- After this week's horrors in Jenin and other West Bank
towns, Israel can no longer count on automatic support from U.S. Jews.
Many who had once supported Israeli policies, or at least remained silent,
are saying for the first time: "Not in my name." That could mark
a major turning point, not only in the Middle East conflict, but in American
- For years, Israeli governments have counted on unstinting
support from Washington, guaranteed by steady pressure from the U.S. Jewish
community. Once U.S. Jews begin to question Israeli policies, Congress
and the White House will feel free to say "no" to Israel when
that serves U.S. interests. Israel will have to make compromises to please
Washington, perhaps including an end to, or even dismantling of, settlements
in the Occupied Territories. That would provoke a major political crisis
in Israel. The massive flow of U.S. aid to Israel might be seriously challenged
for the first time, which could provoke an economic crisis too. The impact
on Israeli-Palestinian relations is hard to predict.
- The impact on the Jews and Judaism in this country could
be just as profound. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Jewish religious life
has been pervaded by nearly universal support for Israel and all its policies.
The great historian of Judaism, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, has called it "The
Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption."
- This new form of Judaism enshrines two dogmas: Israel's
fate embodies the fate of all Jews, and Israel's very existence is threatened.
The need to insure Jewish survival by supporting Israel has become the
fundamental religious commandment. With Israel the symbol of every Jew's
fate, only the army of Israel, it seems, stands between survival and another
Holocaust. This gives Israel's military actions a seemingly irrefutable
ethical legitimacy. So Jews can celebrate pride in a Jewish might that
is both military and apparently moral, as long as they fear another Holocaust,
this time in Israel..
- Pride in might reflects a fundamental premise in the
dominant stream of Zionist thinking: the many centuries when Jews were
persecuted and powerless are something to be ashamed of. In the mainstream
Zionist view, Jewish power is inherently good, because it is the only way
to escape that shameful past and regain Jewish self-respect. The longer
Jews insist that Israel's existence is threatened, the longer they can
justify the exercise of power that Zionism views as necessary (though this
part of the process is largely unconscious).
- Since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, small
numbers of U.S. Jews have questioned "The Judaism of Holocaust and
Redemption." Until the past week, though, it was almost tabu to raise
these questions aloud in Jewish circles. There was no way for Jews to gain
an objective moral perspective on Israeli policies. Now that tabu is beginning
to break, and once it falls there is no turning back.
- There is no way to predict what new forms Judaism may
take in the future. But one element of traditional Judaism would surely
remain: the rituals of atonement for sin. Israel's treatment of the Palestinians
has slashed a grievous moral wound in the Jewish people and their religious
life. The wound will begin to heal only when Jews confess the truth, with
an objective moral evaluation that has been missing before. That means
more than admitting wrongdoing in the past. It means creating a future
in which Jews offer a hand of genuine friendship and support to a fully
independent Palestinian state.
- The new Judaism must find ways to foster Jewish self-respect
that do not require Jewish power over others. It must acknowledge that
Jews were mistaken to look to military force for their sources of pride.
It must question the premise of "The Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption,"
that Israeli force is justified because Israel's existence is always threatened.
It must recognize that Israel has been, for decades, a secure nation with
no enemies having both the ability and desire to destroy it. It must understand
that the fear of another Holocaust has been misused to give moral legitimacy
to acts that are intrinsically immoral.
- The new Judaism must learn to find Jewish self-respect
in helping Israel build, together with Palestine and its other neighbors,
the kind of Middle East community that the great Jewish thinker Martin
Buber envisioned 80 years ago. In this confederation of nations, each would
recognize the others as partners in an common effort of mutual respect,
aid, and constructive work.
- The goal would be a region in which every person is respected
and feels self-respect, not by having power of others, but by sharing power
with others. As Buber taught us, we can not wait for someone else to begin
the process. We can respect ourselves only when we take the first step
to do the right thing. Perhaps the tragic horrors of the past week are
the wake-up call U.S. Jews have needed to take that first step.
- Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the
University of Colorado. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0413-01.htm