by Emily L. Hauser
Here we go.
Some non-Jews have questioned the morality of Israel’s army and are working
to undercut US military aid to Israel.
And American Jews are losing it
Major American Jewish organizations said Wednesday they have cancelled
talks with liberal Protestant leaders after the churches sought an
investigation of U.S. military aid to Israel.
The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish
Council for Public Affairs, and Conservative and Reform Jewish movements are
among those withdrawing from the national Christian-Jewish Roundtable. The
dialogue group was founded in 2004 to ease tensions over escalating church
protests against Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories.
The Jewish groups announced their decision in response to a request by
several mainline Protestant leaders for Congress to re-evaluate U.S.
military aid to the Jewish state. The church leaders said in an Oct. 5
letter to Congress that Israel was guilty of widespread human rights
violations against Palestinians that violated U.S. legal standards for
recipients of military aid.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism called the claims "repugnant, regrettable and morally
misguided." The American Jewish Committee, a co-founder of the dialogue
group, has requested a meeting with senior church leaders to "determine a
more positive path forward."...
I am of at least two minds (if not five or twelve) on this whole turn of
affairs, but let’s start here:
First of all, no, Rabbi Wernick, with all due respect (and I speak as
an active member of your movement), there’s nothing “repugnant” nor “morally
misguided” in saying that there are
“widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian
It’s factually accurate (if you don’t trust me, ask the
. If you don’t trust the
Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem
. If you don’t trust B'Tselem, ask the
), and there’s absolutely nothing morally misguided about
spiritual leaders calling on political leaders to stop abusing the lives and
dignity of those under their decidedly un-democratic rule. Indeed, that’s
kind of the spiritual leaders’ gig, as I understand it. If you don’t trust
And just so we’re clear: The church leaders in question also condemned “the
horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide
bombings, [and] the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had
on Israeli society,” adding “each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears
responsibilities for its actions.”
But yes. There is a “regrettable” aspect to the letter: The fact that
many American organizations feel comfortable taking issue with Israel’s
actions without turning a similar light on abuses perpetrated by other U.S.
aid recipients. There is a paragraph that reads
While this letter focuses on U.S.-Israel
relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, these are laws that we believe
should be enforced in all instances regardless of location. All allegations
regarding the misuse of U.S. supplied arms should be investigated.
But I don’t know: Have there been a lot of letters about military aid to
Egypt or any other countries?
In this regard—though I’m certain many of my co-religionists will cry
“anti-Semitism!”—I think we’re better served looking at two more positive
sources for the focus on Israel: Israel’s openness (Egyptian human rights
activists don’t enjoy quite the same freedoms that B'Tselem does), and the
close Judeo-Christian relationship.
We Jews forget: The Holy Land really is, actually, holy for Christians, too.
Our Scriptures really are their Scriptures. Our cultures are intertwined.
And people everywhere tend to register greater anger towards those to whom
they are, in some way, close. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m saying it
But if American institutions want Jews to listen when they criticize Israel,
they might try applying their opprobrium more evenly—and as Christians in
dialogue with Jews surely know, calling for limiting military aid to Israel
is exactly the kind of thing that makes Jews very nervous.
Israel’s military serves two different roles, one as the defender of the
state from outside threats, the other as as an occupation police force. The
former is absolutely warranted, and Israel’s military advantage is a big
part of why
the Arab League has twice offered a peace plan in the past decade
American Jews are painfully aware, that advantage is wholly bound up in
Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and people hoping to engage with the
community need to be honest about this sensitivity.
The IDF’s latter role, however, is a direct result of Israel’s ongoing
occupation of land that belongs to someone else, and
seven year old children
beating and detaining innocent men
is neither defensible, nor in the
service of Israel’s security. Investigation of these activities is
justified, because they are wrong—and the fact that they are bundled up in
the IDF’s larger mission is, frankly, Israel’s fault, not that of American
Rather than forever leaping to the defense of anything and everything Israel
does (an approach that posits an Israel outside of human history, in that,
unlike any other nation ever, it can do no wrong), I believe that America’s
Jewish leaders would be wiser to engage not only with what’s laudable in
Israel, but also with what’s questionable. If we cannot say that beating
innocent people is bad, what’s left of our heritage?
I don’t know how to resolve this impasse. I can see too clearly the
imperatives felt on all sides (not least, those of the Palestinian people
But I will say this: As much as I may equivocate on the value of the letter,
I’m pretty clear that the one sure way to make sure there’s no forward
movement is to stop talking.
And I am very uncomfortable with the fact that my community’s go-to response
for people they don’t like is to cut off their mic.