Sunday, November 12, 2006
Israel - Palestine through a Lerner's Eyes
Palo Alto's First Presbyterian Church hosted a weekend with Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor/founder of the progressive magazine, Tikkun, and a co-founder with Cornel West of a movement of Spiritual Progressives. Deborah and I went on Friday night and this morning (Sunday) to hear him speak for the first time.
It was great for me to hear someone voice the feelings/opinions I hold about Israel-Palestine, but rarely articulate. In my immediate family with its divide between ultra-religious Zionists and non-observant, culturally proud Jews the easiest course has been to avoid any discussion on the issue, not get deeply involved in any movements, and just not respond to my father's mailings of pro-Israel, pro-Orthodoxy articles. I have a friend who is a progressive Cuban American whose extended family is divided between rabid anti-Castro folks (mostly in Miami) and pro-Cuba folks. He reports a similar dynamic where he just keeps quiet to avoid the deep family rift that would otherwise occur.
As a spiritual progressive, Lerner says we must start with the "I-Thou" perspective rather than the "Evil Other" perspective of those with whom we are at odds.
He talked about the need for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to model a real "intention" for peace and generosity and seeing the humanity and goodness in "the other side." When the Oslo Peace Accords were signed he encouraged Israeli President Rabin to use it as an opportunity to travel to Palestine, initiate new bonds between the two peoples, express sorrow for all the killing Israel has done, etc. Instead Rabin went back to Israel and proclaimed he signed the agreement but doesn't trust the Palestinians and would take each step very slowly and cautiously. When Lerner subsequently asked him about it, Rabin said that first he had to build trust among his own people and after re-election he could move forward with more initiatives for real and lasting peace. Instead he was murdered by Israeli right-wingers before serving another term. Be careful because "the mask becomes the face," Lerner said.
It also felt good to hear him say to those who would promote total divestment from Israel that there is a big difference between selective divestment from companies that fuel the occupation such as Caterpillar Tractors and total divestment. He said that when the left would promote divestment from at least 15 human rights violators including the U.S., then he would be fine with adding Israel to that list and joining the cause. Too often it feels to me that people on the left demonize Israel on an emotional level that goes beyond the attention they give and express about places where torture, repression, and ethnic cleansing are practiced at least as vigorously. That gets very uncomfortable.