Monday, September 13, 2010

Letter to the Editor, Woodstock Times:

Rabbi Jonathan Kliger, of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, in his September 9 column, “The Virtues of Ambivalence,” calls for a sustained debate on Israel. An excellent idea. But as the title suggests, he wants to take the side of ambivalence in this debate, going so far as “Thank God for ambivalence.” And that’s a terrible idea.

Kligler would have us believe that “ambivalence” is a gift of God to the Jewish people, and their “difficult, unsatisfying, risky and ennobling Jewish discourse.” But I would say that this is to insult the Jewish people by denying them moral and intellectual clarity; indeed, Kligler denies Jews their own tradition.

Give me the Prophet Amos any day over a hundred comfortable Rabbis uneasy about the gathering storm of criticism of the Jewish State. Amos wrote in the 8th Century BCE, a time of territorial expansion and military power for an early version of Israel. Most Jews thought this was pretty neat, but not Amos. He wrote:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps,

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos: 5: 21-24)

Justice is the touchstone that gives meaning to history. Its eternally running waters can never be comprehended by a term like ambivalence, or any kind of flimflam. Kligler treats justice like an annoyance. “Where is the balance of justice?” intones the Rabbi, meaning, let’s figure out a way to dispose of it while preserving the precious reputation of Jews for moral elevation. His discourse is what a later and considerably more famous Jewish Prophet had in mind when he denounced the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matt. 23: 23). These are they who “love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.” (23: 6-7).

Israel is seen as a refuge for an abused people scattered over the nations and held together only by a common religion. To put justice in the foreground instead of ambivalence means to cast a cold eye over its history. Coveting another’s lands, Zionist Jews embarked on a path of settler-colonialism. They needed a strong state for the purpose, and critically, an imperial patron who would help this state do the dirty work. In the process, the worst aspects of the religion came to the forefront. The legacy has been war, ethnic cleansing, racism of every stripe, the rise of vile fundamentalism, nuclear terror, and ceaseless criminality, including 450,000 illegal settlers and the wanton destruction of 24,000 Palestinian houses since 1967, using US-donated bulldozers, part of the phenomenal degeneration of our own society thanks to the Zionist power configuration.

If you want peace, build justice. Return to people what you have robbed them of, and undo the hellish life you have imposed upon them.

By the way, the Jews did not heed Amos’ warning. This led to the destruction of the First Temple, and the Babylonian captivity.

Joel Kovel


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