In April of this year, Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace gave a talk at a Christian pro-Palestine conference, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), held in Vancouver, BC. FOSNA’s goals are (1) to promote awareness and understanding of the conflict between Palestinians and the State of Israel by fostering relationships between Northern American Christians and the indigenous Palestinians in the Holy Land, and (2) to seek reconciliation between peoples in the Holy land, emphasizing the need for a just peace and the end of U.S. support for Israel’s military occupation.
One would expect that Rabbi Wise addressed these goals, but did she? She did not. Instead, she ignored them and talked about “the history of Christian violence against Jews,” trauma messages that she had received growing up (“no one will save us” and “we are all alone in the world”), and anti-Semitism, saying that “It is both an ethical imperative and a strategic one to speak out against anti-Semitism if you hear it.” She then moved on to challenge the Christians in Sabeel with what she considers their responsibility: First, confront and address “Christian hegemony in the world, and in our work organizing for justice.” It is the responsibility of organizations like Friends of Sabeel to “acknowledge, unpack and address Christian privilege.”
About the issue of Israel’s reprehensible behavior toward the Palestinian people within Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, she uttered not a word. Reading her comments gave me the impression that Palestinians and their issues do not exist except in the minds of anti-Semites. I can imagine what it must have been like listening to her. Musician and activist Gilad Atzmon, had this to say about her remarks: “If it is kosher to talk about ‘Christian dominance’ why is it anti-Semitic to explore Jewish domination? Is it because the Rabbi believes that Jews are somehow chosen and their cultural and political symptoms are beyond criticism or scrutiny?”
I found her talk self-serving, insulting and mirroring the attitude Israel’s government has had toward the Palestinian people throughout its history. Israeli Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked refers to Palestinians as spiders, suggesting that Palestinian mothers should be done away with so they can’t produce anymore “little spiders.” Advisor to the government Reut Institute’s position regarding Israel is “to create a significant and substantive impact on the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people and to make an indelibly Israeli and Jewish contribution to the future of humanity. Reut’s vision is of 21st Century Zionism – that of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in a secure, prosperous, and democratic state of Israel.” Taking this into consideration, ignoring the Palestinian question in Rabbi Wise’s talk was quite likely deliberate. Whatever the case, it serves Israel’s purpose well. One of Reut’s strategies is to infiltrate, subvert and, if necessary, destroy organizations that threaten its goal.
In the end, this strategy may backfire. Nations that are abusive toward significant numbers of its citizens come to resemble Hitler’s Germany, and that is what has been happening in Israel for years. Just the other day I watched a video of an Israeli soldier arresting a small, frightened child and hitting him. A second video showed an armed Israeli soldier kicking a man who was on the ground. Nearby, the soldier’s buddies watched. Hitler’s people did things like that; it’s what happens in abusive societies.
My hat is off to the Friends of Sabeel North America for the work that they do. Their cause is a worthy one. The one positive thing about having invited Rabbi Wise from The Jewish Voice for Peace speak to them — they now know where the JVP and Rabbi Wise stand on the Palestinian issue and justice. FOSNA’s website is http://www.fosna.org
For an idea of just how rich Palestinian culture is, here are two wonderful music videos of musicians from Gaza. The first is the Al Takht Al Sharki band, a group of boys performing at an Arabs Got Talent event in Egypt. The second is a young man with a beautiful voice. When you think about what these young people have to live through even to think about their musical heritage enough to become professional at it tells a lot about the Palestinian people, why a group like the Friends of Sabeel North American exists, and why Rabbi Wise chose to talk about herself and her people instead.