Land. Prickly bastards they may be, but they see injustice at home.
These are your new prophets, friends, and no prophet is welcome in their own home, not this Home of the Jews, nor the homes of most Diaspora Jews abroad. So when I have a choice to stand with the living visage of Jeremiah and Ezekiel on one side, or the modernized equivalent of the Hasmonean tyrants on the other side (or their sycophants in the States) then by God Almighty I will stand with Jewish values against Jewish power without question.
There are many places and people (and even contexts I find myself in) where criticism of Israel will be pleasantly and sensitively couched in love sandwiches and caveats to every loyalty oath possible. But that’s not my role on Jewschool, it’s not why Jewschool was created, and it’s not what compels me to Israel justice work. Here, you’ll get it straight without the bullshit, as best as we can speak it.
We do this out of our own love, our own unique pride in Jews, Jewish culture, Judaism and Israel. We are our brothers’ keepers. These racists, they are ours. These murderers, they are ours. These zealots, they are ours. But also, these activists, they are ours. These changemakers, they are ours. These reincarnations of the Nevi’im, they are ours too. To draw upon Bavli, Shabbat 54b, this is our family, this is our community, this is our world.
For better or worse, they are all ours.
And I’m going to post here the ugly things my people do, and I’m going to explain to you why they don’t deserve the name “Jewish.” And I’m going to pick fights with the powerbrokers in my family, community and world — yes, in that order. This is why I and many others here write. God willing, this is why you come to Jewschool. So no more apologies. Write on.