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Protesting against Israel — valid or anti-Semitic?: Organized community conflates policy, values

by steve koppman

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Jennifer Gorovitz’s Sept. 7 commentary (“House Resolution 35 exposes anti-Semitic fervor on California campuses”) and the related recent U.C. controversy it addressed underscore the divide within the American Jewish community growing from what many of us — secular and religious — experience as the incompatibility between Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and the historic values of our people.

The University of California understandably rejected the legislative resolution Ms. Gorovitz spotlighted as running afoul of First Amendment protections in trying to constrain student protests.

vkop_with_nameMany of Ms. Gorovitz’s points are obviously valid. Without a doubt, U.C. student protesters often say hyperbolic things that go beyond reality and do things that are inexcusable. But the more important problem for us is the policies they’re protesting.

These protests highlight decades of occupation, years of blockade, wars of choice that kill at least hundreds of innocent people, indefinite imprisonment without trial, impoverishment through various means and settlement expansion that appears aimed at making Palestinian Arabs’ dispossession ever more comprehensive and irreversible, all of which we are essentially told to support as loyal Jews.

The central issue is a conflation of Judaism, the Jewish people and the policies of the State of Israel promoted sadly by the organized American Jewish community as it chronically subordinates Jewish values and teachings to whatever Israel’s government does.

Of all threats to the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish identity of our children, this conflation is the most profound.

While social research suggests most American Jews in fact oppose Israeli policies — not that most of them are ever asked — the organized community in its various manifestations has sadly for decades contorted itself to rationalize continuing economic, political and moral support that helps keep Israel on its current course. Agitation against U.C. student protests of the occupation is a small aspect of this.

One of three commands to “love” in the Torah is of course to love the other, “the stranger.” Jewish values with which generations were raised grew out of the history of liberation from slavery and included the obligation of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and serving as a “light to nations.”

Today’s Israel by contrast seems to have become uncomfortably more like the empires the Jewish people historically defined itself against, its priorities seemingly on expansion and control of millions of faceless Arab “strangers,” like ancient Rome demonizing its enemies as “terrorists,” endlessly citing “painful compromises” it might make in negotiations in some infinitely receding future to keep up the support it counts on from the U.S. government and Jewish communities worldwide.

Judaism has been a religion of universal values, at least over the last 2,000 years and more, not a national military cult like some of the people who seem to want to bring us back to the age of Judges and Kings apparently believe.

During this season of reflection, it’s worth considering how the situation might be different if traditional Jewish values were allowed to affect Israel’s posture toward the Palestinians.

Imagine generosity, empathy, concern for the other really influencing Israeli policy, a perhaps naive but potentially powerful thought.

What if earlier Barak and Olmert offers of two-state compromise solutions — cited by Israel’s advocates as proving its good intentions — were left on the table for negotiation rather than being “Here today, gone tomorrow” historical chimeras?

What if Netanyahu gave up the blockade that keeps Gaza a virtual prison, acknowledged Hamas’ victory in Palestine’s only contested election, for the first time recognizing the right of Palestinians — like Israelis and all other humans — to choose their own leadership, and courageously offered to visit Gaza for talks as Sadat went to Jerusalem?

The central story of the Scriptures is of an Israel that loses its land through losing touch with its ideals and its God, betting “pragmatically” on the wrong empires and the wrong deities — or, in the language of the modern: the wrong values.

Ms. Gorovitz and the organized community, as ever, ask us to pay attention not to what Israel does but to intemperate things its critics say.

The price we pay over time for continued organized community support for Israeli policies — of a kind few if any Jews would countenance practiced by any other state against any other people — includes fundamental erosion of our own values, through which many of us have defined ourselves as Jews, and of what we can credibly pass on to our children.


Steve Koppman lives in Oakland and is co-author of “Treasury of American-Jewish Folklore.”


Comments

Posted by Michael Harris
09/27/2012  at  02:37 PM
What is being protested on campus isn't Israeli policies...

it’s the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders at all.  Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (and their community counterparts in Jewish Voice for Peace and other anti-Israel groups) openly support the BDS movement, and promote the fictional “right of return” for endless descendants of Arab refugees from the failed attempt to strangle the Jewish state as it was being born.

The EU (not noted for being Israel’s closest supporter) developed a Working Definition of Anti-Semitism that is cited in HR 35.  It states, inter alia,
“Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Such statements are on broad display both on campuses during the so-called “Israel Apartheid Weeks” and on many other occasions.  These are not merely disagreements with Israeli policy, they are virulent expressions against the existence of Israel. 

Ironically, the groups that promote such hatred also oppose exactly what you support—two states for two peoples.  Their interest in the Palestinians choosing their own leadership is far less than their interest in preventing the Jewish people, the majority in Israel, from doing the same.

It’s not about Israeli policy. It’s about the same thing it was in 1947—opposing a Jewish state.

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Posted by spot
09/27/2012  at  08:55 PM
Are you kidding Steve? Ariel

Are you kidding Steve? Ariel Sharon recognized the right of Palestinians — to choose their own leadership, and courageously left Gaza. Many years and thousands of rockets was the response.
Have you even read the Hamas Charter? You know - the part about killing Jews?
If Netanyahu corageously went to Gaza - he’d be assasinated in a heartbeat.

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Posted by jewofconscience
09/28/2012  at  11:28 AM
THANK YOU!!!!

Thank you so much for your eloquent writing, Steve Koppman. You are, to use a cliche’, really speaking truth to power. I so appreciate your taking the time to write this piece that an increasing number of Jews can agree with.

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Posted by meira ariel
09/28/2012  at  12:50 PM
Yesher Koach!

Steve, thanks for putting into such eloquent words what so many of us Jews know and feel.  Yesher Koach!

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Posted by gitelsura
09/28/2012  at  03:52 PM
The Prophetic Tradition

It is inspiring to see our prophetic tradition of justice made relevant to a discussion of Israel’s policies.

I hope Mr. Koppleman’s beautiful and powerful statement is printed far and wide.

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Posted by Dave Marshak
09/29/2012  at  02:22 PM
Judaism

“The central issue is a conflation of Judaism, the Jewish people and the policies of the State of Israel promoted sadly by the organized American Jewish community as it chronically subordinates Jewish values and teachings to whatever Israel’s government does.”

That is not happening. Only a small group of people insist on defending everything the government of Israel does. The problem is these general statements of condemnation of Israel and everyone who supports Israel. That is unreasonable.

The conduct of Israel under attack compares favorably to how every other country behaves under attack. It compares favorably to the best moments of the Kingdom of Israel. Israel is governed by human beings not saints. They make mistakes. People are looking at the way we expect the world to be when the Messiah comes, expecting Israel to behave as if those times are here now, and harshly condemning Israel and those of us who support Israel because Israel is behaving like other nations.

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Posted by Frank
09/29/2012  at  08:31 PM
Outrageous libelous lefty (anti-Semitic) propaganda published by a "Jewish" publication.

Aside from this being a libelous anti-Israel diatribe, it makes one very telling anti-Semitic argument:

At its core there can be no “conflation” of the Jewish people and the choices made by the Jewish State of Israel for its survival.

They are one and the same:  Am Yisrael.

Those who join with Israel’s enemies are the enemies of the Jewish people.

Jews may disagree on individual policy decisions, but any Jews who remain a part of and dedicated to the survival of the Jewish people do not disagree in recognizing that the Leftist “progressive” enemies of Israel are the enemies of the Jewish people.  The phoney anti-Israel political operatives who peddle and place the phoney “Tikkun Olam” agenda before the safety of the Jewish people work toward the destruction of the Jewish people, through the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.

A Jewish publication should not be publishing this sort of evil anti-Semitic propaganda.

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Posted by ellenb
09/29/2012  at  10:07 PM
Thank you!

Thank you for putting into words that which I also feel strongly about. It is important for those of us who feel this way to stand up, be heard and be counted, and your beautiful commentary will help us to do that.

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Posted by Dave Marshak
09/30/2012  at  07:38 AM
Organized

“While social research suggests most American Jews in fact oppose Israeli policies — not that most of them are ever asked — the organized community in its various manifestations has sadly for decades contorted itself to rationalize continuing economic, political and moral support that helps keep Israel on its current course.”

The word organized here refers to all the institutions Jews have built up since 1940 to take care of people and influence events. The Anti-Israel Jewish outliers are also organized and have influence far beyond their actual numbers because Christians who favor divestment cite them as the conscience of the Jewish community and treat them as if they are as representative of the Jewish community as any of the long established organizations. This is sad.

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Posted by auntisemite
09/30/2012  at  09:37 AM
What a lovely article.

What a lovely article.  It warmed my heart and connected to my value system.  Indeed, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is such a strong Jewish value we should all aspire to.  Condoning Israel’s Occupation doesn’t comport with those values.  We have beautiful, humanistic traditions, let them guide our actions.

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Posted by Dave Marshak
09/30/2012  at  10:17 AM
Occupation

“These protests highlight decades of occupation, years of blockade, wars of choice that kill at least hundreds of innocent people, indefinite imprisonment without trial, impoverishment through various means and settlement expansion that appears aimed at making Palestinian Arabs’ dispossession ever more comprehensive and irreversible, all of which we are essentially told to support as loyal Jews.”

This is not a choice Israel has made. Wars with Arabs created the situation. Despite what that alleges the wars were imposed on Israel. Israel is no more perfect than the US or European or Asian countries. We are not obliged to defend every mistake Israel has made or every wrong thing some Israeli has done.

People will not repair the world by slandering millions whether they be Jews, Christians or Muslims. The article slanders millions of Jews as do many proponents of divestment.

It is unfortunate that some opponents of Israel view themselves as model human beings the rest of us should try to emulate. That is no path to peace.

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Posted by Michael Harris
09/30/2012  at  11:39 AM
Interesting

It’s interesting that none of the commenters who praise this column indicate any disagreement with my point—that these campus events are not about Israeli policies, but rather about the existence of Israel.  So can I assume that those posting supportive comments also oppose peace between a Jewish state of Israel and a future Arab state of Palestine?

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Posted by Frank
09/30/2012  at  10:50 PM
Antisemites

There is something very wrong at JWeekly.

An erstwhile “Jewish” publication should never publish this kind of vile libelous anti-Semitic propaganda.

Israel’s enemies who peddle this phoney anti-Jewish “Tikkun Olam” agenda work against the safety of the Jewish people through the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.

When you peddle excrement and you attack flies. I count 4 lefty “Jewish” antisemites agreeing with this evil lefty Jew-hating screed. JWeekly needs to hear from the outraged readers (or has it come to the point where you just shake your head and assume you are stuck with this pathetic state of affairs?)

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Posted by Frank
10/01/2012  at  01:35 AM
JWeekly is a repeat offender

Last week it published a screed by a virulently anti-Israel activist (a nice way of putting it), a Carol Sanders, arguing against protecting Jewish students on college campuses from anti-Semitism “‘cloaked’ as criticism of Israel”. 

Her argument was “cloaked” in the First Amendment, but her real argument was the justification of the arab and “progressive” anti-Semitism.  She shamelessly made the absurd claim that it doesn’t exist:

She claimed, “It is true that the Bay Area is grappling with racist rhetoric, but anti-Semitism is not the culprit. Rather, it is hate speech against our Muslim and Arab communities.” 

That is a perfect example of antisemites’ use of the “Big Lie”.

Why is JWeekly willingly hosting and publishing the most radical anti-Israel (anti-Semitic) leftist screeds?

There is something terribly wrong at JWeekly.

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Posted by Michael Harris
10/02/2012  at  08:17 PM
If there was ANY doubt about anti-Semitism

The Free Gaza Movement, which organizes the Hamas support flotillas, published a tweet on their official account which stated “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews”, and linked to a video by a Holocaust denier from the UK, Eustace Mullins.
The story was broken by Avi Mayer: http://storify.com/avimayer/the-free-gaza-movement-shows-its-anti-semitic-side
Interestingly enough, the silence from all of the endorsers of the Free Gaza Movement (which locally includes Jewish Voice for Peace and Bay Area Women in Black) has been deafening.  Is JVP perhaps waiting for permission from extremists such as Ali Abunimah before they can denounce this blatant anti-Semitism?  That’s who had to give them permission to denounce the Jew-hater Gilad Atzmon. 
No, not all of the anti-Israel activists are as hard-core anti-Semitic as the Free Gaza Movement.  But don’t think for a moment that there isn’t a black hole of anti-Semitism at its heart.  And the cowardice of those who endorse the FGM is fully revealed.

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Posted by Dave Marshak
10/07/2012  at  01:14 PM
JVP

I am no fan of JVP but they have responded well to this issue:

“However, unless this matter can be further clarified, we are disassociating ourselves from sponsorship of Berlin’s current book tour in the U.S. or future endorsements of Free Gaza Movement actions.”

https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/jewish-voice-for-peace-statement-on-greta-berlin-and-allegations-of-an

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