Sunday, September 26, 2010

To the Editor: (Woodstock Times)

Admirably, Rabbi Kligler advocates ambivalence, being able to see both sides of a question. Sounds good, high minded, logical, and fair. Often works well when both sides are of equal power. Unfortunately, in Palestine/Israel there are huge discrepancies in military, economic, and political power. The Palestinians are virtually powerless and have been subjected to ongoing brutality, humiliation, and domination by Israel (with the support of US tax dollars) for years.

In some cases the imbalance of power can be so great that it renders the concept of ìambivalenceî absurd and useless. Did the Indians need to see the side of the conquistadors or of the US Cavalry as they were slaughtered mercilessly? Did terrified, kidnapped, enslaved Africans need to see the side of their masters as they were beaten and brutalized? Do tortured prisoners need to see the side of their torturers as they gag and drown strapped to waterboards?  Should the Jews have practiced ìambivalenceî regarding Nazi atrocities ?

Abused and oppressed people (and animals) may strike back at their abusers in desperate, violent, and often senseless acts. The Palestinians, the Indians, the slaves, the prisoners, and the Jews all committed understandable acts of retaliation. Had there been no oppressor there would have been no need to retaliate.

Rabbi Kligler mentions the Jewish Peopleís just claim on their ìhistorical homeland.î I truly hope that should the Indian People ever have the power and political clout to reclaim their historical homeland that they treat us better than the Zionists treated the Palestinians.

Eli Kassirer New Paltz, NY

On The Uses Of Ambivalence

Rabbi Jonathan Kleiglerís use of the term ìambivalenceî as the need to be able to see more than one side of the question in resolving conflicts is exactly correct in the most general of all senses. It feels right, itís easy to understand, and it appears to stand on the moral high ground. However, when applied to the Palestine-Israeli conflict, it fails to measure up to the basic requirements of fairness and justice; it does not address the facts on the ground.

What we find are two wholly unequal actors. One who holds all the power and uses it to completely control the other in totally unacceptable ways (siege of Gaza, apartheid-like restrictions, etc), and the other who lives in poverty, has no power, and occasionally strikes out in completely unacceptable ways (suicide bombings, rockets, etc). This is not particularly different than a domestic violence situation, one of batterer and victim. We donít ask the victim to compromise with the batterer in order to find a just peace. We insist on the cessation of the battering and put the batterer in jail. We are not interested in whether the batterer thinks that he has justification for his brutality, nor do we ask the victim to relinquish any of her rights.

Yes, we understand that the batterer often was battered himself and is usually in the need of help, but that is offered only after the cessation of the battering. We donít, nor should we, allow the battererís history to have any impact on the fair resolution of the conflict. Justice is justice, and there is no peace without it, certainly not through the use of ambivalence.

Nicholas Abramson

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