'Jews Shushing Jews' -- We're Not At Grandma's Table Anymore
by Hiliary Abramson
[Pacific News Service 4 Dec2002]:
Editor's Note: Ever more frequently, writes PNS contributor Hilary Abramson, Jewish voices for peace are being silenced -- by other Jews. Returning to "grandma's table," where passionate,
open argument ruled the day, could reveal important pathways to peace, such as the need for Jews to confront the extremism of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
Hiliary Abramson (hilarypacificnews.org) is an editor at Pacific News Service.
Upon landing in Jerusalem a decade ago, a friend's daughter
called home. "This is my kind of country," she gushed.
Today, that great Jewish tradition of passionate disagreement is
under siege -- by Jews. Criticize the Israeli government or
religious Jewish extremists flooding the occupied territories and
expect to be called a "self-hating Jew." The ultimate fear --
loss of Israel as the Jewish refuge amid revival of widespread
anti-Semitism -- is tamping down discourse.
At the family table, in synagogues and even in the media, you can
hear the sound of Jews shushing Jews.
With each day delivering more suicide bombers, it's easy to
understand the reluctance of even liberal Jews to criticize the
policy of retaliation. Indeed, many rabbis who once supported
the peace movement in Israel now cheer Ariel Sharon's policies.
These days, they are preaching that "Jews have a right to defend
Just recently, a reform rabbi who frequently travels to Israel
told me of his turnabout. "They hate us and want to destroy us,"
he insisted. I asked whether he really believes that all Arabs
would rather forfeit the future of their children to pursue
wiping out Jews. Do Palestinian mothers want anything different
for their families than Israeli mothers hope for theirs?
"Yes," he said. "We must remember that they want to destroy us."
This rabbi and others like him are willing to turn their heads
when young, Israeli religious militants in illegal settlement
outposts drive Palestinians from their hamlets, as recently
happened at Khirbat Yanun in the West Bank. To him, it's
acceptable that Israeli soldiers stood by without enforcing the
law and arresting fellow Jews as the Palestinians fled. According
to this rabbi, our only recourse when the next suicidal attack
comes is more boiling blood retaliation.
A more constructive recommendation comes from Milton Viorst,
former longtime Middle East correspondent for The New Yorker, who
says he is as "scared to death" over the goings-on in Israel as
any other Jew. Viorst is the author of "What Shall I Do With This
People? Jews and the Fractious Politics of Judaism." He believes
that either Jews master the art of living with each other -- and
rein in extremist settlers who cite an edict from God as
justification for holding on to West Bank land -- or the future
of Israel and even the Jewish people is in jeopardy.
The 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by
a religious-messianic Jew spurred Viorst to take a lifetime study
of Jewish history further. Conclusion: Religious extremism is at
the root of most Jewish dissension -- from the beginning of the
Bible to today, where "political extremism (in Israel) has been
dressed up as religion."
Like Viorst, I wonder if "the lacerations left on our collective
psyche by 2,000 years of anti-Semitism have impaired our
political reasoning about matters crucial to the well-being and
survival of the Jewish community."
If Jews are determined to believe the mantra that the
conservatives are promoting -- that all Arabs want to destroy all
Jews and will refuse to live in peace -- then the chance for
peace is hopeless. As Viorst reminds us, God called Jews "a
stiff-necked people" and strong Jewish states have risen -- and
fallen -- before.
Most of us learned to argue at our grandparents' table. They
spoke Yiddish; we spoke English. They tried to silence us with a
"Shah!" (shush!). But there was always permission to be heard.
Inside the safety zone of family and friends, we found fault with
each other in high decibels, but kept quiet about our differences
in the Gentile world.
It is time for Jews to return to Grandma's table, figure out how
to be together, and speak out publicly for peace before it's too
(c) Copyright PNS