Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, November 6, 2023
In This Moment: Are We Colonialists? Laughter Amidst Tears.
In This Moment
Interfaith Prayer Vigil - Next Tuesday
Next Tuesday, the 14th, two important events will take place. One is the big rally for Israel in D.C., - we sent out a flyer earlier today. Another is an interfaith prayer vigil for healing and peace at 7 PM, coordinated by the Interfaith Council of Southwestern CT. These two events are complementary. If you can get to Washington, by all means go. And then you can watch this vigil on livestream while riding home. Those who will be local are welcome to attend the vigil in person or online.
Unlike prior gatherings during this crisis, this is a prayer vigil coordinated by all faith communities. It has not at all been easy to foster unity at a time that is so fraught with pain. The uniqueness of Oct. 7's atrocities must be respected, but in a manner than helps us to affirm our common humanness and the belief that all are created in God's image. For while we have understandably focused on our own grief, crimes against humanity have also occurred very recently in Nigeria, Armenia and Ukraine, to name a few. It's an important part of our communal healing process.
Local interfaith leaders have been extraordinarily supportive, as they always have been in times of need. This vigil will give us a chance to share a mutual hug. As we head into the Thanksgiving week, hopefully we can show strength and unity, both for the Jewish people in D.C and for our diverse, multicultural community, right here in our own backyard.
Laughter Through Tears
“This is an ugly and mean world, and only to spite it we mustn't weep. If you want to know, this is the constant source of my good spirit, of my humor. Not to cry, out of spite, only to laugh out of spite, only to laugh.”
― Sholem Aleichem
See below: Two sketches in English from "Eretz Nehederet,"
Israel's wicked-smaht comedy show:
"BBC" and "Welcome to Columbia Untisemity"
Warning: Israeli satire is not known for its subtlety.
Are We Colonialists?
Two words being bandied about all too loosely lately are "genocide" and "colonialist." I've discussed genocide in depth in prior postings, so let's take a look at the "c" word now. Note that the question I phrase is about "us," not just "Israel." It should be clear by now that this accusation is directed against the Jewish people as a whiole, not merely the Jewish state, because it makes assumptions about Jews, Jewish history and Judaism itself that go far beyond a given policy or event. While I believe it is possible to oppose a given Israeli policy without it being antisemitic, calling Israel a colonial entity is indeed antisemitism, because it calls into question the legitimacy the Jewish people's national aspirations.
The Decolonization Narrative Is Dangerous and False, published last week in the Atlantic,by Simon Sebag Montefiore, is an excellent summary of this issue. Since this is such an important article, especially for those fending off this accusation on college campuses, I'll present a detailed summary of his main points here:
The decolonization narrative has dehumanized Israelis to the extent that otherwise rational people excuse, deny, or support barbarity. It holds that Israel is an “imperialist-colonialist” force, that Israelis are “settler-colonialists,” and that Palestinians have a right to eliminate their oppressors. (On October 7, we all learned what that meant.) It casts Israelis as “white” or “white-adjacent” and Palestinians as “people of color.”
This ideology, powerful in the academy but long overdue for serious challenge, is a toxic, historically nonsensical mix of Marxist theory, Soviet propaganda, and traditional anti-Semitism from the Middle Ages and the 19th century.
The argument is that it is almost impossible for the “oppressed” to be themselves racist, just as it is impossible for an “oppressor” to be the subject of racism.
It requires an astonishing leap of ahistorical delusion to disregard the record of anti-Jewish racism over the two millennia since the fall of the Judean Temple in 70 C.E. After all, the October 7 massacre ranks with the medieval mass killings of Jews in Christian and Islamic societies, the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1640s Ukraine, Russian pogroms from 1881 to 1920—and the Holocaust.
Contrary to the decolonizing narrative, Gaza is not technically occupied by Israel
Hamas set up a one-party state that crushes Palestinian opposition within its territory, bans same-sex relationships, represses women, and openly espouses the killing of all Jews.
The Palestinians in the West Bank have endured a harsh, unjust, and oppressive occupation since 1967. Settlers under the disgraceful Netanyahu government have harassed and persecuted Palestinians in the West Bank: 146 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were killed in 2022 and at least 153 in 2023 before the Hamas attack, and more than 90 since. Again: This is appalling and unacceptable, but not genocide.
According to the decolonizers, Israel is and always has been an illegitimate freak-state because it was fostered by the British empire and because some of its founders were European-born Jews.... Britain also delivered three kingdoms—Iraq, Jordan, and Hejaz—to the Hashemite family.
But the central narrative that Britain betrayed the Arab promise and backed the Jewish one is incomplete. In the 1930s, Britain turned against Zionism, and from 1937 to 1939 moved toward an Arab state with no Jewish one at all. It was an armed Jewish revolt, from 1945 to 1948 against imperial Britain, that delivered the state. Israel exists thanks to this revolt, and to international law and cooperation, something leftists once believed in.
The concept of “partition” is, in the decolonization narrative, regarded as a wicked imperial trick. But it was entirely normal in the creation of 20th-century nation-states, which were typically fashioned out of fallen empires. And sadly, the creation of nation-states was frequently marked by population swaps, huge refugee migrations, ethnic violence, and full-scale wars. Think of the Greco-Turkish war of 1921–22 or the partition of India in 1947. In this sense, Israel-Palestine was typical.
At the heart of decolonization ideology is the categorization of all Israelis, historic and present, as “colonists.” This is simply wrong. Most Israelis are descended from people who migrated to the Holy Land from 1881 to 1949. They were not completely new to the region. The Jewish people ruled Judean kingdoms and prayed in the Jerusalem Temple for a thousand years, then were ever present there in smaller numbers for the next 2,000 years. In other words, Jews are indigenous in the Holy Land, and if one believes in the return of exiled people to their homeland, then the return of the Jews is exactly that.
Even those who deny this history or regard it as irrelevant to modern times must acknowledge that Israel is now the home and only home of 9 million Israelis who have lived there for four, five, six generations. Most migrants to, say, the United Kingdom or the United States are regarded as British or American within a lifetime.
Yet Israeli families resident in Israel for a century are designated as “settler-colonists” ripe for murder and mutilation. And contrary to Hamas apologists, the ethnicity of perpetrators or victims never justifies atrocities. They would be atrocious anywhere, committed by anyone with any history. It is dismaying that it is often self-declared “anti-racists” who are now advocating exactly this murder by ethnicity.
Even more preposterous than the “colonizer” label is the “whiteness” trope that is key to the decolonization ideology. Again: simply wrong. Israel has a large community of Ethiopian Jews, and about half of all Israelis—that is, about 5 million people—are Mizrahi, the descendants of Jews from Arab and Persian lands, people of the Middle East. (See also Six Members of My Family Are Hostages in Gaza. Does Anyone Care? (NYT) - The author's family is from Yemen and came to Israel escaping persecution. Colonizers? White?)
Ultimately, this zombie narrative is a moral and political cul-de-sac that leads to slaughter and stalemate. That is no surprise, because it is based on sham history: “An invented past can never be used,” wrote James Baldwin. “It cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay.”
Remember, for Hamas, the colonialist argument encompasses all of Israel, not merely the West Bank and Jerusalem. That's what they mean by "from the river to the sea," It's the entire land that must be rendered Judenrein by the colonialist ideology, not just the parts conquered in 1967. By the official definition, "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor" is antisemitism.
Qatar Enables Islamist Terrorism | MEMRI - Just one comment by the U.S. administration that it is considering relocating its Al Udeid Air Base from Qatar (without which Qatar would cease to exist within a week) to the UAE will set the Qataris running to bring all the American hostages back home.