Monday, August 25, 2014


As Israel’s atrocious war against Gaza and the Palestinians continues, the worldwide movement to condemn, oppose, and boycott Israel spreads. It’s not a movement that speaks with one voice, but what’s universal is outrage over the war, also the demand that the occupation be ended. Lifting the shameful blockade of Gaza has come into focus as critical to even a short-term peace agreement.

Inevitably debates are intense among people who are horrified by what is happening, but differ on why things have come to such a pass and what should be done. I’ve been entangled in one such debate with a friend and, unfortunately, we’ve hit a dead end.

He cites recent articles by former “liberal Jewish Zionists” who now write about “the end of liberal Zionism”. I agree with much of their analysis, but have resisted making hypothetical “one state” or “two state” formulas the focus of attention. What’s central is the need for a powerful, many-faceted struggle that makes ending the occupation so urgent that it can no longer be deflected or deferred.

I’m drawn to another recent article, a message from Desmond Tutu, published in the Israeli paper Haaretz, and initiated by the international organization Avaaz in support of the global boycott against the occupation. He addresses the people of Israel and Palestine, recognizing that they, in concert with the global movement, have the capacity to move beyond the “current status quo.”  He offers no political formulas, no absolute “solutions”, just vital principles and values, with confidence that struggle against injustice will produce the answers. I admire his wisdom and inclusiveness. (I suppose reservations may be noted: religious faith is not part of my outlook; also, Bishop Tutu doesn’t mention that armed resistance contributed to the essentially non-violent liberation of South Africa.)

Back to my unhappy debate with a friend:  he insists, to my frustration, on using the thoughtful articles by self-described former Zionists to label me a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. No denial or discussion works; I’m lumped with Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohn. It matters not that I am and have been for many years a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, that I support the boycott against the occupation, or that I have never been a Zionist. I have not identified with the liberal/Zionist organization, J Street, although I surely welcome its challenge to the far right Jewish establishment. It doesn’t matter that I support full equality for Palestine, including unification, self-determination, and the right to establish a sovereign and viable state. Nor does it matter that I believe no state should be based on religious or ethnic supremacy.

Near as I can figure out, the problem is that I recognize that Israel exists. Its existence is a significant factor in any process that can change the status quo and result, as Tutu puts it, in ‘liberation for both Palestinians and Israelis’. No one can determine just how things may evolve; no one should be in a hurry to close any doors to possible progress. 

The fact that one recognizes Israel doesn’t make one a Zionist, any more than recognizing the USA makes one an imperialist, or recognizing Saudi Arabia makes one a monarchist.

By the way, I don’t think that “liberal” and “Zionist” are ipso facto “dirty words”, nor should they substitute for discussion or debate. Personally, I bristle at being labeled a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. At least one can choose to identify or not as a “liberal” or a “Zionist”. As for being a Jew, I don’t have or want a choice. (For what it’s worth, my friend is neither Jewish nor Palestinian.)

Well, this outpouring of personal emotion is pretty self-serving. I’m letting go of some frustration, trivial alongside the reality of current happenings. Maybe, though, it’s my small plea that people with many common values leave some room for differing opinions.

Together:  End the occupation. End the blockade of Gaza. Stop the war now.  

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