Where’s Jewish Fury Over Tariq Abu Khdeir Beating?

I have no idea what Tariq Khdeir was doing on the day he was savagely beaten.

I have no idea if — like the American high school student in my own home – Tariq woke up late and lazy, because that’s what vacation’s like. Maybe he slipped on headphones as he reached for his cell, checking his texts or the World Cup stats. Maybe he jumped straight out of bed. Maybe he lay quietly under the covers, trying desperately not to remember his cousin Muhammad’s voice, not to envision his grisly murder, not to hear the sobbing of his family.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir woke up filled with sorrow and helplessness. Maybe he woke up filled with rage. All those years in American schools, walking American streets, hearing about what life was like for his cousins in East Jerusalem, and then there he was, right in the house, with wailing family and shattered hearts. Maybe Tariq wanted to at least see Palestinians fighting back in his cousin’s name, just to see the rocks thrown, just to see the anger and maybe some fear on the other side.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir wrapped his head in a red-and-white checked keffiyeh because he’d been warned not to go out, and he didn’t want to get busted. Maybe he wrapped his head because he didn’t want to be recognized by police. Maybe he got out there and, like many angry young men before him, felt the power of rage surging through the streets and his own veins and picked up a rock. Maybe Tariq Khdeir threw some rocks — he says he didn’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s imagine he did. Grief and fury can muddle the minds of even straight-A students.

I don’t know what Tariq Khdeir did that day, or how he felt, or what he was thinking, but here’s what I do know: He went out to the streets. He was at a protest that had shaded into riot, and his head was wrapped in a keffiyeh. And two Israeli police officers, broad of chest and fully armed, grabbed him – a slight 15-year-old boy — and dragged him to where they believed they would not be seen, and they beat the ever-loving daylights out of him. They held him down. They kicked him. They hit him. They took turns. They broke his nose. They blackened and bloodied his eyes. They held him down and beat him.

Tariq didn’t have a weapon in his hand or on his person. He’d been separated from whoever he’d been with. Whatever he may or may not have done in the moments before the now infamous video of fists and feet raining down on his body, Tariq Khdeir was not any threat, of any kind, to those who pushed him to the ground and raised their boots.

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

Between J Street and the Pew survey.

J Street logoI spoke with many (many) people at the recent J Street conference; middle-aged activists, rabbis of various ages and stages, college-aged-or-just-barely-not-college-aged young men and women of exceeding intelligence and remarkable vision. One of the topics to which many conversations turned, again and again, was the question of Jewish identity.

While not a perfect metric (and it’s important to remember that anecdotes are no replacement for research) it’s worth noting that there were far more kipot in the crowd this time than at any other J Street gathering I’ve ever attended. There were more tziziot. A few speakers even went beyond passing reference to tikkun olam (which, nothing against tikkun olam, but settlers think they’re doing tikkun olam, too). And I was told by people from all over the religious spectrum (as I have been in the past) that the very fact of J Street (or, before it, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom) allowed them to revisit and re-engage with their Judaism.

Which brings us, a little circuitously, to the recent Pew Research poll.

According to Pew, 73 percent of American Jews say that “remembering the Holocaust” is “an essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” whereas only 28 percent can say the same about “being part of a Jewish community.”

Though I hold Pew Research Center in high regard, my sense is that the construction of this survey is not without problems (for instance: What’s the difference between having “an emotional attachment” to Israel and “caring” about Israel? Why was the only question about settlements linked to security?)—but even if we posit the poll as an imperfect tool, imperfection can only go so far in explaining the vastly greater import Jews appear to grant Holocaust remembrance over involvement with other Jews. Forty-five percent is not a small number. We can’t even chalk it up to generational differences: Among 18-29 year olds, the stats stand at 69 percent vs. 26 percent.

Let me be perfectly clear: Holocaust remembrance is a critical Jewish act. It’s a critical human act. The calculated, mechanized effort to rid the world of an entire race of people—man, woman, and infant—because of the blood in their veins is not something that we may ever pass over lightly. We must study the events of the Nazis’ rise and rule, as well as the ideas behind the Final Solution, and we must honor the six million by recalling their lives and their culture. This is part of how we ensure the promise we make every time we say “never again.”

And yet surely it matters that we not only remember dead Jews, but also get to know some living ones. Even if our main goal is to “remember the Holocaust,” surely it matters that we find personally meaningful ways to engage with the very culture that the six million were slaughtered for.

They weren’t all religiously observant; some rather famously didn’t believe in God. I don’t know how many actually understood the language of our prayers, but I’ll bet a fair number didn’t. They argued over theology and how to stage a play and what a good education entailed and whether or not that one guy’s jokes were funny. The six million and their various communities were, in short, like any other modern people: Vastly different from one another, yet also bound by something real, however difficult to quantify.

Ever since sometime in the 1950s, however, when it became popular across much of American society to be suspicious of anything that was difficult to quantify, the Jewish community has emphasized “Holocaust remembrance” over and above almost anything else (with the possible exception of “caring about Israel”). The late, great scholar Peter Novick explained and sliced through the Holocaust rhetoric, but few really listened; it was easier, I suspect, to teach solidarity based on horrifying memory than on the ineffable nature of culture or faith. The kids in Hebrew school might not buy your whole “God” schtick, but show them a picture from Dachau and you’re in.

Quite aside from the dishonor this brings to all we lost, there’s the simple fact that horror is not culture. “Remembering” is not heritage. And the Jewish people—those rich in Torah and those rich in good deeds, believers and unbelievers, prophetic comic artists and hip hop poets, not to mention folks just getting by—have so much more to offer.

Which brings us back around to the J Street conference. The rabbis, the J Street U enthusiasts, the parents sharing tales of synagogue preschool, they all remember the Holocaust, they all care about Israel—and they all care about what being a Jew entails. All of that brought them to the conference in the first place. All of that is why they risk identifying with an organization that cares enough to question institutional Judaism’s long-held conventional wisdom on what being a good Jew means.

Every person with whom I spoke about re-engaging with their Judaism had something different in mind. Maybe they meant focusing on spiritual practice rather than on the brinksmanship of a particular set of politicians in a modern-day nation-state. Maybe they’re writing a dissertation on the impact of Jewish culture on American music. Maybe they’re reading this blog because Open Zion strives to advance the kind of open debate that was once a hallmark of Jewish thought. Maybe they decided to spend a weekend with other Jews in the Washington Convention Center and act for peace with the Palestinians.

I’m a woman of faith; I speak and read Hebrew. It’s easy for me to be active in a Conservative synagogue. But for many, many Jews, that’s neither easy nor even appealing. Nor, would I argue, does it have to be.

But being with Jews, building something of meaning based in our past with an eye on our future—that’s essential. Whether it be J Street, or Jewish poetry slams, or something like LABA, New York’s non-religious house of study, we need to find, foster, and encourage all that will help us remember not just horror, but also joy.

Basing our identity in dreadful narratives of death and survival, and/or an amorphous “caring” about a country that’s an ocean away (essential to 53 percent of Jews aged 65 and up, and only 32 percent of 18-29 year olds) is a path to failure. Indeed, if that’s all we care about, I’d say it already has failed.

But basing our identity in each other? That could actually work.

What does “pro-Israel” mean in 2013?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to take part in the J Street U Student Summit, speaking on a panel that addressed the above question. It was a real honor to be asked to participate, and I was so impressed with the level of discourse and engagement shown by everyone present. Following are my notes for what I said on the panel (I tried not to read directly from the page, so if you were there, it might have come out a little differently! But this is what I meant).

Thanks for having me, J Street U!

***********

j-street-u-logoFirst of all, whenever I have to write or speak about the term “pro-Israel” I like to start by saying what the term means to me, and to do that, I kind of have to break it down to a granular level.

For me, the first question has to be: Do we accept the paradigm of nationalism? The international community has been organized along national lines for over a century now, and there’s very little reason to believe that will change in the near future. This is not without its problems and I can understand why some people have decided to reject nationalism all together. Having said that, I’m not among those people, and I further think it’s important to work with people and nations where they actually are, not where they might someday be. And nationalism is, in fact, the international community’s organizing principle.

Then my next question has to be: Do I accept the notion of a Jewish nation? When the idea of nationalism first emerged in the late 19th century, Jews had long shared a language, a culture, and a land – the very building blocks of modern nationalism. The fact that the Jewish people hadn’t lived on their land for centuries wasn’t a choice, it was the result of a rolling genocide that ultimately failed. So yes, to my mind, by any measure, ancient or modern: The Jewish people constitute a nation.

These questions are important to clarify for ourselves when we have today’s conversation because the State of Israel is the successful outcome of the Jewish national movement, aka: Zionism. When I say that I am “pro-Israel,” what I’m saying is that I am in full support of Jewish nationalism and thus in full support of the fact of a Jewish State.

What I am not saying is that I am, by definition, in full support of a particular Israeli government or governmental policy.

This goes to the very heart of the notion of democracy and pluralism: Can I support a political body with which I identify, and yet reject the decisions of the people elected to lead that body for a certain time?

And here’s where we run headlong into the American “pro-Israel” establishment, or what my boss Peter Beinart once referred to as “the carnivorous world of politicized Israel devotion” – people who have appointed themselves, and for a long time were largely accepted as, the gatekeepers of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Over the years, the acceptable working definition of pro-Israel – and with greater and greater frequency, the acceptable working definition of “real Judaism” – has become an ever-narrower version of toeing the line laid down by the government of Israel as expressed through its policies.

We can’t avoid the fact, though, that this thinking didn’t apply to Yitzhak Rabin or his efforts toward a two-state peace via the Oslo Accords – in the mid-1990s, AIPAC coordinated with Netanyahu against Rabin and against Oslo.

This is our sign that the self-appointed guardians of pro-Israel discourse, and the people with the money who fund them, are not (as they present themselves) disinterested parties worried solely for Israel’s best, but are a group of real people actually have strong opinions about what they think Israel needs. And they think (I believe genuinely, for whatever that’s worth) that what is best for Israel is a kind of management of the conflict, in which the Palestinians and various other parties are forever kept at a distrusting arm’s length.

Sadly, these folks are increasingly involved with, or in fact represent, the American far right, as well, and as a result, the politics of “what’s good for Israel” has gotten terribly entangled with the question of “what does the far right think America should do with its power in the world?”

I simply can’t accept that any of this is, in fact, good for Israel, in no small part because it presumes endless war. On the contrary, it is this Zionist’s opinion that continuing to conduct Israel’s affairs in a state of low-boil ethnic anxiety can only lead to national disaster, and I mean that quite literally: I’m fairly well convinced that if we don’t manage to achieve a two-state solution in the next decade or so, history will look back on the Jewish State as yet another in a long list of Jewish disasters.

So I would say that for people who call themselves pro-Israel but do not identify with the traditional standard bearers of that title, we need to do two things simultaneously:

We need refuse to let other people frame this conversation for us, and we need to continue to engage with and criticize Israeli policies that we feel to be a danger to Israel itself.

When we are accused of being self-hating, or pro-Hamas, or neo-Nazis, or even just naïve, we need to politely reject the characterization, restate our position as caring deeply for Israel’s future – and continue with the work of advocating for a future that will include peace and justice. As Americans, we need to tell our politicians and institutions in positions of power – again and again and again – that the old definition of “pro-Israel” simply does not apply, and those people do not speak for us.

For my money, one of the most powerful things we can do is simply to stand up and be counted – to refuse to be silenced by those who would accuse us of ill-intent, and furthermore to refuse to be cowed by their opposite numbers on the left who want to shame us for loving Israel in the first place. As someone who actively advocates for the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, I cannot accept the idea that my people deserve anything less.

The State of Israel is a legitimate political entity, and within its internationally recognized borders, it is a democratic entity. We are told in nearly every Jewish setting in which we ever find ourselves that we belong to Israel, and Israel belongs to all the Jews.

If that’s the case, then we have a right to an opinion, and we have a right to disagree with the politicians currently in Israel’s government. Thus to my mind, the logical extension of being pro-Israel is working for what we know to be best for the Jewish State, in spite of what other Jews may tell us.

Huge correction re: Ehud Olmert & the Arab Peace Initiative.

For years now, I’ve written some version of the following words:

“All 22 members of the Arab League, including the Palestinian Authority, offered a comprehensive peace in exchange for a two state solution not once, but twice: in 2002 and 2007. Both times, Israel entirely ignored the offer.”

I wrote these words in good faith, but it turns out I was wrong. Wrong matters.

Late Monday night, while he was speaking to the annual J Street conference, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this: “Those who say that Israel did not address itself to the Arab Peace Initiative do not speak the truth. Israel was prepared to negotiate within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

I took note but was busy transcribing the speech for a client, so couldn’t do anything at the moment. By the time Olmert was done, JTA’s Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas had tweeted:

I tweeted back a question asking for clarification, and he very kindly obliged — and lo, it turns out that at the Annapolis Peace Conference in November 2007, then-Prime Minister Olmert said in his address:

I am familiar with the Arab peace initiative, which was born in Riyadh, affirmed in Beirut [in 2002] and recently reaffirmed by you in Riyadh. I value this initiative, acknowledge its importance and highly appreciate its contribution. I have no doubt that it will be referred to in the course of the negotiations between us and the Palestinian leadership.

So first of all: I was wrong.

This is information that I didn’t have, and I’ve been functioning under, and spreading, a misconception for years.

I can even tell you why I was wrong: I had so little faith that anything would come out of Annapolis (and, in the end, nothing did) that I paid no attention to the proceedings. I have only rarely in my life been paid to pay attention to these things, and when I’m not being paid, my despair will sometimes overcome my curiosity and thoroughness — and that, as we can see, is not helpful. Because aside from anything else, it leads to enormous error.

I apologize for that error.

I didn’t address this yesterday, because I was hoping to find the time to do a little research. The question for me now becomes about the significance of Olmert’s remarks: Israeli officials are forever saying the right thing, and then doing something else all together. Witness my most recent post about the settlements; witness Netanyahu’s verbal insistence that he’s all about a two-state solution, vs his constant and consistent efforts to undermine any progress toward such an agreement. It’s also meaningful that the Israeli public as a whole remains unaware that the Arab Peace Initiative even exists — I believe that if the government had any genuine interest in pursuing the API (or any peace initiative), it would have worked its way into (or, indeed, been purposely introduced to) public discourse. It never has.

But I haven’t found the time I need to really dig into these questions, and at a certain point, knowing that you’re wrong but leaving that fact unremarked (other than a few tweets) is just not ok. So, inspired by my Twitter pal @dotanh, who has issued his own, Hebrew-language correction, I decided to write the above. I’m hoping to write something more in-depth soon, but for the time-being, I will leave it at:

I was really, really wrong. And I am deeply sorry for (and more than a little horrified by) the error.

“The State of Israel…will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”*

I’m honestly at a loss to understand just what Israel is trying to achieve these days.

I think the coalition believes itself to be working for a safer Israel, but it’s so painfully obvious that what they’re actually doing is hounding people, literally across the globe, for disagreeing with them, while also turning the clock back on bedrock democratic principles, that I go right back to scratching my head.

Exhibit A: This Wednesday, the Knesset held an inquiry into the allegedly anti-Israel policies of the avowedly pro-Israel American-Jewish organization J Street.

Now, reasonable people may reasonably argue that J Street is wrong-headed. Reasonable people may reasonably say that there are more effective ways to work for peace and security (for Israel and/or the region) than pursuing a two-state solution as facilitated by the American government.

Reasonable people, on the right and left, make this argument all the time, in fact. I happen to disagree with them, but that’s the way the democratic cookie crumbles: People get to say what they think, and disagree with what you think. Yay democracy!

But Israel’s current government appears to have zoomed right past “reasonable” to “bat-guano crazy.”

According to member of Knesset (MK) Nissim Ze’ev, J Street’s positions represent “sheer hatred toward the State of Israel and the government’s policies, more terrible than that of Israel’s worst enemies.” The committee investigating the group has called on J Street itself to “purge from its ranks” an imagined cadre of Israel haters, and on the Israeli government never to meet with its representatives. Yeahhhh…. No.

Let’s be crystal clear: Those demanding that J Street dance to the current coalition’s tune aren’t defaming one or two or twenty people. They’re talking about close to 200,000 American Jews, 2,500 of whom recently gathered at a conference at which phrases like “Israel’s right to self-defense” were regular applause lines. They’re talking about an organization the only goal of which is to further the Netanyahu government’s own stated goal: A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The MK who called for the inquiry, Otniel Schneller (from Kadima — you know, the “centrist” party?) actually said this about J Street (he actually said this):

(more…)

On leaving the cave, or: Lessons learned.

This past weekend, I left the cozy comfort of my wee little home office (in which — I would just like to say — I do not work in pajamas. Though I do often wear slippers) and ventured into what Betsy Ray might have called The Great World.

Lessons, as they say, were learned.

The very shoes.

  1. Though my feet and legs were willing and able to take one for the team and gambol about airports, public transportation, and the halls of the Washington Convention Center in black suede heels for three solid days — they did not enjoy it. Certainly not on day three.
  2. A smart-phone in one’s pocket is an excellent way to sort the muddled and over-stimulated mind. Is he the one who wrote that book? Is she the one who said that thing? Why, Google’s your pal!
  3. Women’s trousers need deeper pockets. My mother — a tall woman who has struggled her whole life to find women’s trousers that fit well — has been saying this for years, but I think it’s truer than ever in the age of smart-phones in your pocket. Because, sure: Most of my personal belongings were in a work-appropriate purse. But I had my phone in my pocket all the time — because it was on vibrate, because I am polite. I’m just grateful that every time it escaped the shallow confines of my stupid girly pocket, the thump made by my (brand new and hardly cheap!) BlackBerry was good and attention-getting.
  4. At any given moment, no matter my level of despair or the lies and prevarications told by those who would tear down rather than build up, there is someone, somewhere thinking good, creative thoughts about how to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, Americans and the world — and not just thinking, but acting.

This last is a particularly important thing for me to remember, now that I’m back in my cave.

I’m very easily given to despondency over the chances for a just and genuine two-state peace for Israel/Palestine, a peace in which Palestinians get the support they deserve in overcoming the results of decades of a malign occupation, and Israeli Jews get to live without fear as Israel ceases to be the one place on earth in which it is genuinely dangerous to be a Jew — and Israel’s Palestinian citizens get full rights and opportunities, as the citizens of any democracy are entitled to enjoy.

I’ve been fighting this fight since the first intifada, when I came to the conclusion that Israel had two choices: Get rid of all the Palestinians, one way or the other, or agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. As I couldn’t support the former, it struck me that I should work for the latter. And nearly a quarter of a century later, here we are — so close to that peace on paper that you can all but smell it, and yet so much farther away on the ground that it may already be impossible.

But despair is a luxury, and an insult to all of the fine and brave people I saw this weekend.

There before me stood Fox New’s bogeyman, the gentle Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, quietly quoting Jewish scripture and reminding us that “the real battle is between the moderates of all faith communities, and the radicals of all faith communities.”

There was grieving father and native Gazan Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, calling on each person present to “relieve himself of Otherness and wear just the robe of humanity.”

There was Peter Beinart, reminding us of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teaching that the holiness of the land of Israel depends on the holiness of its people, adding “if the land of Israel was not holy in the time of Terah the idol maker, neither can it be holy in the time of Leiberman, and Netanyahu, and Ovadia Yosef.”

There was Sara Benninga, describing her several arrests for nonviolent activism — and the more harrowing experience of her friend and fellow-arrestee, also picked up for nonviolent protest, because he’d had the temerity to protest while Palestinian. “I ask you,” she said, “how would you react if your government treated your Constitution as empty words? I have chosen to fight.”

There was Daniel Levy, member of Israel’s delegation to the 2001 Taba negotiations and lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Accords, saying loud and clear: “Lieberman is the bastard child of the demographic analysis of why we need to end the occupation. You cannot treat the Arab Palestinian public as a demographic threat and advocate full equality inside Israel.”

And there was Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian politician and activist, asking us to please remember the words of Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish: “If only Israelis would realize how afraid we are of their fear.”

I have to listen to these voices, every day. I have to carry them into my work, and be true to what they demand of me. Might it all still end horribly? Certainly. But not for lack of effort on the parts of the people like those who spoke at and attended the 2011 J Street Conference. Not for lack of my own effort.

Time to take off the heels, and put my Docs back on. They’re better for the long haul, and that’s what what I’m in this for.

Update: If you want to watch some of these amazing speakers doing their thing, click here for a great trove of video and background. (If you want to watch the excellent Bernard Avishai, Daniel Levy, and Roger Cohen, feel free to skip right past the Dennis Ross comments, to the 42 minute mark. Ross said nothing new, and might very well piss you off. Lord knows he pissed off a large number of conference attendees!)

Newsflash! Networking is good. (Or: J Street soup for the middle aged soul).

Bottom line, I need to get out more.

I’ve been a freelance writer, working from home, for years and years. For the past nine of those years, I haven’t even done much reporting, working instead on commentary or book reviews or whatever projects arrive through the ether, and as a result, in the course of my workday, I nearly never have to leave the house.

Which probably goes at least some of the way toward explaining how thrilling I found the J Street Conference.

Oh.My.GOD!!

My 11 year old son put it best when he described the conference to his friend as being “like ComicCon, for peace advocates.” I spent about 52 hours doing almost nothing but being knocked off my feet.

First, there was getting to see a small handful of wonderful, wonderful friends who I love very much but only rarely get to see.

Then, there were all the people who I “know,” but had neverever met: people from J Street, people from the Twitter world (who, it should be noted, are generally much bigger than their thumbnail pictures), people from the world of peace activism, people from the world of Middle East geekery, people from several of those worlds combined.

Then there were all these Amazing Writers and Thinkers and Doers from the various worlds of progressive politics and academia and wonkery and diplomacy who I’ve admired from afar for some shockingly geeky amount of time and who were right there! A few of whom I just walked up to and shook hands with! And had conversations with!

It’s a sign of my absolutely irredeemable eggheadedness that I very nearly squeed over some of these last. Among the people with whom I got to exchange a few words during those 52 hours were:

  1. Congressman Keith EllisonDemocrat from Minnesota, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, one of the very few members of our legislative branch to ever go to the Palestinian territories, and an all-together incisive, sharp, and warmly approachable man.
  2. Robert Malley – aside from anything else (and there is much else), author of some of the most important and honest writing you will ever find about the 2000 Camp David negotiations, at which Ehud Barak did not make a “generous offer” and President Clinton stabbed the Palestinians in the back.
  3. Adam Serwer – one of my favorite writers dealing with the various intersections of politics and culture and general bullshit-cutting-through — also smart, funny, and gracious, particularly given that I essentially roped him into 20 minutes of conversation with me and two other people I knew only slightly better than he, because he happened to pass by as we were talking about Twitter, and his is one of my favorite Twitter feeds. And he laughed at one or two of my attempts at humor, thus endearing himself to me forever and ever, amen.
  4. Matthew Yglesias – another super smart writer, who did some amazing work out of Hebron not long ago, and who wields his humor-fu rather as one might use a very, very good carving knife.
  5. Matt Duss – yet another super smart writer, who did some amazing work out of Herzlia not long ago, and who towered above me by about three feet but who chatted so amicably that I did not feel at all like the midget I am.
  6. Mona Eltahawyan absolutely riveting Egyptian journalist/analyst who was all over the airwaves and intertubes during the Egyptian uprising (just watch her joy in the wake of Mubarak’s resignation!).
  7. Barbara Slavin – the charming author of the excellent Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US, and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.

And that, my friends, is but a partial list.

On the “I got to listen to them live OMG!!1!” list are:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (I know!!); Roger Cohen of the New York Times, even better live than he is on the page; Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative (“Ground Zero Mosque”) and a soft-spoken American interfaith leader (and who, in his comments, consistently made surprising references to football); Peter Beinart, academic and writer of many things, but lately known in particular for his cri de coeur “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”; Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, author of the heartbreaking I Shall Not Hate, and a passionate co-existence advocate, despite the deaths of three of his daughters and a niece at the hands of the Israeli military; and Sara Benninga, founder and organizer with the game-changing Israeli anti-settlement movement, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity, with which my family and I marched in November.

And again: The list is partial.

But by far the most emotional, indeed thrilling, part of the conference was the very fact of it.

To be in a series of rooms with some 2,500 people, the vast majority of them American Jews, all of them dedicated to a peaceful Israel and the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people was profoundly moving. Hearing them cheer and clap as speaker after speaker said things like “if you’re truly pro-Israel, then you must be pro-Palestinian” was unutterably gratifying. Seeing the passion in their eyes, hearing the gratitude and relief in their voices, watching them gird their loins to ascend Capitol Hill and lobby America’s legislature for an end to war and the beginning of justice, it was — it was something else. It was inspiring. It was affirming. It was genuinely, deeply powerful. (And we all know that for me, the well of inspiration and affirmation on this issue has run rather dry of late).

Some moments were less than sterling. I did stifle a yawn or two. I certainly found myself in disagreement with folks now and then, and if Member of Knesset Nahman Shai had gone on for even three more seconds declaring the siege of Gaza (aka: the collective punishment of 1.6 million human beings) justified because Hamas still holds Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive — I might well have made a scene.

And, full disclosure: I have in fact seen and heard a few people complaining about the conference or the organization, for various odd and often stupid things — folks who are clearly dedicated to the infallibility of their own opinions, or to the notion that it’s best to be associated with a group that is pure (even if tiny), or (indeed) the vital import of particular vocabulary choices (really: one writer pilloried J Street president Jeremy Ben Ami for not using the word “occupation” in his opening speech — at a conference wholly dedicated to ending the occupation).

But, you know: Whatevs.

The vast majority of the people at the conference came to learn, to get energized, and to do the work, the work being continuing the fight for a just, two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — peace, freedom and dignity for all in Israel/Palestine.

And that, my friends, was thrilling to be a part of.

And (I believe) would have been thrilling even if I were a smidge less house-bound.

I’ve been everywhere… dude.

Note: Sony Music are douchebags and I can’t find a version of this song that will play on my site. But dude! Click through! Totally worth it.

*****

Ok, I haven’t been everywhere. But I’ve been a lotta places!

I’ve been to: Israel, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, Belgium (24 hours – that counts, right?), England, Ireland, and Holland. Oh! And Canada: Toronto, Nova Scotia (<3!), PE Island….

In America, I’ve been to (city, state, and/or environs): Chicago, New York, Syracuse, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul, all over southern Wisconsin, a few places in northern Indiana, all over southwestern Michigan, Memphis, Springfield (IL), Cincinnati, Orlando (well – Disney), Maine, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot.

There are HUGE swathes of the world still to see, not least all of Africa south of Egypt, Iran, and the American Southwest. But, you know, I’ve been a place or two, seen a thing or three.

It’s cool. I like feeling comfortable on a plane, at ease with pulling out my passport. I don’t like the fact that when my family of four and I flew somewhere in November, we realized with a shock that, once we had factored in travel-to-and-from-the-airport time and (more to the point) security-check-time — we literally could have gotten where we were going almost as quickly by driving. (And the food would have been better and cheaper). So there may soon be more driving in my future.

But that’s fine, too, because all told, I like traveling. I spent a good 20 years doing it mostly on my own, back and forth and back and forth from Israel to America, with occasional stops in Europe or the US (or, that’s right, Canada. What’s wrong with us Americans?), the stopovers often including every mode of conveyance short of donkey cart: bus, train, boat, borrowed car, rental car, riding-with-someone-else-because-they-were-headed-that-way. Probably some walking too. Very rarely, a group would be involved, or a boyfriend, and then I picked up a husband, and eventually we had kids. Now I mostly travel in a pack of four, each dragging a carry-on (mine generally the heaviest, because where else will a lunch for four fit?).

This weekend, I’m traveling again, but here’s what I’m not doing in preparation – I’m not:

  1. Making lists for other people
  2. Packing clothes, toiletries and pharmaceuticals for other people
  3. Buying books, activities, and food for other people
  4. In any way concerning myself with the travel needs of other people

Why? Because I’m going by myself.

I love my kids, God knows I love my kids. I am, in fact, a trifle crazy about my kids — besotted and infatuated with my kids, actually. What’s not to love? They are outstanding human beings: Funny, smart, kind, and very good with the hugging (though the girl, through no fault of my genes, I can assure you of that, does not like to give or get kisses. I ask you!). They are also, it must be said, excellent travel companions, and always have been — and this is not a thing that can be said about all children, it must be said.

And my husband — with whom I am, quite frankly, also besotted and infatuated — always packs for himself. I am not his mother, and he knows to step lightly even when asking advice on what to bring. I am not — I repeat — his mother. And he, too, is a genuinely fabulous travel companion. We have a lot of fun together on the road, me and my wee gang.

HOWEVER.

Having this opportunity to NOT pack for others, NOT worry about what others will eat, NOT think about amusing others, NOT shop for anyone but MYSELF (I got shoes yesterday, y’all! Cute little black pumps that straddle that all important line of “workaday” and “cute and sassy” — whoot!) is kind of glorious, I must say.

Definitely the most surprising piece of becoming a parent was the utter relentlessness of it. You cannot decide (as one might with a spouse/partner) to not eat supper. You cannot decide to blow off the laundry for another week. And if you’re the one with the sudden, painful, gaping head wound? You still have to calm the other, shorter people down. Parenting is, in a word, relentless.

So getting a chance to buy cute shoes, make my own lunch plans, and pack a carry-on with my own reading material (I’m going to teach myself the glories of my brand-new Blackberry!) is a little heady.

I will miss my people, I am that sort, and I’m glad to say that I am also very excited to be going where I’m going — the J Street conference, where I’ll get to hob-nob with hopeless Israel/Palestine geeks like me, people who obsess like me and worry like me and talk in the same shorthand I have in my own head — but before I even get there, I’ll already be happy.

Because I won’t be juggling coffee and someone else’s pizza. And my shoes? Will be fabulous.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Why I still call myself a Zionist.

5/24/11 UPDATE:
To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV.

*****

As I get ready to go to the J Street conference this weekend, I find myself grappling with all those lovely issues that an American-Israeli peace activist must occasionally grapple with. What shoes to wear? What books to bring in the carry-on? Why do I still insist on applying to myself that much maligned descriptor “Zionist”?

I mean honestly, haven’t I gotten the memo? Zionists “barely resemble humans,” as one tweet recently had it. None of the cool, peace-n-justice loving kids are Zionists anymore! C’mon now!

There are a handful of reasons for my mulishness, however, and they start from the most simple: Words mean things.

“Zionist” does not mean “fascist” or “imperialist” or “running dog” or even “baby-killer.” It means “Jewish nationalist.” So there’s that. I am forever getting hung up on the fact that words have actual, working definitions.

And then there’s the fact that I firmly believe that my side (the Israeli/Jewish side) has absolutely no business telling the other side (the Palestinian side) how to define themselves or their terms. They get to define themselves, not me. And so, ipso facto, I’m not willing to say that those who have issues with Israeli government policy — no matter how deep and just the issues may be — now have a right to define my people and our terms for us.

And finally, if I am accepting of — indeed, promoting of — Palestinian nationalism, I cannot find any way clear to denying my own people their nationalism.

I have questions about nationalism. Big questions. I genuinely believe (as I’ve said before) that nationalism is a stage in human development and we will, one day, please God, achieve something better.

But that day is not yet here.

And if nationalism is still the world’s current geopolitical organizing principle (and it is, whether I like it or not), and I accept, promote and support Palestinian nationalism — well then, Jews have the same right to their own nationalist visions and dreams.

Jews had long shared a language and a culture and a deeply beloved land when the notion of modern nationalism first came into vogue in the late 19th century — the fact that we hadn’t lived on that land for centuries was because we had been brutally thrown off it and hounded across the globe. It was not a choice, a usurpation — it was a rolling genocide that failed. My people prayed to return to that land three times a day, in a language and within a cultural heritage that spanned centuries. If that doesn’t constitute the building blocks of the modern construct we know as “nationalism,” I don’t know what does.

And so: If I support Palestinian nationalism, I cannot in good conscience tell my own people to drop theirs. If I believe that my people has no right to tell the Palestinians what to call themselves, I cannot in good conscience tell my people that their words are rank and vile and must be got rid of. And if I believe that we have a duty to use language in order communicate the truth — not pull it and push it so that it fits in the boxes that best serve our political ends — then I cannot in good conscious quietly accept the viciousness and vitriol (and often barely-veiled antisemitism) that pass for “a definition of Zionism” among many who fight alongside me for the rights of the Palestinian people.

I don’t wear the word with much ease, it’s true. Too many have attached too much hate to it now, and, as I said, I’m not entirely sure that I’m fully on-board with nationalism, of any kind, anymore. I surely won’t argue with Jews who say they just can’t apply that word to themselves at this point, particularly if they have transcended nationalism in their own personal ideology.

But until I’m convinced that nationalism is no longer the path we must trod for the forseeable future, until I’m convinced that Israelis and Palestinians alike are willing and able to give up the dreams of decades and centuries and throw in their lot with each other, I will still use the dreaded Z word.

It comes down to this: I cannot believe that supporting Palestinian rights demands that I turn my back on my own people. And so I won’t.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.