A time for renewal

November 10, 1995|By Michael Lerner

THE ASSASSINATION of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin highlights a central struggle in the Jewish world: The conflict between a compassionate and loving Judaism that we call Jewish Renewal and a paranoid conception we call Settler Judaism.

Settler Judaism focuses exclusively on Jewish oppression and sees the world from that standpoint. Reacting to the ways that non-Jews have demeaned us, it assumes that we have the right to treat others in the same destructive way that they treated us. It demeans non-Jews, assumes Jews have the right to murder or dominate anyone who stands in the way of our holding onto Israel's biblical boundaries and treats fellow Jews as traitors, if they are willing to trade land for peace.

Settler Judaism is as old as the Bible. Emerging from a history of slavery and oppression, it finds expression in biblical commands to wipe out the people living in the land and in commands to show no compassion for these others. These themes were revived whenever Jews faced murderous hatred from non-Jews, in the aftermath of the Crusades and the expulsion from Spain, but they reached their apex in the decades after the Holocaust. Settler Judaism sees all Arabs and Palestinians as extensions of the Nazi threat, thus it's appropriate to dominate them with force.

Not surprisingly, the dynamic of demeaning Palestinians and justifying torture and violence to maintain control of the occupied territories has fostered a dynamic of hate that now has spread throughout Israeli society.

Yet there is another version of Judaism that is equally rooted in our tradition; it is based on the biblical claim that all humans are created in the image of God and hence equally deserving of respect. There is no more frequently repeated injunction in the Torah than variants of this message: When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger -- remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Renewal Judaism focuses on the Torah commands to ''love your neighbor as yourself'' and the equally important ''love the stranger.''

This is an age-old struggle, and both Settler Judaism and Jewish Renewal have long histories, legitimate textual bases within the traditional literature of our people and many contemporary exponents.

Settler Judaism is not embarrassed by violence; so it is no surprise that the demeaning of Palestinians and the use of violence against them has now led to the demeaning of those who wish to live in peace with Palestinians.

The damage these people do to Judaism is incalculable. Because their mainstream U.S. institutions have been unwilling to embrace a Renewal Judaism that unequivocally identifies with the struggle for peace and justice, the loudest and clearest voices of Judaism have become those identified with Settler Judaism.

The aftermath of the Rabin assassination requires decisive action, both from U.S. Jewry and Israeli leaders. U.S. Jews must unequivocally identify with the peace process and repudiate those voices -- from Norman Podhoretz' Commentary magazine to the extremists in our synagogues -- who have been doing their best to undermine the peace process. In particular, those who have legitimated the climate of verbal violence against Israeli peacemakers must be publicly exposed and rejected as violators of our highest Jewish values. In short, Settler Judaism must be identified and rejected and Renewal Judaism embraced.

Action is needed

In Israel, we need a government that takes decisive action against those settlers and other elements of the right who have ** advocated violence or military rebellion.

My son told me last month that in his unit in the Israeli paratroopers there are several soldiers who have publicly stated that they would not follow orders to dismantle settlements. Such soldiers need to be identified and expelled from Army service. Settlers in Hebron, Kiryat Arba and other settlements that advocate forcible resistance to the peace treaty should be removed to within Israel's pre-1967 borders. Israel should escalate the peace process, moving into ''final stage'' negotiations as soon as the Palestinians elect their representatives.

Israel's right wing has a stake in creating a climate of violence that would make the country balk at furthering the peace process. Unless the Israeli government acts forcefully and unequivocally to declaw such rightists, they will continue to 0destabilize Israel.

The violence against Yitzhak Rabin was directed against all who love peace. It is time for those of us who want a different kind of Jewish world to act decisively, or else be responsible for a deepening Jewish tragedy.

Michael Lerner is author of ''Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation'' (Harper Collins, 1995).

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