Taking Sides In The Pro-Israel Wars
05/17/11
Special To The Jewish Week
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Is it kosher for Jews in the diaspora to speak out against Israeli policy? As a Jewish-American opposed to the occupation of the West Bank, this question has special relevance for me.

Until recently Jewish-American politics was dominated by organizations that have been supportive of the settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Feeling uncomfortable with these right-wing groups, I limited my activism regarding Israel to working through groups like UJA-Federation of New York and the New Israel Fund, which aid disadvantaged Israelis.

But the emergence of J Street, the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that rejects settlement expansion and lobbies Congress in support of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, has changed Jewish-American politics. With thousands of members, millions of dollars and a politically savvy leadership, J Street challenges me to jump into the fray.

Aligning myself with J Street presents the risk of being seen by some as anti-Israel. The pejorative label tagged on J Street stems from the perception that the peace lobby’s willingness to speak out against the occupation gives ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

I have felt the sharp sting of this charge. Years ago I published a letter to the editor, criticizing Israel for spurning Arab offers to mediate peace talks. At the time I was uninvolved in the Jewish community, and was shocked by the response to my words.

I received angry phone calls and letters from strangers. Some people I knew called me a self-hating Jew. The experience left me wary of engaging in the debate over the occupation. But remaining silent as the settlements grow and the possibility of peace fades tugs at my conscience.

If people like me are intimidated into inaction, the political playing field will be ceded to supporters of the status quo and their stupendously reckless bet that Muslim countries will live peacefully with their Jewish neighbor, even as the newly empowered Arab street rages over the mistreatment of their Palestinian cousins.

I also worry that the United States will grow weary of its alliance with Israel. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft acknowledged, the Arab-Israeli is an obstacle to American goals in the region. Should the idea take hold in gentile America that our security is linked to Muslim anger over the plight of the Palestinians, all the efforts of the American Jewish establishment will not be enough to maintain Washington’s unfettered support of the Jewish state.

The linkage between American interests and the Palestinian cause has also been a source of tension for me. While I wanted the U.S. to continue helping Israel, the pro-settlement bent of the Jewish community’s efforts on Capitol Hill made it difficult for me to advocate for American aid, without compromising my patriotism.

But by joining with peace-minded Jews through J Street I can have the means to lobby Congress for policies I believe benefit both my religious homeland and my country of birth.

Besides, working with a large pro-peace group makes me feel that it has become more acceptable to criticize the Netanyahu government — there is safety in numbers. In this regard I was encouraged that CUNY was forced to reverse its decision revoking Tony Kushner’s honorary degree. While I disagree with much of what Kushner has said about Israel, the uproar over the revocation shows that there is a desire in the Jewish community to broaden the discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite greater tolerance for non-establishment views about the Jewish state, some people feel it is presumptuous for Jews in the diaspora to get involved in Israeli politics. These voices say that the Jewish state should be able to decide its future without outside interference. But world Jewry has an immense stake in the outcome of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which goes beyond security issues.

Since her founding Israel has served as a link between Jews of all backgrounds. In some ways this connection has replaced religion as a unifying force.

But as Peter Beinart pointed out in a widely read New York Review of Books article, Jews in their teens and 20s are turning away from Israel in reaction to the country’s status as an occupier. Without loyalty to Israel to bind them to their heritage, politically liberal Jews could completely fall out from the Jewish community.

From this viewpoint the debate over the occupation is a struggle for Jewish peoplehood; will that future include progressive-minded Zionists, or will it belong to fanatical settlers and their ideological allies?

The future of the Middle East is too uncertain for me to claim that I know for sure what will happen if a Palestinian state emerges. But I am sure about the type of country I would like Israel to become and what path I want the Jewish peoples to take.

It is time for me to join the peacemakers in their struggle against the occupiers. With the Arab world in unprecedented flux, it might be too late to take a stand if I wait much longer.

Ben Krull is an attorney who works in Manhattan Family Court. 

Last Update:

05/22/2011 - 16:22

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End the occupation by expelling all Arabs and Muslims from Israel.

Congratulations to Ben Krulll for speaking out. Without in any way overlooking the many acts of terrorism committed Palestinian militants, it seems as though Israel has frustrated every effort by President Obama and his team, including Sec. Clinton and Sen. Mitchell, to get the parties into negotiations. If the parties do not begin to make some progress by September, when the General Assembly meets once again, it is likely that Palestine will be recognized as a sovereign state by an overwhelming majority of nations and admitted as a member state of the United Nations. Anyone who believes that won't matter to Israel's relations with rest of the world is just deluding him or herself. The country needs to act quickly and seize the moment while it still has an opportunity to do.

Ben,
Since you say, "It is time for me to join the peacemakers in their struggle against the occupiers," are you saying that you are against Israel because that is how you see them? I have some news for you. Israel won the West Bank from Jordan, not the Palestinians. Israel won the West Bank after being attacked in 1967, so your continued pejorative usage "occupation" is not the case. Israel won the territory after being attacked so it is arguably Israeli territory, and therefore they can build whatever they want there - you would think it would cause the Palestinians to negotiate quicker. Now you can quote chapter and verse of one legal document or another about the situation but where were those quoting the legality when Israel was being attacked by Jordan? Where were those protesting the legality when Jordan was launching raids and using Israelis as target practice from the old city walls from 1948 to 1967? And don't being to tell me about oppressed Palestinians in the West Bank - their economy is growing faster with Salam Fayad in charge than America is. Yes there needs to be a solution but name-calling is not the answer.

Israel "won" the West Bank fair and square and have every legal right to administer territory, if they choose. They don't have the right however, in international or moral law, to transfer population from Israel to the West Bank--transferring populations has been condemned throughout history wherever it has taken place. The settlements (at least those settlements which were created for the purpose of denying Palestinians their land) are a mean-spirited attempt to subjugate Palestinians. Just because you have the legal right to administer territory doesn't mean you have the legal or moral right to treat its inhabitants inhumanely.

If you begin your comments with "occupied west bank" it is hard to take you seriously. Only Israel would be accused of occupation after winning a defensive war and taking territory. Congratualations on mouthing the same crazy stuff the Arabs mouth. And I agree with Bill, above. What is your great plan that Israel can do that's going to make the PLO love us (besides committing suicide).

Denying the occupation is intellectually dishonest and unhelpful, and is at odds with the realities on the ground. In any case the goal of a peace settlement is not to make the Palestinians love Israel. Israel has had a sustained and at times diplomatically productive peace with Egypt (a peace which is now endangered by the occupation) even though Egyptian society is highly anti-Semitic. A workable deal with the Palestinians isn't about holding hands and singing kumbaya; it is about borders, international recognition, security, water rights and economic opportunity.

Ok, guys, since obviously in your mind this is Israel's fault. Therefore it follows that if only Israel did A, B, and C then this whole thing can be wound up by next week. What is your plan. Please enlighten us because I'm sure its brilliant.

The Palestinians haven't been good peace partners but Israel has the land and the guns so it is their responsibility to take the initiative. What is lacking from Israel is a sense of urgency over the need for a resolution to the conflict. The longer they wait the more events will spin out of their control. Dismantling the illegal settlements (or saying that Israel would be willing to get rid of the settlements all-together) would be a good start.

Kol hakavod/kudos to Ben Krull for this eloquent, insightful statement.

It is urgent that there be a respectful dialogue on the issues he discusses.

I respectfully wonder how Israel can avoid (god forbid) a major intifada or war, solve its many economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, unless there is a just, comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian problem.

Thank you Ben. You speak for many of us. Having seen the hate and anger from supporters of 'Greater Israel' at community events, I'm looking forward to the day when they are seen as relics.

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