My friend, Stefan Merken, has just published Peace, Justice and Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition, a book that argues that peace is one the “purest and highest” values in our tradition. If there are any skeptics reading this they will say–been there, done that. How many similar books have already been published on precisely the same subject before? While this is true, I believe that this book comes at a most opportune time. In the period since 9/11, the world has become obsessed with terror as THE only important issue facing us. In this country, all that has been important to our government has been security. Everything else has fallen by the wayside. The neocons, prominent among them many Jews, have ruled the roost for the past six years.
But now that the Bush Administration and its agenda have become discredited by the overreaching and failure of their own policies the pendulum is shifting backward. It is time that we reexamine the relevance of the Jewish prophetic tradition to issues of war and peace, environmentalism, and economic justice. In an age when war and hatred are everywhere, it would profit us to study the words of the contributors to this volume who have embraced a peaceful way to resolve such conflicts.
If there was nothing else worthwhile in this volume, this comment by the editors about my favorite historic Zionist figure would make the entire venture worth it:
Our chapter on…Israel calls to mind a major–if sadly, largely forgotten–figure of the Jewish past: Ahad Ha’am…whose prescient essay This is Not the Way warned that a future Jewish nation would not succeed if it emulated colonialistic thinking. “The main point, upon which everything depends, is not how much we do but how we do it,” he wrote in The Truth from Palestine after he arrived home in Odessa from palestine in 1891. He also cautioned the Jewish settlers in Palestine to consider the rights of the Arabs living there. “We think…that the Arabs are all savages who live like animals and do not understand what is happening…This is, however, a great error.
A strong dose of Ahad Ha’am is a powerful antidote to the most virulent nationalist views expressed by many on the Israeli right and their Diaspora supporters.
Murray Polner, former editor of the late, lamented Present Tense Magazine, was this book’s co-editor.