True Patriot Love: Jewish Dissent
Dissent is as Jewish as apple pie is American, though you'd hardly know it if you listen to our Jewish "leaders." They seem to hanker for unity, loyalty, consensus, marching in step, superpatriotism, and other such concepts. Not very Jewish of them, one might say.
Take, for example, our prophets. What a bunch of ragged nay-sayers, rabble- rousers, and irresponsible critics. Always making trouble for the priests and kings who had things worked out so that ordinary folks could make a buck and have some fun. Jeremiah was the fellow who spread defeatist propaganda in wartime. Yet we remember his message: "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages." But who thinks twice of Uzi, the high priest, or of the kings Amaziah or Azariah?
Then there was Johanan ben Zakkai: no loyalist he. In 70 CE, foreseeing disaster in the war with Rome, he tried to persuade the Zealots to surrender. When that advice was rejected, he had himself carried out of Jerusalem in a coffin and set about re-establishing Judaism in the village of Yavne. Unpatriotic indeed, but one who preserved Judaism in the face of utter defeat.
Maimonides (1135-1204) was another dissenter. In a rare show of Jewish-Christian solidarity, his books were burned, yet he went on to have a lasting impact on both Judaism and Christianity.
In our own time, a group of Israeli scholars and journalists have courageously challenged the conventional thinking, clichés, and myths that surround current Zionist ideology, in an attempt to reveal the dark secrets and contradictions that damage the good name of Judaism and Jews. These challenges have spread across the globe. Jews in their thousands-both in Israel and the Diaspora-recognize that the present policies of the State of Israel have failed to bring peace and security to its citizens and are bringing disrepute on Judaism itself.
Israel is a strong, adult society, far from being the weak,
vulnerable victim its defenders often portray it as. Today it is part
of the assembly of nations. Like several other countries, it has come
in for heavy criticism in recent years, but Israel still benefits from
its special position as a nation that rose from the ashes of its destruction.
Jews hesitate to criticize it, yet who best can criticize Israel if not
the Jews-the ones who feel it in their bones? It is our job to voice our
doubts honestly and openly, to say what should have been said years ago.
Israelis can be stern critics of their leaders, but the Jews of the
On more than one occasion it has been said that Jews abroad
should not interfere in the politics of Israel. Not a bad piece of advice.
But things are not quite so simple. Since the ongoing Middle East conflict
threatens world peace, it cannot be expected that the peoples of the world,
Jews included, will not have something to say about a situation that could
eventually involve nuclear war, thereby endangering the planet.
Canadian Jews have the good fortune of living in a tolerant, prosperous, strongly democratic society. Judaism flourishes here. Canadian Jews have worked to improve this society, and we see that these efforts are appreciated. We do not want our affection for and loyalty to Canada put in doubt by Israeli politicians claiming that Jews would be better off in Israel. Nor do we want our "leaders" to claim that Canadian Jews are united in support of current Israeli policies. Those who established the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) and more lately the Canada-Israel Jewish Advocacy Committee (CIJA) have set out to lobby the Canadian government in favour of Israeli state policies. These people are unelected; they do not have the right to speak for the entire community.
Most Canadian Jews want Israel not only to flourish, but also to become a society of which they can be proud. Canadian Jews would be pleased to contribute to that worthy goal. They should not, however, be expected to take orders or direction from Israel, nor to countenance the violations of human rights that daily float across their television screens and appear in the vast array of internet bulletins that have emerged in recent years.
Yet surprisingly there is no organized opposition to the work of the CIC and the CIJA. Perhaps this has to do with tribal instinct-the Jewish tendency to stand together in what are perceived as difficult times. Jews, moreover, can be easily manipulated by evocations of the holocaust (although World War II ended 60 years ago) and by claims that anti-Semitism is having a revival in Canada (despite evidence to the contrary). Most Canadian Jews are probably not aware that the present Jewish leadership is dominated by Likud supporters, and those who know it, may not realize how Likud doctrine contributes to a continuation of the perpetual war with the Palestinians. There is also the problem that pro-Zionist advocates control the Jewish press and much of the public media.
Finally, we must recognize the effectiveness of the measures
our "leadership" takes to squelch opposition. Write-in and phone-in
campaigns are organized to protest "anti-Israel articles," and
"anti-Israel speakers," or to insist that press coverage be
"balanced," as if editorials and opinion pieces are always even-handed.
Many Jews, rightly or wrongly, fear some vague retribution from big Jewish
brother-the organized Jewish community.
Still, in the Jewish community one outstanding issue continues to trouble our conscience. In the Middle East, innocent people are every day being killed, wounded or maimed, arrested, held without trial, intimidated, and tortured. Houses are destroyed and lands are stolen; fences are built so that people cannot work their land, travel to their jobs, attend school, receive medical treatment, visit their friends and families, or even co-habit with their spouses. Jews in the Diaspora can no longer shut their eyes to these abuses. Thousands of Jews seek a means of protesting. They are no longer willing to hearken to the assurances, platitudes, hypocrisies, evasions, and false myths of people who claim to act in their name.
About three years ago, a new group, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, was formed in the U.S. It is said to have begun with eight or so people. Today it has a network of 30,000 supporters. Its leaders have developed a platform designed to appeal to American Jews who are annoyed that their views are being ignored by American Jewish organizations. Brit Tzedek advocates that "an alternative voice in the American Jewish community be heard in Congress, as well as by Bush Administration officials." These officials "have been hearing, almost exclusively, only the voice of those who support the Sharon's government's policies, which has been represented as being the view of the entire American Jewish community. This means that many of us ? are not being heard ?. An alternative voice is also crucial ? to keep alive a venerable communal tradition of critical thinking and ? debate that has been suppressed in the last two years in the name of unity and solidarity with Israel."
Because it is pro-Israel, Brit Tzedeck believes it must criticize policies that threaten Israel's long-term security. It argues that "the U.S. government, Israel's main ally, can exert great influence on the Israeli government to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians, and it believes that international intervention by the Madrid Quartet is necessary to resolve the Middle East conflict." This message is resonating with American Jews. There is reason to believe that a similar message and programme here in Canada would appeal to thousands of Canadian Jews unhappy with the Sharon government's policies, and disappointed by the positions of Canadian Jewish "leaders" who take direction from Israel.
This is the thinking that lies behind the formation of the
new Alliance of Canadian Jews (ACJ). Since organizational work began in
May of this year, the Alliance has been growing quickly. We have just
reached our initial goal of attaining 100 members. We have succeeded in
attracting an unusually talented and experienced group of academics, doctors,
journalists, writers, teachers, artists, and other professionals. Women
are equally represented on the executive, and we are particularly pleased
with the interest shown by young intellectuals. We have elected executives
in our three largest branches: Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal. We hope
to open branches in all the major Canadian centres, and we call on readers
of this article to help us realize our goals by joining the ACJ.
1. Canadian Jews are at home in Canada. The ACJ foresees a bright future for Canada, and the members of the ACJ will play their part to make it a better society for everyone.
2. Since Israel regards itself as a Jewish state and claims to speak on behalf of all Jews, the ACJ believes that Canadian Jews must perforce stand up and speak out for their own point of view and for their interests, and not take orders or directions from Israel.
3. Since the CIC and the CIJA were not democratically elected or mandated to speak for Canadian Jews, the members of the ACJ believe that the CIC and the CIJA have no right to speak for all Canadian Jews.
4. The members of the ACJ are deeply concerned about Israel's future. They believe in Israel's right to exist within the pre-1967 borders, but they also believe that the occupation must end, and that the Palestinians have the right to a separate existence within viable borders.
5. The ACJ believes that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs must learn to live in peaceful and co-operative co-existence. The ACJ will, accordingly, promote groups and programs that support such goals, as well as the principle of reconciliation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
6. The ACJ believes that Canada should adopt an even-handed policy in regard to the Middle East Conflict, as was the practice with previous governments.
7. The ACJ believes that Canada should undertake to carry out UN Resolutions, and that it should use its influence to urge all countries involved in the Middle East Conflict to do likewise.
8. The ACJ wishes to reclaim the Canadian-Jewish heritage of sympathy to and affiliation with progressive causes.
9. The ACJ is conceived as a democratic, national, umbrella organization that will include progressive Jews of various persuasions and ideologies.
10. The ACJ believes in working co-operatively and harmoniously with our fellow Jews. It will therefore apply to join the Canadian Jewish Congress.
11. The ACJ wishes to build on existing networks with Israelis, Palestinians, and others who share our beliefs.
12. The ACJ will establish a website and organize committees to promote a peaceful and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. But we will do so from a Canadian perspective.
These principles are not cast in stone. We recognize that the newly elected executive will have to adjust to its role. It will inevitably discover that the reality of managing a national, umbrella organization will require some changes to our principles, goals, and guidelines. We have put much thought and effort into creating the Alliance, but we are prepared to make adjustments-in consultation with our membership-that will enable us to function swiftly and efficiently.
The ACJ invites progressive Canadian Jewish organizations to join forces with us. We do not question your beliefs, or demand that you abandon your practices. We ask only that you be in agreement with most of our principles. We also welcome individuals. We do not require you to be active; you may remain silent if you so wish. We need you, and perhaps you need us.
At the moment we are few. We have no funds as yet, and we know that our adversaries are well-financed, professional, and committed to their cause-just as we are committed to ours. We believe, however, that the Canadian Jewish "leadership" has lost touch with its constituents (especially the young and the elderly), takes direction from Israel, finds it difficult to relate to the corruption, the sudden shifts, and about-faces of the present Israeli government, and is gradually alienating itself from the aspirations, values, and perceptions of Canadian Jews. It has built an impressive structure on an unstable foundation. If it continues in this manner, it may find, as AIPAC has discovered, that it is more vulnerable than it thinks.
People interested in joining the ACJ are invited to contact Mark Etkin
in Winnipeg at firstname.lastname@example.org Sheryl Nestel in Toronto at email@example.com
or Michael Benazon in Montreal at
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