Blog: The Politics of Hope

Signs of Hope from the American Jewish Community

Dear friends and loyal subscribers,

I have not dropped off the earth! In fact, I have been spending a lot of time traveling across it, and that, along with the press of several writing projects, has kept me from posting. I see that I need to find a way to stay current with the blog even when my schedule is overloaded.  I have been resisting the impulse to use the blog to forward items that I think are important, but perhaps I should stop resisting — every blog does not have to represent hours of my own writing.

In any case, I want to bring you up to date and alert you to some news from the Jewish community that has captured my attention recently .  My travels have included presentations at Friends of Sabeel North America conferences in Seattle, Honolulu and Marin County CA,  speaking engagements in the Chicago area, a week in eastern and central Iowa including three days in Dubuque meeting with students and faculty at Wartburg Seminary and meeting with local clergy and community members, and an upcoming trip to North Carolina. There has also been much preaching — you can find the sermons on my website.  I will be traveling to Lebanon late in May to present a paper on Theology of the Land at a World Council of Churches conference, “The People of God in Bible and Tradition: Semantic Implications and Modern Relevance” (this is the current research and writing that has grabbed much of my energy in between travel and speaking).

I will try to stay more current with you!  In the meantime, I want to share four pieces of writing that have warmed me, encouraged me.  There is a growing consciousness, an deepening awareness of our peril, and, increasingly, the willingness to speak. Three come from the American Jewish community and one from the Jews of Jerusalem. The first is a letter from 30 American rabbis addressed to Judge Goldstone.  The second is a public letter from San Francisco academics, writers and artists in response to the San Francisco Jewish Federation’s recent attempt to silence debate about the Israel-Palestine conflict inside the American Jewish community.  The third is a letter from 100 Jewish Jerusalemites, including writers, artists, activists, and rabbis, to Eli Wiesel. The fourth, from Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog, is an exchange between Brant and a friend who lives in Israel. As usual, Brant does a wonderful job of articulating his struggle with the reality of modern Israel. His wisdom and integrity is a gift that I want to share with you.

Rabbis’ letter to Judge Richard Goldstone

Prominent Bay Area Jews Warn About SF Jewish Federation Guidelines

Jerusalemites’ response to Eli Wiesel

Brant’s blog

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Challenging the Law of Return, and an important new book

In this week’s posting I bring two items to your attention.


1. Challenging the Law of Return

The first item is a powerful statement by American Jewish activists involving the State of Israel’s “Law of Return.”  This law, one of the very first enacted by the state, is the cornerstone of political Zionism and in a very real sense the state’s raison d’etre. The law gives every Jew, no matter what his or her citizenship or country of birth, the instant and automatic right to Israeli citizenship.  It also confers powerful incentives to immigration in the form of tax advantages and housing allowances.  After 1948, Jewish immigrants to the new state were settled in the homes and on the land of Palestinians who had fled or were expelled from their cities and villages.  According to these Sacramento, CA Car Accident Lawyers the  process of dispossession of indigenous Palestinians and settlement of foreign-born Jews has continued throughout the history of the state, accelerating through the illegal settlement of Gaza and the West Bank, and finding its most recent and egregious expression in the current drive to empty Jerusalem of its non-Jewish inhabitants and settle Jews in these neighborhoods. This statement, entitled “Breaking the Law of Return,” can be found at

I have signed it because it expresses simply and powerfully what I have felt for some time. Here are the opening words of the statement:

“We are Jews from the United States, who, like Jewish people throughout the world, have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship under Israel’s “law of return.” Today there are more than seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. Israel denies their right to return to their homes and land—a right recognized and undisputed by UN Resolution 194, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Meanwhile, we are invited to live on that same land simply because we are Jewish. We renounce this “right” to “return” offered to us by Israeli law. It is not right that we may “return” to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed.”

My eye is caught, and yours may be also, by the phrase in the last sentence above, in which Israel is referred to as “a state that is not ours.” The authors are making the simple point that as Americans we cannot claim Israeli citizenship simply because we are Jews. This is especially so in light of the fact that the land and property thus acquired would come into our possession through disposession and the inexcusable reality that Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 and 1967, who together with their descendants now number some four million, have been prohibited from returning to their homes.

But for me there is another level of  meaning in these words, something that goes deep into my experience as a Jew confronting the horror and sadness about of what Israel has become, a meaning that applies to all Jews, whether living in Israel or outside its borders.  Certainly, Jewish citizens of Israel, many who are third and fourth generation descendants of the early European Zionist immigrants, as well as the children and grandchildren of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, feel a deep sense of attachment to the State of Israel.  It is, without question, their country.  But there is a way in which this sense of the land belonging to Jews – both Israeli and those living elsewhere – is deeply tainted and in question.  Any land taken by force and through dispossession of its rightful owners is in question with respect to its moral legitimacy and political viability.  Any state that practices systematic discrimination against citizens (or occupied subjects) who do not belong to a favored group faces censure and isolation from the outside world and risks internal divisions, insularity and racism that damage and sicken its society. I make these statements with a sense of deep sadness and concern for Israel.  They are not made lightly by someone whose family roots are there and who has dear friends and beloved family living within its borders.

But there it is.  I believe to my core that the land can be claimed as “ours” only if and when we Jews can learn to share it.  Someday, the territory now called Israel — whatever it may come to be called and however it is to be constituted politically — may be a place in which Jews can coexist with non-Jews in a democratic and egalitarian society. We cannot, however, justify the Jewish presence in the land until we acknowledge the crimes and injustices committed to secure it, and until we undertake to do all we can to redress the injustice.  This has nothing to do with the nonsensical argument about Israel’s “right to exist.”  States do not have rights — they exist, regardless of the history that brought them into being and regardless of their human rights record or current practices.  States do, however, have responsibility — to their own citizens and to the community of nations.   The question is not whether there should or should not be an Israel — the question, to paraphrase the question posed by writer Bernard Avishai, is: “what kind of Israel do you want?”  Would a democratic Israel, an Israel that has relinquished its quixotic and tragic attempt to maintain its Jewish majority, continue to be the Jewish state envisioned by its Zionist founders?  An increasing number of people have come to doubt the sustainability of that original vision, however much we understand the experience of suffering and vulnerability that created it in the minds and hearts of the Jews of Europe.  Slowly, we have begun to relinquish the fears that have imprisoned us in the consequences of the Zionist project. We have begun, to echo the words of Israeli writer Avraham Burg, to open ourselves to a vision of who the Jewish people can be once we have left Zionism behind.  I have written elsewhere that a democratic, pluralistic and just Israel might be a state that deserves to be described as “Jewish.”

2. Zionism Laid Bare

Kathleen Christison’s review of M. Shadid Alam’s Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, is an important read. In her characteristically transparent, compelling style, Christison sets out the “cold logic” of Alam’s thesis.  Fasten your seat belts:  for many — Jews and non-Jews alike — these will not be easy truths to assimilate. But the sooner we do, the sooner we may be able to see the way toward peace for historic Palestine.  The review opens in this way:

“Until recent years, the notion that Zionism was a benign, indeed a humanitarian, political movement designed for the noble purpose of creating a homeland and refuge for the world’s stateless, persecuted Jews was a virtually universal assumption.  In the last few years, particularly since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, as Israel’s harsh oppression of the Palestinians has become more widely known, a great many Israelis and friends of Israel have begun to distance themselves from and criticize Israel’s occupation policies, but they remain strong Zionists and have been at pains to propound the view that Zionism began well and has only lately been corrupted by the occupation.  Alam demonstrates clearly, through voluminous evidence and a carefully argued analysis, that Zionism was never benign, never good — that from the very beginning, it operated according to a “cold logic” and, per Rumi, had “no humanity.”  Except perhaps for Jews, which is where Israel’s and Zionism’s exceptionalism comes in.

Alam argues convincingly that Zionism was a coldly cynical movement from its beginnings in the nineteenth century.  Not only did the founders of Zionism know that the land on which they set their sights was not an empty land, but they set out specifically to establish an “exclusionary colonialism” that had no room for the Palestinians who lived there or for any non-Jews, and they did this in ways that justified, and induced the West to accept, the displacement of the Palestinian population that stood in their way.  With a simple wisdom that still escapes most analysts of Israel and Zionism, Alam writes that a “homeless nationalism,” as Zionism was for more than half a century until the state of Israel was established in 1948, “of necessity is a charter for conquest and — if it is exclusionary — for ethnic cleansing.”

Read the entire review.  It will continue to grip you. It answers the question, “why do some Jews, those, for example, who wrote and will sign the statement discussed above feel compelled to take such a hard line toward Israel?  Why can’t we understand why Israel needs to protect itself?  We do understand — and that is why we work so hard, in the company of courageous and articulate activists and writers like Christison, to remove the veil from our eyes and those of our American compatriots, to speak the truth that may set the combatants free from their headlong race to disaster.

A final note: Visit my Events Page for details of my February-March book tour and speaking schedule.  I will be presenting at Friends of Sabeel conferences in Seattle, Honolulu, and Marin County, and meeting with groups and doing book readings in those cities as well as in Santa Cruz CA and Portland OR.  The Sabeel conferences are going to be extraordinary events — registration is still open.

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Jerusalem 2009: The Light in the Tent

Left to right: Khawla and Majid Hannoun, Fawzieh al-Kurd, Nasser Ghawi and his father

I sat in the tent and it was full of light.

Fawzieh al-Kurd is the matriarch of one of the three families who were forcibly expelled from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem between November 2008 and October 2009. In all, close to 60 people, all 1948-era refugees from West Jerusalem and other parts of what is now Israel, were resettled in this neighborhood in the 1950s by international agreement. They have now been evicted by the Israeli government, their homes turned over to fundamentalist Jewish settlers. Fawzieh’s family was the first – ejected forcibly in the middle of the night by Israeli military on November 9, 2008. Fawzieh’s husband Muhammad, confined to a wheelchair and in fragile health, died 11 days after the eviction. The Palestinian families have erected temporary shelters on the streets and on adjacent properties in protest: they are not leaving.

When you visit Sheikh Jarrah you are in the heart of the beast of the occupation. Yes, one can say the same thing about Hebron, or Jayyous, or the Bethlehem checkpoint at 4AM. But there is something about this latest outrage that drew me, on my way out of the country after attending the World Council of Church’s launch of the Palestinian Kairos document to pay a visit to these families. What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is part of the project, plain for all to see, to create a wholly Jewish Jerusalem. “Greater Jerusalem” is a microcosm of Israel’s all-but-completed colonial West Bank: maintained for Jewish settlers, with enclaves of controlled, imprisoned Palestinians. Sheikh Jarrah, along with existing and planned Jewish neighborhoods, creates a ring of Jewish settlement that encloses the entire city to the south, north and east. The OCHA report summarizes the competing claims of the parties. Lawyers for each side will continuing to make their cases about who owns the houses. But the source of this suffering is not a dispute between two parties each claiming the same piece of property. This is something else: a dispute between a party that is willing to share and a party that is not.

I sat in the lean-to with Fawzieh, who seemed at peace despite the trauma, indignity and loss she had suffered. Not that she did not have questions and a lot to say: how, she asked, can they accuse me of wanting to make war when one of the names I call God five times a day in my prayers is Salaam – Peace? Why, she continued, are they doing this to us when we believe in the unity and community of all peoples? She then recited, at length and from memory, the sura from the Kur’an that asserts the holiness and value of all the prophets that came before Muhammad, including Moses and Jesus, and the duty of all Muslims to honor them.

I walked across the front yard, garbage-strewn and littered with the ruined kitchen appliances and furniture that had been the al-Kurd’s property, and approached a group of black-suited and black-hatted young men – the current occupiers of the al-Kurd home. I spoke with them in Hebrew, providing my Jewish credentials (“My grandfather was born less than a mile from here, a fifth generation Jew in the Holy Land.”) They regarded me — quite correctly — with suspicion. Having observed me sitting with Fawzieh, they knew where my sympathies lay. As we talked I realized that facing me from across a very bright line was fine with them. They didn’t expect to change my views, and they were clear about theirs. In fact, as I attempted to engage with them I understood that a sense of being embattled was an essential part of their identity – in their minds they were the present-day Jewish pioneers, God’s warriors. Covering the front door of the house were stickers reading “The People of Israel will triumph”– using the Hebrew word for military victory. For them, suffering calumny and enraged protest for stealing the home of an innocent family was a source of pride, part of the hard work of reclaiming the land for God. They dismissed my suggestion that they consider the suffering and the human rights of the people they had displaced. God, they said, has given this to us, we are supposed to be here.

Having heard that claim so many time before, it didn’t affect me very much to hear it again. What did hit me, however, was their assertion that the people they had displaced deserved to be supplanted by God’s Chosen because they were teaching their children to hate the Jews. This too I had heard before, along with the other racist beliefs that so many Israelis hold about the Palestinians (dirty; thieves; bad parents). That day, however, this statement threw me because I had just listened to Fawzieh’s pain – not about losing her home, but about what was happening to her grandson. This is a boy, she told me, who had been earning high grades in school but whose only wish now was to grow up to be a pilot so that he could kill Jews. This was her pain: that her future, the future for her family and her community that she had planned and had wished for, that indeed her faith directed her toward, was being stolen. A house could be rebuilt — but a future generation could not so easily be redeemed. It hurt her heart.

The battle is joined. It is the conflict between those who plan a future based on dispossession, grasping and fear, and those who desire to live in a community of inclusiveness. Here, in this little neighborhood: the Jews barricade themselves behind gates and doors and declare victory. The Palestinians sit in their tents, like Abraham of old, and, indeed, like Palestinians in any West Bank or Gaza village or city, opening their homes to all comers. They serve coffee. They offer their hope and they share their pain. They appeal to the international community to witness their situation and to not sit idly by.

When I was there the street was quiet and empty except for a smattering of other internationals like myself, my dear friend Nora Carmi from Sabeel who visits daily, and the families. Two days later there was a big protest and some arrests for civil disobedience. Last month Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights wrote a piece entitled “Armageddon, Straight Ahead.” His language in the piece is telling. Arik, arriving at the scene and clearly shaken, wrote that “I see a Palestinian anger burning so strong that, unlike what usually happens, neither the threat of arrest or the use of overwhelming force is a deterrent. “In similar situations,” he continued, “I have urged Palestinians to calm down, but here I felt that I had no right and that it would do no good… Israel’s democracy has failed up until now. International pressure has failed up until now. The activist community has failed up until now…I see Jerusalem in flames – I see Armageddon straight ahead.”

Ascherman is a man who has committed his life to nonviolent opposition to the occupation. Witnessing the settlers moving into the homes under the noses of the dispossessed families, he could only stand and watch the growing violence. As I read his words and as I identify with his feelings, I find myself wondering: is there a wish here that the seething violence at this outrage will finally break out, into what he terms “Intifada 3?” I will not second guess what might have been going on in Arik’s mind or heart, but I will confess to what is going on in mine – the wish that something will happen to break the deadlock and stop, finally, the suffering of the Palestinians and Israel’s headlong rush into disaster. I imagine that Arik at that moment was thinking that no one, certainly not him, had the right to deny to these people their right to resist – even with violence — the crime that was being committed against them.

Resistance and Hope

I was in the country — along with over 60 Palestinian and international religious leaders, theologians and peace activists, including my good friend Rabbi Brian Walt, to attend the conference organized by the World Council of Church’s Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum to launch the Kairos Palestine Document. The document is entitled “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” Like Rabbi Ascherman’s piece, is a cry of pain and desperation, written, in the words of its preamble, “because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it. The hearts of the faithful are filled with pain and with questioning: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing?”

The Kairos document thus asks the same question as Rabbi Ascherman. In contrast to the understandable pessimism of Arik’s piece, it reaches for hope. For the authors of this document, the end of days is not the final battle between good and evil, but the vision of a community of love shaped by the redemptive vision that was articulated so long ago in these very hills, in this very city. I had heard Fawzieh express that same vision. Sitting with Fawzieh, I found myself telling her that I had come to her tent to support her, but that it was my bruised heart that was being healed by her loving spirit. The light in that tent is the same light that emanates from the Kairos document. It is a cry of pain that points to hope. This hope is grounded in community. It reaches out to the enemy.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of
peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian
neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens,
Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of
their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated.
Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a
source of struggle rather than peace.

We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation
is to resist. Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with
love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance for it must find human ways that
engage the humanity of the enemy. Seeing the image of God in the face of the enemy
means taking up positions in the light of this vision of active resistance to stop the

Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one
another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together.
We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of
this love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.

Arik’s biblical reference is apt: Armageddon is the battle between good and evil. We are seeing this battle waged here in the conflict between the occupiers and the dispossessed. Because it is not in the courts, the casuistry of lawyers, or the declarations of politicians that the conflict is to be resolved.  It is in the realm of the spirit. And the spirit points to the power of community.

In a recent LA Times opinion piece, Palestinian human attorney and human rights activist Jonathan Kuttab proposes that peace will be found not in separation, but in coexistence. What is this “two state” future, he wonders, as Israel continues to take more and more control of the entire territory? “As the options keep narrowing for all participants,” he writes, “we need to start thinking of how we can live together, rather than insist on dying apart.”

small front yard

This is the front yard of the al-Kurd home today. This is the future of this land if Israel’s project of dispossession continues. You can see the same thing all along the separation wall and by the checkpoints up and down the West Bank — in the cities, in the countryside. Kalandria. Hebron. The deepening horror of Gaza. Disaster, chaos, loss, ruin –for both peoples.

Or it can be the light in the tent: Fawzia’s vision of peaceful coexistence — her smile, in spite of it all. The open tents of the al-Ghawi and Hanoun families. The growing realization that, as Kuttab suggests, if we cannot live together we will die together. In a recent piece, human rights activist and Ali Abunimah characterizes Israel today as resembling a failed state. He too points to a “shared future” for Israelis and Palestinians as the only path to peace, writing that “despite the failed peace process industry’s efforts to ridicule, suppress and marginalise it, there is a growing debate among Palestinians and even among Israelis about a shared future in Palestine/Israel based on equality and decolonisation, rather than ethno-national segregation and forced repartition.”

This is how it will be won: through the spirit of people who believe in community and in shared hope. Through the resistance of men and women like Fawzieh, Nassar, Khawla and Majid, sitting in their tents in the shadow of the occupiers. Through the resistance of the women, men and children who awaken every day in their occupied land and go on with their lives fully claiming their identity as Palestinians. Through the witness of the 1400 internationals – including Jews and Israelis – camped out in the streets of Cairo and Aqaba challenging the powers who have barred them from entering the concentration camp that is Gaza on the last day of the first decade of the twenty first century. Through the witness and resistance of the authors of the Palestinian Kairos document, who as an act of witness and resistance have thrown down this challenge to the rest of humankind:

The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events…Our future and their future are one: either the cycle of violence that destroys both of us or a peace that will benefit both.

The Kairos challenge is the same that confronts seekers of justice in every age and every place, the same appeal to those spiritual values which must form the heart and the driver for the struggle. William Sloane Coffin, American clergyman and long time peace activist, wrote this in his final autobiographical work, Credo:

We see ourselves walking not alone with our Lord, but with all the peoples of the world whom we now view as fellow walkers, not as those who fall in behind. And all are marching to Zion, to the mountain of God, where—can anyone doubt it?—God will cause the nations to beat their swords into plowshares and return to the people the peace that only God could give and no nation had the right to take away.

Bethesda, MD

(In the photo, left to right: Khawla and Majid Hannoun, Fawzieh al-Kurd, Nasser Ghawi and his father.)

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Rededicating the Temple – A Hanukah Homily

The Jewish festival of Hanukah is celebrated this year on December 11-19th. The Hebrew word refers to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after driving out the Seleucid Greek occupiers in 165 BCE. It’s one of the most joyful holidays in the Jewish calendar, in which we celebrate our commitment to the values of freedom and human rights that have given us strength and resilience as a people. Today, the Jewish people face a challenge equal to or greater than the crisis we faced in the Palestine of 2000 years ago. The circumstances, however, are reversed: today, it is the Jewish people who are the occupiers. And the threat to our survival, now that we are the ones in power, concerns the fate of those same enduring and sustaining values.

As a Jew born in 1948, I was taught that a miracle – born of heroism and bravery – had blessed my generation and redeemed my people from the suffering of millennia. Over the years, living for a time in Israel and visiting frequently, I became increasingly concerned about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and about its illegal settlement activity. Still, I held to the Zionist narrative: Israel’s militarism and expansionism were the price of security. Then I went to the West Bank, Israeli occupied Palestine. I saw the separation wall and knew it was not for defense. I saw the damage inflicted by the checkpoints on Palestinian life and on the souls and psyches of my Jewish cousins in uniform. I saw the Jewish-only settlements and the restricted roads and I witnessed the vicious acts of ideological Jewish settlers. I learned that the events of 1948, what I had been taught to call the War of Liberation, was for Palestinians the Nakba, Arabic for the Catastrophe: the expulsion of three quarters of a million people from their villages, cities and farms.

When I returned home and began to speak about justice for Palestine as the only path to peace, I found that Christians understood my message very well. But they felt constrained from speaking out for two reasons: 1) their sense that the Jewish people were owed a state because of their history of suffering and 2) their feeling of responsibility for that suffering. In fact, I discovered that for Christians, a new theology had grown up after WW II in an effort to reconcile with the Jews and to atone for the evil of anti-Semitism. This theology exalted the Jews as God’s elect and lauded our quest for safety and self determination. The Jews were no longer condemned to wander the earth. In fact, we were reinstated as God’s elect — the original covenant between God and Abraham was in force. Christianity’s correction of the anti-Judaism is in itself laudable – but there is a problem with this new theology: it includes a real estate contract. Christians were now being asked to support the superior right of the Jewish people to the territory of historic Palestine.

Examples abound of this tendency among contemporary Christian theologians. James Carroll writes in Constantine’s Sword: “The God of Jesus Christ, and therefore of the Church, is the God of Israel. The Jews remain the chosen people of God. And with this comes the Land.” In a May 2009 article, John Pawlikowski, a progressive Catholic theologian, wrote that the Vatican’s 1993 recognition of the State of Israel was pivotal in correcting Christianity’s historic anti-Judaism. With that act, he wrote, “the coffin on displacement/perpetual wandering theology had been finally sealed.” I find this an astonishing argument: recognizing the Jewish state corrects Christian theology! Just as astonishing, Palikowski takes exception to a fundamental feature of Christianity: its lifting of the land out of the original tribal context of the Abrahamic covenant. In the original Christian revisioning, Jerusalem became a symbol of a new world order in which God’s love was available to all of humankind. But Pawlikowski was now maintaining that Christianity’s spiritualization of the land repudiated God’s covenant with the Jews and deprived us of our birthright! We have to be very concerned about this — generations of mainstream pastors and theologians have been educated in versions of this revised theology. The Christian impulse for reconciliation has morphed into theological support for an anachronistic, ethnic-nationalist ideology that has hijacked Judaism, continues to fuel global conflict, and has produced one of the most egregious, systematic and longstanding violations of human rights in the world today.

Christians today talk about the need to honor the deep Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel. But as a Jew I must consider the distinction between loving a land and claiming it as my birthright. When you claim a superior right to a territory shared by others, whether that claim is made on religious or political grounds, you head straight for disaster, which is exactly what the Jewish people are confronting in the State of Israel today: not only political, but cultural, psychological, and spiritual. As Jews we need to take a hard look at our willingness to invoke the land clause of the covenant. The theology of the land, like that of election or any other aspect of scripture, must be open to conversation with history. As theologian Harvey Cox said in the recent World Council of Churches conference in Bern, Switzerland:

“What does the Bible mean by ‘promised land’? How has the term been hijacked and used for various political reasons, when maybe that is not the significance of the texts at all? Ancient Israel is often confused with modern Israel. They are not the same. The Jewish people and the modern State of Israel, though they overlap in certain ways, are not the same, and therefore we have to be thoughtful and self-critical about how that theme is dealt with.”

Happily, Harvey Cox’s statement in Bern is only one example of how some scholars are beginning to understand the parallels between our own time and the situation of the Palestinians (i.e. the Jews) of Jesus’ time. They see the gospels as the record of a movement of social transformation and of nonviolent resistance to tyranny. Jesus was confronting the evil of the Roman Empire. Through his actions and his sayings, he was telling his people what was required to bring about the Kingdom of God. I find myself saying to Christians who seek a devotional pilgrimage to the Holy Land: Yes! Go! Walk where Jesus walked! For you will not only walk where he walked but you will see what he saw. You will see land taken through illegal laws and the tread of soldier’s boots. You will see the attempt to destroy community and family through the taking of farms and the destruction of village life. But you will also see nonviolent resistance: in demonstrations against the separation wall, in families of Palestinians and Jews who have lost children to the conflict coming together and refusing to be enemies, and in farmers who refuse to abandon their land, even as the walls go up, the restrictions on movement tighten, and the everyday harassment and violence against them intensifies.

I know that for Christians in the U.S. today, calling Israel to account puts half a century of interfaith reconciliation at risk. Institutional, personal and family relationships are on the line. But the church must fulfill its historic calling to stand for justice for all the peoples of the earth. And we Jews must reclaim our prophetic tradition. In our Hanukah liturgy, we thank God for “standing by your people in their time of trouble…achieving great victories and deliverance.” Indeed, we are in need of deliverance — but today, as the anniversary of the bombardment of Gaza approaches, it is from our reliance on violence and military force as a solution to our suffering that we need to be rescued. Christianity has struggled to overcome the creedal rigidity and triumphalism that has plagued it since the time of Constantine. It is to our own work of reformation that we Jews must dedicate ourselves in this Hanukah season.

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The Politics of Hope

Roger Cohen gives us the politics of despair. On the one hand, his recent OpEd in the New York Times, “A Mideast Truce” shows us what a long way we’ve come in editorial coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. He’s clear about the horrendous reality of Israel’s settlements, even though he stops short of naming it as the colonial project that it is. He calls the separation wall a “land grab” and credits it for shattering Palestinian lives — even though he persists in advancing the inane claim that it has protected Israel from suicide bombers. Perhaps most important, he focuses on the fact that Israelis have literally and psychologically walled themselves off from Palestinians. And he quotes Israeli author David Grossman’s crucial observation that Israelis, despite their military might, see themselves and continue to act as victims. Basically, he’s got it — he describes the current situation.

But what is the conclusion that he draws? That we should give up on peace. That we should settle for, in his words, “a truce of the mediocre.” And why? Because the “two sides” cannot come to an agreement. Settle for the status quo, he says, and keep it the way it is. This, like Tom Friedman’s recent piece that recommended that the US pull back from its fruitless attempt to mediate because “neither side” is able or willing to make peace, is fundamentally wrong headed. And the reason is to be found in the concept of “two sides.” This concept, like the request for “balance” that so many of us working on this topic hear so often, is based on and advances a fallacy. It’s the fallacy contained in Cohen’s equation of Hamas’ “annihilationist ideology” with the spread of illegal Jewish settlements: the implicit point is that here we have two evils facing off.

As long as we persist with this idea of two sides (the conflict between two rights, two claims; the clash of two wrongs, etc.) we will continue to remain as stuck as we are and we will yield to the politics of despair.

There are not two sides, arrayed in equal moral and physical forces on a level field. Rather what we have is one side, all-powerful, with a powerful friend at its back, crushing the other. It’s been going on for over 60 years.

When will we finally see this, “we” being the United States of America, which funds and diplomatically enables the continued dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians?

Cohen’s conclusions can only be reached through a denial of this fundamental truth. Accepting the status quo will not being a truce. The injustice prevailing in historic Palestine — systematic, egregious and far-reaching — will continue to produce popular resistance: some of nonviolent, some of it violent. There will be no truce. And nothing resembling peace. Not until the fundamental injustice of the situation is recognized and addressed — by the United States of America.

And this fundamental change in US policy will only come about if and when the American people demand it. Evangelical and founder of the Sojourners movement Jim Wallis tells us that when politics fail to bring about the redress of fundamental injustice in the political system, broad social movements arise to “change the wind” — to make the politicians, their moistened fingers always in the air, do what has to be done. That movement is here, and it is growing — the movement at the grassroots, to change the wind.

That’s the politics of hope.

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