Thursday, December 13, 2012

Because God Tells Me So; Do Jews Have a “Historic Right” to Israel?

By Shaul Magid
Originally posted 12/10/12 at Religion Dispatches

The cabinet on Sunday unanimously passed a resolution completely rejecting the UN decision Thursday to upgrade the Palestinians to non-state observer status. “The Jewish people have natural, historical and legal rights to its homeland with its eternal capital Jerusalem,” the resolution stated.Jerusalem Post, Dec. 2, 2012  

Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile, has rejected any concessions over a future Palestine state at a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the armed Palestinian group... “Palestine is our land and nation from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it,” he said.Al Jazeera, Dec. 9, 2012

Last week B’nai Jeshurun (a.k.a. BJ), an independent progressive synagogue in Manhattan, made the front page of the New York Times after its leadership sent a membership-wide email applauding the UN vote granting Palestinians non-member “state” status. While it predictably met with mixed reactions, it became the most visible American synagogue to break ranks with the pro-Israel lobby protesting the UN vote.

A few days later the Reform Movement issued a statement criticizing the Israeli government’s decision to revive settlement construction in the E1 area of the West Bank. This has long been considered a “red line” by the U.S. and other states friendly to Israel in that it would geographically make a two-state solution (with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital) impossible.

Back in November, in a Times of Israel blog post, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice-president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and self-appointed “defender of Israel,” penned a scathing critique of a letter written by Rabbi Sharon Brous to her congregation IKAR in Los Angeles. Brous, Gordis’ former student, had “dared” to express sympathy and concern for Gazan civilian casualties of Israeli air strikes as she had for Israeli victims of Palestinian rocket fire. “At the same time, supporting Israel’s right to protect and defend itself does not diminish the reality that the Palestinian people are also children of God, whose suffering is real and undeniable,” she wrote in a rather temperate acknowledgment of human suffering that apparently crossed a “red line” resulting in Gordis’ accusation that Brous has somehow “abandoned” her people.

These three communiques arguably mark a significant fissure in American Jewish institutional support of Israeli polices and has ignited robust debate among American Jews as to their responsibility and allegiance to Israel as Americans and as Jews. As significant as the criticisms are, each reiterates the love of, and commitment to, Israel as an essential part of American Jewish identity. A number of factors contribute to this commitment, and they’ve shifted over the past few decades. Among the most tangled and oft-cited, however, is the claim, made by both Jews (inside and outside Israel) and Palestinians, that their people have a “historic right” to this contested land.

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