Fear is a terrible feature of American life, leading to attacks upon innocents – those who exist or have thoughts. The murders of women as “witches,” the Alien and Sedition acts, attacking Jefferson and “Gallomen” (admirers of the French Revolution), the Palmer raids, Truman-McCarthyism, the attacks after 9/11 on college professors like Joseph Massad and Zia Meranto are all horrifying examples. But in a certain way, the government of Israel is far more possessed by it.
One of Prime Minister Olmert’s decent ideas was to allow textbooks for Arab Israelis (if his regime had been more courageous, he would have included all Israelis) to mention the Arab word for the war that created Israel and the “transfer” – the nakba (the catastrophe). He mentioned rightly that Palestinians have suffered.* These were steps on the way to a negotiated settlement and a Truth and Reconciliation commission. They were the response of the strong to trying to heal, through speech, an injustice which cannot in life be made right (no one will bring back the dead or the property, as the Jewish properties taken in Europe – the Nazis used every bit of the clothes and bodies of Jews they murdered, even the gold in teeth, to clothe Germans at home; one wonders, as with those who live in the houses of other victims of ethnic cleansing, how the recipients experienced clothes, houses, teeth which cry out against the murders).
The jews suffered genocide in Europe and pogroms in Russia. From the Middle Ages in Europe, the story of jews is one of creativity and endurance in the face of unrelenting persecution. The American idiom that blacks live in a ghetto is but an echo of Jewish experience. If a people is burned enough times, it gets into the psyche of many. Ironically, of course, Arabs have been much more tolerant of Jews historically, particularly in Cordoba, but among the Moghals and Ottomans as well. It was up to the British, stirring divide and rule in Palestine, and what Europe and America would permit after the Holocaust, and American stirring of divisions – the US regime has long controlled oil and politics in the Middle East, given aid to tyrants, and urged the Israeli government to be a powerful, domineering, settler ally, filled with racism toward Palestinians who had initially done Israelis no harm. But these policies, followed by the Bush aggressions (the neocon effort to reshape the world with a gun; turning the two-bit bully mentality of Netanyahu into the policy of the most highly armed and dangerous regime on earth), have become unsustainable. Though America is still invested in oil and military bases, Obama represents some serious movement away from these policies. Further, the Israeli government has nuclear weapons, a powerful ally in the United States, and will not be destroyed, once again, except internally. See news from Israel here. Truth and Reconciliation is needed for Jews as well.
The Netanyahu government, however, suppresses the truth about the creation of Israel – that it was a catastrophe for Palestinians (just as the creation of the American regime resulted in centuries long genocide against indigenous peoples in the United States). Apparently, one must lie about Arabs in order to sustain the cheery, superior race version of Israel that Netanyahu and Lieberman represent. They do not wish to make themselves one people among others, recognize every life as important, every person as human. Critics of Netanyahu rightly use the phrase nakba-denial. But it is too weak. The Israeli elite may well destroy itself and the world sooner than adjust to reality and decency (the Republican Party and the enabling Democrats would have pretty much already done this – the Cheney/neocon plan was to attack Iran after Iraq, and he held out for bombing Iran, even with nuclear weapons, until the financial collapse of the United States, finally cornered him. Through war and global warming, we are making the world uninhabitable if we do not change; the future consequences of a further conflagration in the Middle East would be to shorten the survival of earth as a life-supporting environment to the point where one could see that denouement pretty clearly from where we are).
Last night in class, a thoughtful Israeli student talked about the cycle of violence. She opposed the slaughter in Gaza as well as the occupation. But the continued missile strikes of Palestinians in territory near the border frightens her. That Hamas rocketry is mostly for show – that the rockets did not kill anyone till after the atrocities in Gaza began – does not alter the fear that Hamas creates among ordinary jews. Thus, Hamas has produced Netanyahu. Instead of pursuing nonviolent civil disobedience (something represented in the first intifada, in the International Solidarity Movement of people from around the world to defend Palestinians by their presence and their bodies, by the refusal of some hundreds of Israelis to serve in the occupied territories), they encourage children to blow themselves up and murder civilians. Once created by Israeli intelligence to counter Fatah (as sophisticated realists note, intervening in the politics of others, one is often harmed or attacked by one’s creations, as the US by Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden), Hamas today seems driven to continue to strengthen the Israeli government and move it further and further to the Right.This cycle of desolation is pursued avidly by oppressor and the response of the oppressed.
There is more free speech in Israel and debate than there has been in the United States. Reactionary Jewish organizations try to enforce in Congress and among ordinary people, including Jews, silence about the Palestinians. For a long time, to mention that Palestinians were human was sufficient to be attacked. I spoke for example at a memorial service at the University of Denver concerning the Deir Yassin massacre (this attack on an Arab village helped drive Palestinians out of the territory and was essential to the “transfer”) I invoked Martin Buber who said that the ruins of Deir Yassin should be left as a memorial to the crimes that even a Jewish state can commit. Deir Yassin was of course promptly built over, the name changed. The “transfer” and treating the Palestinians as Native Americans was the policy of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and has been of the Israeli government since. I spoke for nonviolence against a few in the sizeable audience who were cheering the death of some Israeli soldiers (every person who spoke was an advocate/practitioner of nonviolence; of 6, two, including myself, were jews). Talking with people who attended the memorial afterwards, I spoke with a rabbi and three students. One said: “I can’t believe you are a professor at the University of Denver.” “Well,” I said, “I wasn’t speaking in an official capacity and don’t speak for the University. Do you have some specific disagreement with something I said?”
The next day I was parked behind the building next to where we held the memorial on the lawn outside. My stepdaughter’s sign: “Peace in the Middle East” was in the back window. I came out of a meeting to find my windshield smashed.
I listened to the phone messages in my office. One was from a person with the pseudonym Victor Roth. “You’re stupid….Martin Buber is stupid…You’re a traitor to the Jews. ..Bet you don’t daven (a rocking motion religious Jewish men make in prayer)…I’m going to call the chancellor and get you fired…You’re stupid…Martin Buber is stupid…”
It went on 15 minutes. When I called the return number, there was no Victor Roth there and no one was willing to talk.
I have spoken out against racism, war and other matters for many years. I have been in dangerous situations off-campus, for instance, on a freedom ride to Chestertown, Maryland when I was an undergraduate. I have never been threatened on campus otherwise in this way. It had nothing to do with what I said or with me. There was just fear and a desire to suppress or kill anything that sounded as if it might disagree with the fantasy life of these fanatics. If one wants to understand the murderousness of Cheney and the neocons, that kind of fear may cast some light. Perhaps similarly, for the Israeli government, particularly under Netanyahu and Lieberman.
Yesterday my friend Ilene Cohen sent me a note about the Koret Foundation, a rightwing Jewish organization in San Francisco which seeks to stop the Jewish Film Festival from screening a film about Rachel Corrie. Rachel Corrie, a young student from Evergreen State College, went to Palestine to defend Palestinians with her body. She stood with an orange jumpsuit in front of the house of a Palestinian doctor, waving her arms. An Israeli bulldozer was set on demolishing the house. The driver drove over and killed her. Sane people would express sorrow, mourn a tragedy. Fearful oppressors need to keep their spirits up. “She was a danger, a threat. She was stupid, she put herself in harm’s way You see, you better not go anywhere the Palestinians, you Americans, you foreigners, or we cannot guarantee your safety.” The weakness and depravity of Israel in this case was mirrored in the policies of its sponsor, the Bush administration. Though an American citizen who stood for decency, the Bush administration did nothing on her behalf and much against her.
The Koret Foundation’s press release calls the Jewish film festival “anti-semitic” and “anti-Israel” for showing this film. It denounces these jews for asking Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother to speak. As it points out, there is no debater who will be able to speak for the IDF which sent the killer of Rachel Corrie and refuses to investigate. The suppression of speaking of Rachel Corrie or mourning is a sign of what the bullying is about. There is no answer to the humanness of the people the Israeli government has murdered. There is no way, however threatened Israelis may feel, of learning about the situation in Gaza where people cannot get out, imprisoned by Israel, or of the murder of some 300 children in the latest invasion – one Israeli child was murdered by a Hamas rocket – and being sympathetic to the occupiers. Intimidation is their only resort, silence their only hope. The Koret Foundation funds the neocon Hoover Institution ($1.7 million a year) and many other reactionary groups. It has dreamed of Bush and Netanyahu, and replicates their murderous emptiness.
In contrast, the International Solidarity Movement is a nonviolent movement which goes to Palestine and protects Palestinians with their bodies by accompanying them or staying in their homes or by civil disobedience against home destructions and evictions. Thus, Rachel Corrie and Thomas Hurndal (a young English volunteer who was shot in the head while standing around with Palestinians after a peaceful demonstration by a sniper in the IDF on a far-off hill). For the IDF it is often open season on the dissident citizens of their allies.
Some Jews also participate in the ISM. The first two volunteers I met, one of whom was a young Jewish women, the older one a peaceful man (Protestant I think), had been to Palestine during an IDF operation, and sat in houses with Palestinian families, shuddering as bullets whizzed through the walls and by them at all hours. They committed the crime of existing. I seem to remember pogroms and Warsaw where that sort of thing happened routinely to jews; the Koret foundation appears to remember only the men who drive the bulldozers over Rachel Corrie. These volunteers came to a class I gave on nonviolence in the late 1990s and described how Palestinians can only go to school or work in Israel by passing checkpoints at the risk of their lives. And I suddenly realized - I hadn't before - that Gaza was a large outdoor concentration camp (then simply a totalitarian regime, not that I like the term much otherwise). So I started more determinedly speaking out.
I invoke the words of the prophet Amos. See here. The distinction between Amaziah - the spokesman for the moneyed people who defend the monstrous and self-destructive conduct of the powerful, in this case, the state of Israel - and ordinary Jews who speak out prophetically and name what it is they do - including the Jewish Film Festival by inviting Rachel's mother or Jewish participants in the ISM - is I think helpful in revealing what it is at stake in the attempts to suppress and defame anyone who says the truth as "a self-hating Jew" or an “anti-semite.” The day of bullying is coming to an end. Hopefully, some decent settlement with the people of Palestine, allowing Jews and Palestinians to live in peace, will become possible.
The next post is a poem I wrote about Rachel Corrie, published in , the Jewish Community News, with more conventional spacing.** It was attacked on the Peter Boyles show on ch. 12 by David Kopel, a rightwing commentator on the media in the Denver Post. They were discussing things that really disgusted them in the media that week. Perhaps unintentionally Kopel produced some additional attention for the newsletter. I did not know much about Rachel at the time, that she was a writer, that she has left beautiful words which inform the play about her (blocked from a showing in New York by reactionary Jewish organizations) and apparently the movie. Perhaps everyone could now, given the tragedy, listen to her.
*Many thanks to Kyra Moon for sending me articles about this.