Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on Open Hillel

"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look."-Walter Benjamin

Benjamin's image was the image on my mind by the end of my first morning at the Open Hillel conference. Not in the tragic sense that Benjamin intended, where the angel ensnares itself in the "storm ...from paradise," but in the majestic grace of a tremendous, though cataclysmic, rupture in the midst of a dreadful storm. For the first time, an American Jewish organization was listening openly and earnestly to Palestinians praise BDS, to Jewish scholars explore the colonial origins of Zionism, and to a panel that thoroughly debated the implications of one-state and two-state solutions to the conflict.

The morning started off with Professor Rashid Khalidi. Yes, Professor Rashid Khalidi, one of the pre-eminent authorities on Palestinian nationalism, appeared in the breakfast area, chatting with conference organizers as he retrieved Starbucks coffee. Khalidi then proceeded to give a talk in the conference room which was supposed to have dealt with the topic of Palestinian nationalism but which actually focused on the exigency of Open Hillel to the Palestinian  cause.
"There are two battles," Khalidi began. "One on the ground, in Palestine...and the other one in the US, the metropole for Israel." If the first was a concrete, physical struggle, the second focused on discourse and the supremacy of ideas.

It was this struggle, the second battle, that Open Hillel was poised to change. "I hope you all realize the importance of this event," Khalidi reminded.

The remainder of the day saw Mark LeVine propose a "dialectical grappling" between anti-Zionist values and the purported Zionist cause (with the intention of enabling a conclusive solution to the "occupation" and "domination" entailed by the former ideology) and a spirited debate between Rebecca Vilkommerson and Peter Beinart over BDS' endgame vision and the role of a two-state solution.  The following day, such contentious topics as the presence of racism in Orthodox Judaism and the meaning of the Palestinian "anti-normalization" campaign were broached by panels in a matter of respectful inquiry.

As someone who has expressed considerable ostracism from both my rabbis and Day School friends for merely questioning the logic of Israel's most recent operation in Gaza, witnessing such intellectual openness on the question of Israel and Zionism in a thoroughly Jewish space felt ethereal if not angelic.

"If I am only for myself who am I..." Such could have been the defining message of this week's conference, not only in the substance of its programming but in the underlying caim to transform the Jewish community.  Attending the conference granted me personal vindication but I know that if similar relief is to be obtained for the numerous young Jews who are forced to dissemble on Israel-Palestine as well as the countless Palestinians who suffer from the policies advocated by an "Israel Lobby" frontlined by the organized Jewish community, much hard work and activism lies ahead.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My trouble with the term "anti-Zionism" (pt. II)

Update: I notice that one of the reasons I give below partially overlaps with a statement made in the previous article I wrote on Zionism: since I expressed taking away this (or another reason that I offer) would detract from the article's flow, however, I will keep the article as is.

Watching a spate of Facebook comments from some of my pro-Palestinian friends motivated me to follow up on my post from last year on anti-Zionism.

Many "Palestine Solidarity" Types perceive the ideology of Jewish Nationalism (insofar as it pertains to Palestine) as being responsible for the Palestinian's plight.

Too often, this critical gaze on Zionism takes a reductivist turn. Not only has Zionism positively problematic (as regards its impact on the native Palestinians) but normatively aberrant.  "Zionism" is logically coherent and morally deprived, this tangent goes. Thence, as stated by one notorious UN Resolution, Zionism is racism.

As mentioned previously, I find such rhetoric, despite my utmost sympathies with the Palestinian struggle, counter-productive regarding the way in which it can be (mis-) labeled as anti-semitism. Now, I would likely to add four points that challenge the ideological critique of Zionism:

1.Per the magnes Zionist (again), Zionism, as a concept, entails neither ethnic cleansing nor ethnic statehood. If any definition could be given for the word, it would run something like, "support for the well-being of Jewish culture and society in the Land of Israel." Indeed, one could argue that the violence begot by the existing Jewish state's "Occupation" not only threatens the safety of the existing Jewish society their but betrays the ethical values integral to Jewish culture.

2. Given the focus of central Jewish religious texts (most notably, the Torah) on the land of Israel, it makes sense that many Jews feel a historical affinity towards the land, regardless of how they feel about the discrimination/displacement of Palestinians. Sadly, such harmless cultural sentiments too often translate into political support for ethnocracy, but this does not have to be the case. However, when "anti-Zionists" attempt to bring up theories about "Khazar origins" or Palestinian "Canaanites," the implicit denial of Jewish cultural attachment rings as anti-Semitism to Jews nourished on cultural attachment to Israel, thus shutting many ears to the valid critiques of the Israeli state that follow.

3. Rhetoric emanating from the Zionist narrative can be easily molded to accomodate the demands of the "anti-Zionists." For instance: the "law of return" betrays the humanistic values of Jewish society advocated by the likes of Ahad Ha'am. If anti-Zionists were to quote such figures, they could effectively turn Zionists' defense of the legislation on its head.

4. Once again, the system of ethnic privilege and colonialism over which the state of Israel currently presides was not a necessary, even if highly likely, outcome of modern (political) Zionism, and certainly not of pre-modern religious or "cultural" Zionism (by which I mean affinities to the land of Israel stretching back to the time of the Torah). I hope that more Palestine Solidarity Activists-even supporters of a one-state solution-can make clear in the future that they oppose not Zionism so much as the current state of Israel.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reflections on Yom Kippur (a poem)

Set us free
From hatred, strife and jealousy.
Our petty lust
And rash desire
Quell the heart's passion fire.

Make us tremble in our seats
Not for your majesty
But for our humility

Write down in your book...
The transgressions made
The dept unpaid
Boss to worker
Wayward son to father
1 percent to 99
Occupier to Occupied

Grant us freedom, justice, mercy (and self-determination)
And let us say.... "Amen."