The 4th call to Christians and the 7th call to Jews are closely related. Among the calls to Christians is:
4. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem
-- By critiquing attacks on Zionism when they become expressions of antisemitism.
Please note that we have chosen to spell the word thus: “antisemitism” and not as is more common: ”anti-Semitism.” Your computer spell-check may not approve, but is there really such a thing as “Semitism?”
This is parallel to one of our calls to the Jews:
7. To differentiate between fair-minded criticism of Israel and antisemitism
-- By understanding and promoting biblical examples of just criticism as expressions of loyalty and love.
The Biblical models referred to include Abraham in Genesis 18:25; Proverbs 12:1, 13:24; and Ecclesiastes 7:5. You may want to look these up, using different translations, and discuss them as part of a study session.
We may distinguish among three entities: the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, and the government of Israel. As stated in the Berlin document itself, we hope that Christians will “understand more fully Judaism’s deep attachment to the Land of Israel as a fundamental religious perspective and many Jewish people’s connection with the State of Israel as a matter of physical and cultural survival.”
Similarly, the document calls upon to Jews to “help Christians appreciate that communal identity and interconnectedness are intrinsic to Jewish self-understanding, in addition to religious faith and practice, therefore making the commitment to the survival and security of the State of Israel of great importance to most Jews.”
Thus, the Land of Israel is central to Judaism, and the State of Israel is central to the self-understanding of many, if not most, contemporary Jews. But the government, as any democratically elected government, is open to criticism and to change. One can criticize the government of Israel and its policies while affirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
The question of the appropriate channels for expression of criticism may be debatable. But Jews and non-Jews ought to be able to freely criticize the government of Israel and its policies, without being accused of antisemitism or anti-Zionism. On the other hand, when the criticism holds Israel up to standards never demanded of any other nation, or when antisemitic stereotypes and canards are used (e.g., as in the headline, "the Israelis are crucifying the Palestinians in Lebanon," As in stopcrucifyingpalestine.blogspot.com, accessed September 9, 2008) Jewish ears become sensitive to the criticism in the wrong way.
Some of our members objected to the wording of this call. Instead of “fair-minded criticism of Israel, “they prefer: “of Israel’s policies.” They are worried that “criticism of Israel” may be misinterpreted as “questioning Israel’s right to exist.” What do you think of their criticism?
Here is a very partial list of some resources that may be helpful:
- Hanan Ashrawi, This Side of Peace: A Personal Account, Touchstone Books: NY, 1995
- Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism: The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State, Basic Books: NY, 1981
-Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, Times Press: NY, 2006
- David Hartman, Conflicting Visions: Spiritual Possibilities of Modern Israel, Schocken Books: NY, 1990
- Arthur Hertzberg, (editor), The Zionist Idea, Second Edition., Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1997)
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity, Farrar, Straus & Giroux: NY, 1967
- Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Columbia University Press: NY, 1997
- Seri Nusseibah, Palestine: A State is Born (Selections of Newspapers/Magazines articles between 1987-1990 ) Palestine Information Office: The Hague, 1990
- Seri Nusseibah, No Trumpets No Drums: A Two-State Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. (with Mark Heller, ) Hill and Wang: NY, 1991. (Paperback 3rd.edition 1993)
- Seri Nusseibah, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life Autobiographical Reflections. (with Anthony David) Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2007
- Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1996
- Eliezer Schweid, The Land of Israel: National Home or Land of Destiny, Associated University Presses: Cranbury, NJ, 1985
- Haim Watzman, Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel, Farrar, Straus & Giroux: NY, 2005
Some useful Websites:
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, Dr Gershon Baskin and Hana Siniora: www.ipcri.org
Rabbis for Human Rights: www.rhr.org.il
Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel: www.icci.org.il
For weekly commentaries on the Torah portion that use traditional sources and often relate to peace in the Middle East: www.netivot-shalom.org.il
The Union for Reform Judaism - www.urj.org - has a wonderful, free feature called “Ten Minutes of Torah” that you can receive on your e-mail Monday through Friday. On Wednesdays, the topic is Israel and the content is usually “Galilee Diary” by Rabbi Professor Marc Rosenstein. His wonderful writing often touches on some of the topics we have mentioned.
In January, 2009, as part of a larger statement in response to the fighting in Gaza, the ICCJ issued the following statement:
Despite the political and ideological questions that may divide us, we re-affirm our common commitments to the sanctity of human life, the pursuit of peace as a religious imperative, and the importance of inter-religious and inter-group dialogue.
Of particular concern to us is the outbreak of antisemitic incidents, some violent, in different parts of the world, seemingly in response to the current difficult situation. There have also been incidents of discrimination against innocent Muslims living outside the region. We deplore this tendency to import the conflict into other regions.
Thus, one of the projects you may want to engage in is a campaign against antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism, in your own area.
Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has just (2009) published another one of his fine books. This one is called Future Tense (Hodder & Stoughton, London) and we highly recommend it, especially chapters 7 and 8 that deal, respectively, with Israel and Zionism. Here is a quotation from p. 98:
A set of criteria distinguishing antisemitism from criticism of Israel was set out by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (now the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.) It includes the following: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour; applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour 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 characterise Israel or Israelis; drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Undoubtedly, the best program you could do on this topic would be to organize an inter-religious visit to Israel. Contact Ophir Yarden at the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel (www.icci.org.il) and see if such a trip can be planned. You might even do something along the lines of the 2009 ICCJ seminar, “From Two Narratives to Building a Culture of Peace.”
Short of that, you might ask members of the Council who have visited Israel and/or the Palestinian territiories to share their experiences and impressions with the rest of the group. The most important thing to bear in mind is that many of us have strong feelings about the issues and it’s important to maintain a civilized, respectful level of discussion. One technique that may be useful is to ask people to get into the other person’s shoes and represent a point of view different from their own. Hopefully, there will be no ridiculing or caricaturing other points of view.
You could bring in examples of criticism of Israel and see where they fit into these criteria. It might be especially effective to do this in the form of a Power Point presentation.
There are many films on the conflict in the Middle East, that could serve as triggers for discussion. One in particular is a documentary called My Terrorist by the Israeli film-maker Yulie Gerstel Cohen (2002) that raises the question whether reconciliation is possible (www.wmm.com/myterrorist/about.html) Even more highly recommended is a documentary called Encounter Point (2006), (www.encounterpoint.com) It tells the very moving story of the Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families Circle (www.theparentscircle.com).