It was quite a scene at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans early this month, when members of the audience repeatedly interrupted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. The Jewish protesters and hecklers, members of the Jewish Voice for Peace, were escorted out of the ballroom and handed over to the police, while the audience at large burst into singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”
As reported in Haaretz by Sara Miller on November 8, Hanna King, a 17-year-old student, said that she had been driven to act as she felt Israel’s behavior went against her Jewish upbringing. “We believe that the actions that Israel is taking, like settlements, like the occupation, like the loyalty oath, are contrary to the Jewish values that we learnt in Jewish day school,” she said. “This is not Tikkun Olam. Oppressing people in refugee camps is not Tikkun Olam. And it is an hypocrisy that I cannot abide.”
These are strong accusations, and need to be taken seriously. They bring into focus the widening divide between Israel’s actions and Jewish values; between the fat, sated Jewish establishment that support Israel’s actions no matter what, and the lean, independent Jewish youth growing up in a fast changing world, struggling with Israel’s behavior, yet eager to believe in the purity of the Jewish people and its nation. “Am Yisrael chai” (Israel’s nation lives), yes. Absolutely! But are the settlements, are the checkpoint barriers, the separation wall and roads used only by settlers, the destruction of graves and olive groves, the killing of innocent civilians in the last Gaza’s operation Cast Lead and on the Peace Flotilla – are these all necessary? Are these actions securing the survival of Israel? Would Israel disappear without behaving in such a manner?
As I had mentioned before in this blog, it is no more a question of survival for the state of Israel. It is more a question of what kind of survival would it be. The existence of the most powerful nation in the Middle East, with the most advance, strong army in the whole region, with an arsenal of nuclear weaponry enough to decimate the entire region—including Iran—into burning ashes, is no more in question. The fight is not for survival, but for how to survive with dignity among other nations. The fight is for what king of a nation, what kind of society, what kind of solution to the ongoing Palestinian conflict Israel would finally take.
It always bothered me that in my synagogue in particular, and in the Jewish American world at large, people and organizations are always quick to react to the misery of other people—such as Sudan, Congo, Haiti; to name but a few—which is great. Yet when it comes to the misery of the Palestinian people, the women and children and men who live and suffer under Israel’s occupation—most Jewish people and organizations remain completely mum. As if our values—those we teach our children in Jewish day schools, and later in their youth—are not universal. As if they only fit us when it is good for us.
With this “hypocrisy,” as Hanna had said, with this growing chasm between Israel and the world; between the old Jewish establishment and the young, who are largely disengaged and disconnected from the Jewish world, lies the real danger. So here again is Hanna to teach us a lesson: “We must be tough on all countries that abuse human rights
but I care about Israel because for me it’s personal. I don’t believe that Netanyahu heard our message but our message was aimed at the other young Jews at the convention.”
She’s right, again. Though Netanyahu and the participants in the Jewish Federations General Assembly heard her and her friends, they did not listen to them, or pay any attention to what they were saying. They were too preoccupied—with the speech, with the protocol, with the Assembly’s business and with the next meal—too afraid to listen to the young. But the young hear the message: on Facebook, on YouTube*, on Twitter, on the cable news channels and yes, even in blogs such as this. So the old better listen, before it would be too late.
* You can find the YouTube video of the speech heckling in my Videos page above.