Sara Roy is a raging prophet like the great Jeremiah. She has done what many of us liberal Jews tried to do during the horrid catastrophe called the Lebanon War last summer. She has encompassed in words the fury, the rage, the anger, the suffering we all felt; the embarrassment we all felt at Israel’s unremitting assault on Lebanon. I must’ve written 30 or 40 blog posts about the war. In each, I tried to match my molten angry emotions with suitable words. But words sometimes failed. I could never reflect sufficiently my fury in language. But Roy has done this in an essay published in Counterpunch. She has done it simply, even elegantly if such a word is suitable for such a subject. She has done us Jews proud in articulating the assault on our humanity and our Jewishness that this war entailed.
You must read this essay and you must read it now. Then, if you can, you should buy and read the book from which it is excerpted. I fully agree with Roy that Lebanon severed some bond or connection we may’ve previously had to Israel as eternal victim. Our relations with Israel can never be the same as they were before. We can never be as trusting. We can never be as sympathetic. Though we may love Israel this war has tempered that love.
This break reminds me of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Despite being seriously injured, Jacob holds the angel to a draw and will not relinquish his grip until the angel relents. As a result of this life-changing experience, the angel gives Jacob a new name to symbolize his role as the father of a new people: Israel. Like Jacob/Israel, this war has injured us grievously. But unlike Israel, it has given us a name we would rather not know or share. We must not act as if nothing has changed. That would be the ultimate denial of our Jewishness and the humanity of the Lebanese victims.
Roy also speaks eloquently of the corrosive attempt by American Jewish organizations to impose a false unity in articulating our response to the war. Her denunciation of such attempts resonates for many of us as we search for a path that remains true to our love of Zion, while acknowledging the horror of what we have witnessed in the name of Zion:
Jews do not feel shame over what they have created: an inventory of inhumanity. Rather we remain oddly appeased, even calmed by the desolation. Our detachment allows us to bear such excess (and commit it), to sit in Jewish cafes while Palestinian mothers are murdered in front of their children in Gaza. I can now better understand how horror occurs-how people, not evil themselves, can allow evil to happen. We salve our wounds with our incapacity for remorse, which will be our undoing.
Instead the Jewish community demands unity and conformity: “Stand with Israel” read the banners on synagogues throughout Boston last summer. Unity around what? There is enormous pressure — indeed coercion — within organized American Jewry to present an image of “wall to wall unity” as a local Jewish leader put it. But this unity is an illusion — at its edges a smoldering flame rapidly engulfing its core — for mainstream Jewry does not speak for me or for many other Jews. And where such unity exists, it is hollow built around fear not humanity, on the need to understand reality as it has long been constructed for us — with the Jew as the righteous victim, the innocent incapable of harm. It is as if our unbending support for Israel’s militarism “requires putting our minds as it were into Auschwitz where being a Jew puts your existence on the line. To be Jewish means to be threatened, nothing more. Hence, the only morality we can acknowledge is saving Israel and by extension, ourselves.” Within this paradigm, it is dissent not conformity that will diminish and destroy us. We hoard our victimization as we hoard our identity — they are one — incapable of change, a failing that will one day result in our own eviction. Is this what Zionism has done to Judaism?
This is a breathtaking polemic. Even if you heartily disagree with my or Roy’s perspective on Israel, Zionism or the war, I hope you will wrestle with it in the spirit that Jacob wrestled with the angel before being transformed into Israel.
Hat tip to Hasan Bateson for notifying me about this jewel.