When the "People of the Book" turn to banning ideas
By Louis Frankenthaler
Sunday, May 8 2011
Ok, lets be blunt about it. I want to live in a normal state where political fighting with the Netanyahu government would be over his regressive social policies, his failures at introducing humanistic education and his abject indifference gender oppression to racism and to blatant discrimination against all minority groups in Israel. I would like to be able to spar with Bibi over the failure to disentangle Israel from the cancerous weavings of religious policy within its civil structure. I would like to point out that a society that favors a wealthy oligarchy over investing in primary, secondary and higher education should not expect to be civilly and socially sustainable.
But, alas, the Occupation has managed to cast all these normal arguments into the political trash bin and with them the intellectual and moral significance and standards that Jews throughout the world have always thought that they represent. In short, we (the Jewish people), have gone from being a people of the book to banning ideas, thought, dissent and the people behind them.
If it is not enough to struggle over democratic regression in Israel, because of the Occupation, because of racism and the creeping de-democratic proto-fascist tendencies in the Israeli Parliament we have to wage this struggle overseas. In Israel there is a highly trained, obedient and voracious cadre of self anointed Guardians of Zion. They monitor the human rights NGOs, watch, listen and report on "anti-Israel" academics and have quite literally infiltrated the policy-making mechanisms of Israel. These forces have been omnipresent in the US as well for some time and in comparing them it would be hard pressed to answer the riddle of what came first – the Campus Watch egg or the NGO Monitor chicken. But both have snaked their way (no offense to snakes intended) beyond their normal territory.
Recent efforts to attack the incoming head of Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Richard Jacobs and thwarted CUNY honorary doctoral degree candidate, the playwright Tony Kushner are infused with the venom of these organizations. While these organizations are not directly involved in these instances, the stale wind of their efforts has certainly filled the sails of the off-course ships of virulent pro-Israel-is-pro-Occupation-and-nothing-else activism.
What is most interesting is that the criticism and attacks on both of these personalities is centered in their identification with and or speaking out against the ever politically and morally deteriorating mantra of the Israel and Occupation narrative.
Rabbi Richard Jacobs has been attacked for his belonging to the JStreet Rabbinic Cabinet, his association with the New Israel Fund and his having dared to join a protest at Sheikh Jarrah – and Kushner for his association with the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and statements made that do not comport with the rightist narrative of Israel. To put it simply, and this is a good thing, I suppose, but the nominations of both these men have riled the feathers of some of the most extreme hawkish positions in the overseas Jewish community as expressed in this JOA press release about Rabbi Jacobs.
It seems that in the end, the right wing extremists have been or will be put in their places. The massive and progressive reaction against the CUNY trustees and their attempt to derail the Kushner honorary doctorate has been widely reported upon in the mainstream press, particularly the New York Times, which recently reported on a possible resolution to the conflict, thanks largely to the wide scale opposition to the attempted highjack of academia and the large number of protests, particularly from past CUNY honorary doctorate recipients.
Yet the Rabbi Jacobs affair has remained primarily embedded in the Jewish Press, The Forward, The Jewish Week, etc. To this I can only say: Reform Judaism must decide its place in the Jewish world. The forces that attack Women of the Wall or continue to embroil Israeli society in Ortho-normative Judaism are the same that continue the Occupation. Those that support settlement building in Sheikh Jarrah are the same or of the same ilk as the worst opponents of Jewish Pluralism.
Debate in the URJ is good but it seems that debate has again been high jacked by the MONITORS and are now trying to make sure that progressive Jews do not get progressive about Israel too.
Louis Frankenthaler moved to Israel in 1995 and lives with his family in West Jerusalem. He is a doctoral student and human rights worker.
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