Israel

#LiberationSeder: Why "It's complicated" is no longer enough

[pullquote align=right] I believe in and will fight for all peoples’ right to self-determination.
[/pullquote]For more than two decades, I have been engaged in conversations about the “conflict” in Israel and Palestine. It is a conflict so full of competing truths that even the use of those two words (Israel and Palestine) can be seen as signals for which “side” you are on. Throughout these years of conversation I have always held a nuanced view. I have always searched for a truth that has met the complexities of life.
As a Jew, born in New York to grandparents who escaped Nazi Germany, I am more than just a little bit aware of the dangers of anti-Semitism. I know the pain and inherited trauma that comes from growing up in the shadow of a holocaust. I believe in and will fight for my people’s right to self-determination.  
I think of the ancient Hillel’s first truth: If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
I understand it to mean that I cannot expect anyone else to take responsibility for me if I am not taking responsibility for myself. We cannot expect anyone else to care about our people if we do not care about ourselves. And, regardless of how much we agree or disagree, I feel a very strong connection and responsibility towards my people.
And…
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in NY at the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, photo credit Gili Getz
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in NY at the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, photo credit Gili Getz
As a Jew, born in New York to grandparents who escaped Nazi Germany, I am aware of the dangers of hate and dehumanization. I know all too well what happens when hate and fear are allowed to grow and embed themselves into the fabric of a society. I grew up with stories of freedom fighters and allies who put their lives on the line to save the lives that would eventually lead to mine. I believe in and will fight for all peoples’ right to self-determination.
I hear Hillel’s second truth: If I am for myself only, what am I?
I understand it to mean that I cannot go through life only believing my point of view, only giving validity to my lens, only taking my side. Regardless of how much or little we have in common — in language, in lens or in experience — I feel a strong connection and responsibility towards all people, especially marginalized peoples and communities that are the targets of oppression.
It is the combination of these two truths, of these two perspectives, that allows me to see the conflict in Israel and Palestine through a nuanced lens. I can understand the need for a Jewish homeland in a world full of and with a long history of anti-Semitism. Just as I can understand the need for a Palestinian state in a land that has a long history and current reality of being ruled and occupied by military force.
I can understand the historical and visceral fear that makes every attack on Israel feel like it could be the beginning of a new existential threat to the Jewish people. And I can understand the existential need to resist against one’s oppressors as expressed in the Palestinian intifadas of the last thirty years.
[pullquote align=left] None of the complexities matter next to the reality of an occupation that forces millions of people to live as though in prison.
[/pullquote]I can understand how two historically oppressed and traumatized peoples, who were each told they could have the same piece of land for themselves to rule, would find themselves in conflict and unable or unwilling to trust each other. I can also understand that the reality of the conflict is that it is not between two equally equipped “sides”. And I can understand how that does not change things emotionally for the “side” with the army because the real feeling of existential threat is so strong.

And I can go back and forth all day long and even though I don’t agree with all of the points on either “side”, I can see them and I can see how complicated this situation is. I can see that it is not as simple as either “side’s” truth wants you to believe.
Then…
As a Jew, born in New York to grandparents who escaped Nazi Germany, I think about the bystanders. I think about the Germans who were “just following orders”, I think about the American Jews who thought “it couldn’t really be that bad”, I think about the U.S. government that turned away Jewish refugees.
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in DC at the Hillel International office
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in DC at the Hillel International office
I hear Hillel’s third truth: If not now, when?
I understand it to mean that as an American Jew who believes in justice for all people, it is my responsibility to stand up, to speak loudly and to act in defense of the values that my people have taught me. Especially when it is my people that need to hear it. Especially when the institutions that exist to speak for me are not speaking my truth, are not speaking the truth of my people, are not speaking the values that they raised me on.
And when I hear “If not now, when”, all of these complexities fade away and I am left with a very simple thought: The occupation of the West Bank and the de facto occupation and blockade of Gaza is wrong. It is a plague on both of our houses. It dehumanizes both of our peoples. The truth is that none of the complexities of the situation matter when placed next to the simple reality of a military occupation that forces millions of people to live as though in prison.
I believe in a nuanced resolution to the question of how these nations of people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will coexist. I am sickened by and scared of the hatred and racism being expressed in Israel and by Jews around the world. I am sickened by and scared of the anti-Semitism that so easily surfaces and becomes wrongly conflated with solidarity for Palestinians.
[pullquote align=right] First we need to hold our own community accountable for what is absolutely and unequivocally wrong.
[/pullquote]But this week, as we prepare for pesach, as we turn our minds towards a holiday that celebrates the liberation of our people, as we prepare to sing “we were slaves, now we are the children of free people” it occurs to me that now is not the time for the nuanced resolution. Now is not the time for “it’s complicated”. Now is not even the time for shared understanding. Now is the time to end the occupation. Now is the time for our people to put down the sword of the oppressor. Now is the time to say “Enough!”

Then we can talk about nuance. Then we can talk about hateful speech. Then we can start to do the work of finding resolution. But first we need to stand up for what is right. First we need to hold our own community accountable for what is absolutely and unequivocally wrong.
If I do not stand up for the values of my people…
If I do not hold my people accountable for the actions they are committing in my name…
If I do not make my voice heard now…
… then when?
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in NY at the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, photo credit Gili Getz
#IfNotNow #LiberationSeder in NY at the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, photo credit Gili Getz

3 thoughts on “#LiberationSeder: Why "It's complicated" is no longer enough

  1. Halevi! Thank you SO MUCH for what you do. I have been dithering around with American-Jewish peace groups since Breira in the early 1970’s, then New Jewish Agenda, then Brit Tzedek and then J-Street (for a short while)–and ONLY you guys make real sense to me. Bless you all for what you are doing. Come talk to us at the New Jewish Agenda reunion in Ann Arbor over Memorial Day.

  2. I’m sorry Jonah, but you are deluded.
    If Israel stops the so called blockade of Gaza, guess what happens? She gets attacked through tunnels and with rockets. Please note that the only things blocked from entering are weaponry and excessive amounts of concrete for obvious reasons.
    Every time Israel has held out an olive branch of peace, it has been bitten – by terrorist attacks, intifadas, and rockets. There is no partner for peace on the other side. Even now, Netanyahu offers to sit down without preconditions and talk about peace and a Palestinian state, and all he gets is refusals and incitement. All the oppression is carried out by the leaders of the Palestinians who don’t care two hoots for their people, just for themselves. As long as they can prolong the conflict and blame the Jews for all their problems, they will continue to receive millions from the US and Europeans. That’s why they still have their people in ‘refugee’ camps even in their own territories in the West Bank, over 70 years after Israel was founded. Can’t you see this?
    How many times have you made excuses when PA leaders said that every agreement was to get them closer to ‘liberating’ the whole land? They are not interested in coexistence, they want everything – no recognition of Jewish rights to our homeland that we have prayed for thousands of years to return to. They say this probably not because they believe it, but because it means there will be no end to their personal richness from corruption and oppression.
    For these same reasons, they encourage children to hate, and teach them to despise Jews in school and kindergarten.
    And then along comes self righteous Jonah who thinks that all the Jews have to do is stop protecting themselves, and everything will be fine. Yes, after the bloodbath and all the Jews are slaughtered.
    No, you do not feel a responsibility to the Jewish people, otherwise you would not come up with such irresponsible statements and views. You only say you feel it to justify your stance in your own eyes and make yourself feel good. Your wish to stand up for the minority has blinded you to truth and justice.
    If you are walking down the street, and someone comes at you with a knife wanting to kill you for your possessions and because you are you, do you really think that submission will work? Would you in that instance think that it is a nuanced situation?
    No, you wouldn’t. And that’s why you are deluded. And because your delusion is also self inflicted in order to justify your self righteousness, you are dangerous. Please wake up. Your Jewish brethren in Israel just want to be free to live their lives and enjoy their families while contributing to the world. They are not interesting in oppressing anyone. Yet, you add to their oppression.

    1. Meyer —
      I’m going to disagree with Jonah a bit and urge some nuance to what you are saying here. First off even Israel doesn’t say they are only blockading Gaza on concrete and weapons. 2009 they goal was explicitly economic harm to weaken Hamas. 2010 after the economic blockade was weakened with the new Egyptian government the export ban remained. All through Israel cut off huge sections of fishing where Hamas extracts neither weapons nor concrete. The Gazans are obnoxious. But we are being quite cruel to them. I’d be tempted to offer them some way of better treatment.
      I think the PA is of two minds. Actual agreements disgust them because they fall so short of their dreams. But they do seem to want to move towards peace and towards agreement. Abbas has been better than Arafat and Arafat better than the rejectionism before him. I don’t think a permanent agreement is possible but that doesn’t mean we can’t be nicer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.