Jewish state, Jewish values, Jewish shame

(Editor’s note: The following article was originally published on April 4, 2018 on Mondoweiss and is available here

I was heartened to see that one prominent Israeli – a top IDF radio host — posted (on Saturday on Facebook) “Today I am ashamed to be Israeli.” On Friday and Saturday night, at Passover Seder celebrating Jewish liberation, I felt similar shame – shame to be a Jew – at the latest massacre of Palestinians by Israeli troops. This unspeakable, unlawful outrage – young Jewish snipers deliberately shooting down unarmed Gazans gathered in protest at the border fence that helps keep them confined in the largest open-air prison in the world, killing 18 and wounding more than 1,400 — was committed pursuant to shoot-to-kill orders from senior Israeli military and political leaders, who put them there precisely to intimidate Palestinians who dared engage in non-violent protest, and to collectively punish, again, the civilian Palestinian population.

Shooting unarmed Palestinian demonstrators pursuant to an open-fire policy is not new, either in Gaza or the West Bank. In December 2017 alone, Israeli soldiers shot and killed eight demonstrators. In the same month, live fire wounded an additional 291 Palestinians in Gaza and 117 in the West Bank. But the Passover killings at the Gaza fence reached a new high, or low, in Israel’s and the Jewish people’s descent into madness.

I do not know which is worse, the shamelessness of those perpetrating these atrocities, or the indifference and silence of both Israeli and American Jews – rabbinate and laity – at the routine Jewish large-scale killing and maiming of Palestinian protesters. Israeli military, political and judicial leaders make sure virtually no killers of Palestinians are held accountable, and none suffer serious punishment.  About Friday’s massacre, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman assured Israelis that there would be no investigation, saying, “all our soldiers deserve a medal.” 

Oh yes, the Jewish kids who killed the young man rolling a tire away from the border, the man praying with others, and the young man watching the protests and puffing a cigarette, they all deserve medals? Watch the videos, but be warned, if they don’t make you physically sick, they will make you heartsick at what passes for Jewish values these days.

Before we had a Jewish state, we had Jewish books. Five books. A Mishnah. A Talmud. We discussed, debated, argued about and perfected Jewish moral, ethical and religious values. We knew what they were, and when they were violated. And we knew what it was like to be victimized by others who did not share those values. When we felt the lash of oppression, it stung so bad it really had meaning. We were against it. It was something that the goyim did to us, and to others. It was not for us. So we were for equality, dignity, fraternity, rule of law. We were against racism. We were for taking in the stranger, the immigrant, treating him or her like our own. We were proud to serve in the war against the fascists. We celebrated resisters and their resistance to oppression in Europe, and criticized collective punishment of European civilian populations after such acts of resistance. Even after Israel was born, we marched, here in America, against war and militarism, against white supremacy, against Apartheid in South Africa, and for civil rights of people of color.

But now we have a Jewish state. Now, instead of a book and values, we have power. And it turns out that we are every bit as good at abusing that power, as the goyim. In fact, we may be better at it. A 2008 delegation of ANC leaders visiting the West Bank said our apartheid is worse than the South African variety they experienced and helped overcome. And our propaganda, our hasbara, is certainly more potent and effective than that of most oppressors around the world, past and present. After all, who else could propagate and maintain for decades the myth of Israeli democracy for American Jews while running a white Jewish supremacist regime for five million Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as comprehensive and relentless as this one – plain as day when one is there — that accords Palestinians no civil rights, steals their land and water, demolishes their homes, and has no reservations about killing and wounding them in large numbers?

But now, the Palestinians are ramping up non-violent protest as the resistance modality of choice, and the Israelis are ratcheting up the violence to meet it. The truth is coming out — that Israeli leaders never feared violence or “terrorism” as much as non-violent resistance. The mask of benign democracy is starting to fall away, and the true face of our Jewish oppression is showing, for all American Jews (and Christians) to see — we Americans who support and facilitate this oppression, and without whose support it would shortly cease to exist.

I am ashamed. I am a Jew ashamed of this Jewish state that perpetrates all this, purportedly in my name and in the name of the entire Jewish people. I am ashamed that I did not speak out publicly until my 67th year in 2014, after the massacre that was the Israeli “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza in 2014. I am ashamed that, at Passover Seder, many of my friends and family are still silent. I am ashamed that, in temples and synagogues and Jewish institutions across this land, one hears expressions of support for right-wing Israeli leaders and their crimes while Trumpers are piously excoriated for similar crimes, policies, and pronouncements here at home. I am ashamed that, on Friday, when I first heard about the killings at the Gaza fence, I could not find one TV station reporting on it. Nor can I find, with very limited exceptions, American newspapers who will tell it like it is. That includes you, Sulzbergers, running a paper I’ve been reading since the sixth grade, which proclaims that it publishes “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

I am ashamed at the American Jewish rabbinate, our supposed religious leaders, who have been to Israel and know how brutal, systemic and relentless the oppression of Palestinians is there, but who remain silent for fear of losing their jobs or dividing their congregations, when what is really at risk is their Jewish souls, our Jewish values, and the essence of what Judaism has to offer the world. And it is not this.

There is no reason that a country with hundreds of nuclear weapons, the most sophisticated conventional military hardware, and the most powerful security and intelligence capability in the world, has to kill, maim, intimidate and collectively punish its Palestinian inhabitants. The Israeli leaders who perpetrate these crimes against humanity – and their citizens who are indifferent to it — may be Jews, but they are not Jewish.

It is time to acknowledge all this to ourselves, and to be silent no more.

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