Identity, Israel, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

Politics and the White House Hanukkah Party

I’m feeling conflicted about the lighting of the White House hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) by two students from Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school. I think the school is wonderful, and I’m so glad it’s getting attention from the President of the U.S. His comments were beautiful, and giving publicity and support to such groundbreaking organizations is good for Israel and the Jews.
But I also feel like there’s a time and place to make political statements about Israel – which is unarguably the effect when you have students from an Israeli Jewish-Arab school light the President’s Hanukkah candles (including one student who is not Jewish), with a hanukkiah made by Jewish and Arab Israeli students.

I find the whole idea of religious events in the White House to be problematic to begin with, but if they’re going to take place, it seems to me that the focus should be on Judaism and the American Jewish community, in the broadest (most apolitical) sense. Making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jewish-Arab tensions the centerpiece of the White House Hanukkah party feels inappropriate.
I don’t think I would feel this way about honoring the school at an Israeli government-run Hanukkah party. Jewish holidays in Israel are, for better and worse, both Jewish and “Israeli” – impossible to separate from the state and politics – and as such, I would hope for all sectors of the population to be represented in official settings, much the same as people of all religions are and should be invited to government- or company-run Christmas parties in the US, though the parallel is inexact. But this action makes me feel like the US government is conflating its relationship with Judaism and its relationship with Israel in a way that seems problematic to me.

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