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A crisis in Judaism

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    For many Jews today, Israel is not a normal state – it is a cause or ideal, and therein lies the problem A crisis in Judaism Brian Klug Guardian UK
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2009
      For many Jews today, Israel is not a normal state – it is a cause or
      ideal, and therein lies the problem

      A crisis in Judaism
      Brian Klug
      Guardian UK

      Israel's war in Gaza has multiple meanings. First and foremost, for
      Palestinians on the ground it is the scene of terror and
      devastation. It has ratcheted up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by
      several notches. It poses a threat to the peace of the region and
      beyond. And it has brought to a head a crisis in Judaism itself, a
      crisis centred on Israel that threatens to tear Jewry apart.

      Partly because of the Jewish history of exclusion in Europe, and
      partly on account of biblical associations, Israel raises such
      passions that we Jews do not necessarily even know how to understand
      them, let alone handle them. We need, despite our differences, to
      examine these passions together. But, by and large, the "leadership"
      in Anglo-Jewry insists on a unity that, by excluding those who do
      not toe the Israeli government line, is divisive. As Keith Kahn-
      Harris puts it:

      British Jews who have felt discomfort with Israeli actions have
      generally been faced with a bleak choice: to express this discomfort
      privately and quietly or be marginalised and perhaps even ostracised.

      Last Sunday, 11 January, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) held a
      demonstration on one side of Trafalgar Square. The central area was
      occupied by a rally in support of Israel, organised jointly by the
      Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
      We were there, as Jews, to counter that rally.

      To get to our site outside Canada House we had to run a gauntlet of
      jeers: "traitors", "cowards", "scum" and other epithets were hurled
      in our direction. When the rally was over, some of us were spat at
      and called "kapos" (a term used for Jewish collaborators in Nazi
      concentration camps). The contempt and hatred for us, as Jews, was
      palpable. But it did not come from fanatical jihadists or from
      fascists in the British National Party; it came from fellow Jews. A
      ritual was being enacted in which we were being symbolically "othered". And although – thanks to police protection – we did not feel at risk at the time, we were conscious of a menacing wrath simmering under the surface.

      There are always individuals who bring their venom to a political
      rally. But this is not just a matter of a few fanatics. When Jewish
      leadership, both secular and religious, lines up solidly behind the
      Israeli government; when synagogues act as conduits for Israeli
      propaganda from groups like the Britain Israel Communications and
      Research Centre; and when no distinction is made between supporting
      Israel's wars and fighting antisemitism: then a climate is created
      that breeds the abuse dished out in Trafalgar Square.

      Vilification of a minority view: this is one symptom of the crisis
      in Judaism. Three others were apparent at Sunday's rally. First, the
      confusion that comes from blurring Israeli and Jewish identity. The
      main rally was addressed by the Israeli ambassador, the president of
      the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi – as if they were three
      different functionaries of one single body: Jewry. "Anglo-Jewry
      finds its voice" proclaimed the headline over the lead story on the
      front page of last week's Jewish Chronicle, as if one voice speaks
      for all – the exact antithesis to the principle of independent
      Jewish voices.

      Then there is the self-deception that leads people of goodwill to
      imagine that they are promoting peace when in reality they are
      supporting war. True, the message on the official placard
      said "Peace for the people of Israel and Gaza". But this appeared
      under the slogan "End Hamas terror!" Never mind the massive state
      terror being unleashed day and night by the Israeli military or the
      unceasing blockade of the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the forest of blue
      and white Israeli flags that filled the square was a clear statement
      of partisan support. Exactly like the "solidarity rally" that took
      place over six years ago in the same place, at a time when Israeli
      forces were wreaking havoc on the West Bank in places like Jenin,
      the message of the rally in effect was fierce belligerence: support
      for an assault that will not cease until the military objective is
      attained. ("End Hamas terror!")

      Which brings me to a further symptom of the crisis in Judaism today:
      the moral blindness that leads decent, humane, sensitive people to
      look the other way when Israeli planes strike, or to reduce the
      gargantuan suffering of a people to the size of a single teardrop:
      sincere but derisory.

      Vilification, confusion, self-deception, moral blindness: Is this
      Judaism? It is not "the Judaism that I cherish", as I wrote last
      week. It is not the tradition that reflects the Talmudic tenet that
      the continued existence of the world depends on three things: truth,
      justice and peace (Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel). This is the Judaism
      that many of us, as Jews, religious or otherwise, recognise as our
      heritage. The trampling on this tradition is what led a friend to
      say the other day that she wondered if she could resign from being
      Jewish. Her despair is not new but it is spreading. More Jews feel
      this way every time Israel claims to act in our name and the
      congregation of Anglo-Jewry says "Amen".

      What has happened to place this tradition in jeopardy? Basically,
      taking a state – the state of Israel – and putting it on a pedestal,
      like a statue: making it the magic focus of all the fears and hopes
      of Jewish experience. For many Jews today, Israel is not a normal
      state: it is a cause or ideal. Or idol. This is the heart of the
      matter. It is not the state as such but its status that is causing
      the crisis in Judaism. But what, in Heaven's name, does it mean to
      be a Jew if not to knock statues off their pedestals? If, whatever
      our political differences, we cannot rise above the State of Israel
      and put it in its place, then we are not Jews, or we are Jews in
      name only.

      Some Jewish readers will say that I overstate my case or misrepresent their attitude to Israel. I do not mean to. We need to talk. In "Avoiding the trap of hate", Asim Siddiqui and Adrian Cohen appeal for "inter-communal dialogue between Jews and Muslims" based on "honest discussion" about Israel and Palestine. I applaud their
      call to reach across the ethno-religious divide. But there is an
      internal divide within Anglo-Jewry that is, in its own way, as deep
      and as hate-filled.

      Kahn-Harris believes that, with the cracks in the Jewish mainstream
      getting larger, the war in Gaza could be a turning-point. I agree
      that opportunity knocks. But where are the Jewish leaders, rabbis or
      otherwise, who will take the lead and open up the conversation –
      honest, searching and painful – that is desperately needed among
      Jews? In their silence or absence, the state of Israel could turn
      out to be the rock on which Judaism splits.



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