Thursday, July 20, 2006

Eretz Yisrael

As an ethnic -- though not religious -- Jew, I find myself frequently conflicted about Israel. For one, the very existance of a "Jewish state" bespeaks of a perceived "otherness" by which Jews have been alternately isolated and persecuted for centuries. Zionism in and of itself has sometimes seemed to me a handoff to anti-Semites everywhere, not too far afield from suggesting that all African Americans should be sent "back" to Africa. Yet I have watched with pride as generations of Israelis made the Negev bloom, advancing dryland agriculture with an ingenuity and efficiency unmatched elsewhere in the Middle East, and constructed a parlimentary democracy in region beset by despots and self-appointed royal families.

But something began to change over the last decade or two, as the right wing of Israeli politics rose to power and saw a trump card in the concurrent rise of the Neocon ideologues in American politics. “This society no longer recognizes any boundaries, geographical or moral,” wrote Israeli intellectual and anti-Zionist activist Michel Warschawski in his 2004 book
"Toward an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society." Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. In a recent issue of "Counterpunch," she writes:

"Critics of Israel note increasingly that Israel is self-destructing, nearing a catastrophe of its own making. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy talks of a society in 'moral collapse.' Michel Warschawski writes of an 'Israeli madness' and 'insane brutality,' a 'putrefaction' of civilized society, that have set Israel on a suicidal course. He foresees the end of the Zionist enterprise; Israel is a 'gang of hoodlums,' he says, a state 'that makes a mockery of legality and of civil morality. A state run in contempt of justice loses the strength to survive.' As Warschawski notes bitterly, Israel no longer knows any moral boundaries -- if it ever did. Those who continue to support Israel, who make excuses for it as it descends into corruption, have lost their moral compass."

These are strong and heated words, that I find almost distasteful in their abject condemnation of Israeli society. But I can't help thinking of my abiding impression of Israeli youth, a number of whom I have met while traveling in Europe, Australia, Asia and South America. Over half had served in the Israeli military for the prescribed 2 years; a few were draft dodging. All expressed a sense of nearly complete alienation from their government, from Zionist principles, and exhaustion with the endless cycles of war between the descendents of Abraham's two sons. Maybe vagabonding only attracts a certain stripe of young Israeli, and these sentiments were unrepresentative of the mainstream - I don't know. But the acerbic cartoons and acid satire sent to me frequently by several Israeli colleagues well beyond their youth, tells me that still waters of this type must run deep in Israeli society.

Do the Israelis get to see the consequences of their nation's military endeavors? Perhaps not. But even this may be changing.

Surely the Likud-dominated government of Israel believed they had the green light from the Bush administration. And all indications from the White House, and statements by our resident pitbull in the UN, John Bolton, suggest the same. Afterall, do you think the largest receipent of U.S. foreign aid dollars would dare act without American approbation?

Rabbi Michael Lerner writes: "The champions of American global empire are using the latest upsurge of violence in the Middle East to give new life to their discredited plan to extend the war in Iraq to Syria and Iran. The neo-con Weekly Standard has taken the lead in its July 24th cover issue, proclaiming that the current violence is 'Iran's Proxy War' against the West. Bush and his advisors in the neo-con camp see in the current violence yet another opportunity to reframe the Middle East struggle as one that will provide ex post facto justification for the war in Iraq and enticement for new militarist adventures to destabilize or overthrow oppressive regimes in Iran and Syria."

And so, it is Lebanon that must pay for the trespasses of Hezbollah. Lebanon that has aleady been through one dark night of the soul too many. Lebanon, with a democratically elected government and a large, well-educated and cosmopolitan population, many of whom are Christian. And sadly, you know this is exactly the response that Hezbollah wanted to engender fom Israel. These are the people dying by the hundreds, not terrorists.

Watching Hillary Clinton blandly reciting her pop-eyed testament of support for Israel in this dreadful endeavor, literally turned my stomach. Of course, she was hardly alone among the ranks of Democratic politicians to express similar platitudes. So, can we then conclude that this sort of carnage [WARNING: Graphic images depicting the reality and horror of Israel's aggresson in Lebanon] enjoys the support of the junior senator from New York?

And there are some of us, Jews by birth, humans beings by birthright, who say no to this brutality.

Visit Jewish Voice for Peace.

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