The Missing Voices in the Israeli Debate


October 19, 1991|By HAIM GORDON

Notre Dame, Indiana. -- At the synagogue at which I attended the High Holidays I was surprised to find a one-page flier inserted in the prayer book. It referred me to a toll-free number through which I could enlist AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, for $7, to send a letter in my name to my representatives in congress supporting the loan credits that Israel requested from the Bush administration.

The flier, which seems to have been distributed in many synagogues and temples during this period, included some white lies: for instance, that Israel had never used U.S. money for settlements in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank, and that the Israeli government would only use the loan money for absorbing Russian immigrants.

But what struck me about the flier, especially since I received it on the days that we Jews turn to the God of Justice and Mercy and ask him to weigh and forgive our sins, was the total lack of reference to justice and to mercy.

The Israel lobby in Washington and many Jews in the United States, in their blind support of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government, seem to have forgotten that what unites us Jews should be the faith in the God of justice and mercy and not the insidious Realpolitik of Israel's prime minister. My fellow Jews have also refused to listen to other voices from Israel, voices that speak about democracy and freedom, about respect for human rights and about a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Shulamit Aloni, who heads the Civil Rights and Peace Party, with five members in the Knesset, is one of these voices. In her 25 years in the Knesset she has virtually become a one-woman institution in support of human rights and justice in Israel and Palestine. Almost every person in Israel knows her name and respects her; even right-wing fanatics turn to her when their civil rights have been trampled upon.

She is a spiritual person who, in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, does not mince words when speaking from the Knesset podium. She has no problems attacking any unjust and pernicious act, often quoting Biblical sources together with Jefferson, Lincoln, Thoreau or Martin Luther King. And she is loved. When she recently underwent a serious liver operation in Paris, many Israelis were worried. The press congratulated her when the operation succeeded.

But her views, such as that the Palestinians are a people who deserve a land of their own next to Israel, or that Mr. Shamir is deliberately lying to both Israelis and Americans, are never publicized by AIPAC and other segments of the American Jewish establishment. It has been much easier for her to become a visiting professor at Princeton than to be heard by American Jewry.

Amos Kenan, a journalist at Israel's largest newspaper, Vediot Ahronot, is another voice. In his weekly column he frequently argues that Mr. Shamir's government is ruining both our heritage of humanism and our wish to integrate into the Middle East as true neighbors. He stresses how abrasive and opposed to dialogue Mr. Shamir is, and how those character traits are reflected in the government and are bringing ruin upon Israeli society. He is greatly respected in Israel even by those who do not share his views. Artists, writers and politicians pay close attention to his column. He is ignored by AIPAC and the American Jewish establishment.

A third such voice is that of Felicia Langer, a lawyer and Holocaust survivor, who is the only Israeli ever to have received the alternate Nobel Prize, awarded by the Swedish parliament to people who dedicated their lives struggling for justice and human rights. The award recognized her struggles in the Israeli courts on behalf of Palestinians and Israelis who rejected the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

She has recorded her experiences in a series of six books, most of which have appeared in English. She repeatedly stressed that when Israeli courts become instruments of oppression it will bring ruin upon the entire judicial system. Need I add that she has also been ignored by the Jewish establishment in the United States?

The American Jewish establishment's purposeful ignoring of such lucid and courageous voices from Israel has three unfortunate effects. First, by equating Mr. Shamir and his policies with Israel, they distort the complexities of Israeli society. Second, by myopically supporting Mr. Shamir, whatever he does, they reject those Israelis who firmly support the principles of justice and freedom which are at the basis of the American constitution. They are sawing off the branch upon which they themselves sit.

And finally, they are presenting Judaism to the American public as a lobby and not as a faith, as a quest for power and land and not a striving for justice and mercy. The flier I received in synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur epitomized these mistakes.

Haim Gordon, of the Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, is on sabbatical at Notre Dame University.

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