The best way to achieve nothing.

Here we go.

Some non-Jews have questioned the morality of Israel’s army and are working to undercut US military aid to Israel. And American Jews are losing it.

Major American Jewish organizations said Wednesday they have cancelled talks with liberal Protestant leaders after the churches sought an investigation of US military aid to Israel.

…The church leaders said in an Oct. 5 letter to Congress that Israel was guilty of widespread human rights violations against Palestinians that violated U.S. legal standards for recipients of military aid.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism called the claims “repugnant, regrettable and morally misguided.”


I am of at least two minds (if not five or twelve) on this whole turn of affairs, but let’s start here:

First of all, no, Rabbi Wernick, with all due respect (and I speak as an active member of your movement), there’s nothing “repugnant” nor “morally misguided” in saying that there are “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians.” It’s factually accurate (if you don’t trust me, ask the United Nations. If you don’t trust the UN, ask Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem. If you don’t trust B’Tselem, ask the US State Department), and there’s absolutely nothing morally misguided about spiritual leaders calling on political leaders to stop abusing the lives and dignity of those under their decidedly un-democratic rule. Indeed, that’s kind of the spiritual leaders’ gig, as I understand it. If you don’t trust me, ask Isaiah.

And just so we’re clear: The church leaders in question also condemned “the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, [and] the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society,” adding “each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions.”

But yes. There is a “regrettable” aspect to the letter: The fact that many American organizations feel comfortable taking issue with Israel’s actions without turning a similar light on abuses perpetrated by other U.S. aid recipients. There is a paragraph that reads

While this letter focuses on U.S.-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, these are laws that we believe should be enforced in all instances regardless of location. All allegations regarding the misuse of U.S. supplied arms should be investigated.

But I don’t know: Have there been a lot of letters about military aid to Egypt or any other countries?

In this regard—though I’m certain many of my co-religionists will cry “anti-Semitism!”—I think we’re better served looking at two more positive sources for the focus on Israel: Israel’s openness (Egyptian human rights activists don’t enjoy quite the same freedoms that B’Tselem does), and the close Judeo-Christian relationship.

We Jews forget: The Holy Land really is, actually, holy for Christians, too. Our Scriptures really are their Scriptures. Our cultures are intertwined. And people everywhere tend to register greater anger towards those to whom they are, in some way, close. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m saying it happens.

But if American institutions want Jews to listen when they criticize Israel, they might try applying their opprobrium more evenly—and as Christians in dialogue with Jews surely know, calling for limiting military aid to Israel is exactly the kind of thing that makes Jews very nervous.

Israel’s military serves two different roles, one as the defender of the state from outside threats, the other as as an occupation police force. The former is absolutely warranted, and Israel’s military advantage is a big part of why the Arab League has twice offered a peace plan in the past decade. As American Jews are painfully aware, that advantage is wholly bound up in Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and people hoping to engage with the community need to be honest about this sensitivity.

The IDF’s latter role, however, is a direct result of Israel’s ongoing occupation of land that belongs to someone else, and kicking seven year old children and beating and detaining innocent men is neither defensible, nor in the service of Israel’s security. Investigation of these activities is justified, because they are wrong—and the fact that they are bundled up in the IDF’s larger mission is, frankly, Israel’s fault, not that of American Christians.

Rather than forever leaping to the defense of anything and everything Israel does (an approach that posits an Israel outside of human history, in that, unlike any other nation ever, it can do no wrong), I believe that America’s Jewish leaders would be wiser to engage not only with what’s laudable in Israel, but also with what’s questionable. If we cannot say that beating innocent people is bad, what’s left of our heritage?

I don’t know how to resolve this impasse. I can see too clearly the imperatives felt on all sides (not least, those of the Palestinian people themselves).

But I will say this: As much as I may equivocate on the value of the letter, I’m pretty clear that the one sure way to make sure there’s no forward movement is to stop talking.

And I am very uncomfortable with the fact that my community’s go-to response for people they don’t like is to cut off their mic.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Bigotry, today’s GOP, cruelty, and lies.|mt:0|Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently posited racism as cruelty — from jokey emails suggesting that the President’s dead mother indulged in bestiality to the cruelty inherent in “sneer[ing] at the unguarded thoughts of dead children,” and so much else besides. He takes the idea further:

[T]his embrace of cruelty is arguably the dominant feature of the present conservative movement. It has been repeatedly expressed in alleged “humor.” The assertion of a right of judgement over the First Lady’s physical person, for instance. Or watermelon patches on the front lawn. Or Obama waffles.  There is little distance from that kind of cruelty to aspirin between one’s legs and from aspirin between one’s legs to transvaginal probes.

I find Ta-Nehisi’s point particularly powerful. Let’s call conservative social attitudes, policies and legislative efforts what they are: Mean. Mean-spirited. Cruel. When you reduce living, breathing human beings to your worst ideas about them, and act on that reduction, you’re acting with genuine cruelty. Plain and simple.

But here’s another thing that I can’t stop thinking about: When you do these things, you’re also lying.

Bigotry is lies.

It doesn’t matter if the bigot actually believes what he or she is saying. When you tell me that black Americans should “demand paychecks instead of food stamps” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that “if you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that Islam and Muslims are “pure, unadulterated evil” — you’re spreading lies.

Spanish is the “language of living in the ghetto“? Women frequently and regularly lie about having been raped? Recipients of unemployment insurance need to “get off their backsides and get a job… [and] stop stealing from their neighbors“? Lies, lies, and more lies.

Cruel lies, at that.

These are not differences of opinion, or legitimate perspectives on the world. These are lies told and perpetuated in order to allow those who tell them to have power over certain classes of human, or, at the very least, to feel superior to said humans. And I’m done pretending otherwise.

I can accept that your religion teaches you that men should control women, and that birth control and abortion are wrong. But when you insist that you have a right to impose that belief on me in this country, a secular nation by definition and design — you’re lying. You can believe in your heart of hearts that homosexuality is disgusting. But when you insist that you have a right to deny LGBTQ Americans their civil rights as a result — you’re lying. On and on and bloody on.

At a certain point, willed and willful ignorance becomes willed and willful deceit, of the self and of others. If you honestly believe that certain people deserve to be denied some measure of human dignity because of how the Good Lord/Mother Nature created them? Then you, sir or madam, are full of it.

And if you’re an elected representative of one of this nation’s two political parties (like every single one of the people to whom I link following the words “bigotry is lies”), I have an even greater duty to call you on it.

“Theirs is a land with a wall around it” – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Fridays with Billy.

Even the most casual reader of this blog will know that I am a great admirer of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work, and am very active in the community that has grown up among his readers — and though lately I don’t have as much time to hang out there as I have done in the past, I’m still taking it all in.

Yesterday, for instance, Ta-Nehisi wrote not once but twice about the essential cruelty of America’s right-wing. In the first post, he wrote:

[An] embrace of cruelty is arguably the dominant feature of the present conservative movement. It has been repeatedly expressed in alleged “humor.” The assertion of a right of judgement over the First Lady’s physical person, for instance. Or watermelon patches on the front lawn. Or Obama waffles.  There is little distance from that kind of cruelty to aspirin between one’s legs and from aspirin between one’s legs to transvaginal probes.

In the second, he discussed Rush Limbaugh’s execrable treatment of a law student who had wanted to testify before the House of Representatives on the issue of insurance coverage for birth control, writing:

[I]t is worth calling this what is is–the normalization of cruelty–and asserting, no matter how redundant, that is wrong and evidence of the lowest aspects of humanity.

It’s very hard to escape the same conclusion, in light of the racism, misogyny, homophobia, and anti-poor animus that the GOP and its hangers-on have been spewing with convincing vehemence ever since the 2008 elections, and I think that was part of what I was getting at (if in a round-about way) in this post: “Liberals, Conservatives, and human nature.

But of course, Billy Bragg has had a thing or two to say about these same notions. Because he gets it, Billy does. And so today I bring you “Between The Wars” — and as is so often true with Billy, this song is both very specific to time and place, and shockingly universal.

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man

Theirs is a land with a wall around it, and mine is a faith in my fellow man. Yep.

full lyricsWhat is Fridays with Billy?

What the hell kind of Jew am I?

I feel pretty strongly that I shouldn’t have to defend my Judaism in order to have my opinions about Israel taken seriously.

I feel pretty strongly about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am often called upon to defend my Judaism anyway. And I often go ahead and defend my Judaism anyway, not because it needs defending, but because I hope that the news that I am not, in fact, an apikoros (heretic) will perhaps allow a few new ideas out into the marketplace. Like, for instance, the idea that one need not be an apikoros to criticize Israel.

And so, hereunder, my answer to the occasionally posed questions that boil down to: What the hell kind of Jew are you?

I am an Israeli Jew, married to an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem. I made aliyah as a young woman, and lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years.

I am also an active member of a Chicago-area Conservative shul. I keep a strictly kosher home — which is to say, I have different sets of dishes (and silverware, and pots, and pans, and…) for meat meals and dairy meals, PLUS two entirely different sets for Passover, in keeping with the laws governing the removal of hametz (leavening) from our homes during Passover.

Come to that, I clean like a madwoman in the lead-up to Passover, annually performing the ritual of “selling” my hametz to a non-Jew, and stripping our lives of anything the least bit contaminated with hametz for a week. I cover my hair when I daven (pray), and I study Torah regularly — I’m currently making my way through Everyman’s Talmud; this summer I worked more directly on Pirkei Avot. I don’t work on Shabbat or holidays, and on holidays, my children stay home from school; we attend services in the morning, and share some Torah study in the afternoon. My family frequently speaks Hebrew in our home, and we visit Israel roughly once a year. I feel very strongly that our job in life — as Jews certainly, but also more generally, as people — is to advance the cause of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

My politics regarding Israel/Palestine stem from all of that — from the tikkun olam stuff, from the ideas held within our rituals, from the content of our prayers, on and on, and perhaps most especially, from my love of Israel. Israel is my home, and I am a Zionist. A two-state solution in which both sides are allowed human dignity and genuine security would not only be good for the Palestinians (who have been suffering under our boot for far, far too long), but it would also be good for the Jews.

I live in what I think of as the gentle exile of American suburbia not because I stopped loving Israel, but because Israel became so deeply invested in maintaining and perpetuating the immoral and indefensible occupation and settlement project that the entire state is now predicated on little else — and my Jerusalemite husband and I didn’t want to raise our Israeli-Jewish children in such a place. Didn’t want to sacrifice them and their lives on that alter, or raise them in a society in which that sacrifice, that immorality, is deemed holy.

I also happen to be a convert. This matters not at all to me — because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not a convert, I’m a Jew — but in the interests of full disclosure, I include that information here. I converted from a place of deep and abiding faith and trust in the Holy One Blessed Be He, and if we believe our stories, I was at Sinai when He gave our people our Law. I like to believe I was standing right next to my husband (who I actually met a week after I converted), holding my kids’ hands.

Slowly but surely, I find myself becoming a bit less of an Israeli Jew, and a bit more of an American one — this is, in no small part, because of the utter contempt with which Israel as an institution treats the Diaspora. I cannot stand it, and so I find myself throwing my emotional lot in, more and more, with my brothers and sisters on this side of the ocean. My respect for the Diaspora has grown enormously since leaving Israel, as I watch people struggle with a language they don’t know in order to maintain ritual and tradition in the face of a majority culture that really has little space for any of it. It’s a tremendous, and highly admirable, feat.

So what the hell kind of Jew am I? I’m that kind of Jew. Now you know. And when this post has been up for a few days, I’ll turn it into a permanent page — that way when the next person asks, I won’t have to say it all again.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.