With the news of an impending decision to eventually move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, I am taking the opportunity to post excerpts from a Jewschool piece I published in April 2016. The original post followed then-Candidate Trump’s pronouncement that he would make just such a decision. This piece is not a review of the political or other implications of the move; those analyses will be everywhere soon enough. Rather, I focus on the meaning of an incident just over 20 years ago that, sadly, centered on the meaning of this same proposed move.
In reflecting on what I did, or rather did not do, during that incident, I saw a denial of my own Jewish values. We know all too well that the American Jewish community’s approach to Israel in 2017 is one borne of politics, rather than faith; of power, rather than values. So no doubt will many in our community rejoice at this move. Twenty years later, I still see it as a move that will provoke and promote conflict, violence, and loss, and it is therefore one I will continue to reject as against my Judaism.
The question for all of us is: is this decision one we celebrate because of Jewish values of peace, or political mores of power. What will we stand for now? What will I? Now is the time to see.
….Original Post Excerpt:
Scene: Hebron, June 1997. Palestinian stone throwers clashing with IDF soldiers in the Old City. A friend and I who are living in Ramallah as part of a group of American law students working and learning for the summer pull up in a service taxi, unaware of what is going on. Or why. After standing transfixed with adrenaline pumping, we sidle our way to the doors of shuttered shops.
“Where are you from,” the man next to me asks. Inquisitive, but not overtly hostile or suspicious.
“Are you Jewish?”
“No. Christian.” He clearly doesn’t believe me but looks at my friend, a Christian from Mississippi, and shrugs. Then walks away. As I am still shaking, I ask the man on the other side of me what the clash is about.
“Your Congress voted to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.”
To this day, I remain dumbfounded and ashamed at what I said that day and its implications. Clearly mine was the safest answer, but one I always regret.
……[Trump’] hollowness [on Israel-Palestine policy] shines like a reflection back to the American Jewish community of so much of what our leadership has cultivated for decades: simplistic talking points, dismissal of complexities, constant connections of Palestinians to terrorism, and a chauvinistic bravado about what being pro-Israel looks like.
For me, for where my family and I are, perhaps the best I can do is define what “my Judaism” means and make sure I speak it.
So that when they are asked whether the U.S. Embassy should move to Jerusalem, they will know it’s not just a two sentence answer built on a banal talking point. So they will understand why so much of what Trump said and the applause it received [at the AIPAC 2016 Convention] reflects so poorly on where we are as a community. So they can explain that we can’t just “get it solved” between Israelis and Palestinians, that we must pursue justice and peace rather than power and conflict.
So they will feel proud enough of their Judaism to answer someone in Hebron or Washington, DC or anywhere else on earth and stand up for what that Judaism means, rather than deny it.
Maybe that doesn’t get us as far as it needs to, but if we could at least all do that, I think our Judaism would mean a lot more.