In spite of my muted sympathy for Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox religious movements in Israel who seek to bring egalitarian prayer to the Kotel, their current campaign to generate sympathy among Israelis is wildly inappropriate. They’ve begun a promotional blitz to raise awareness of the issue via a billboard along a major Israeli highway. It features a slogan that echoes a far-right political campaign advocating impunity for settlers accused of acts of terror or incitement. The thought of borrowing from such a rancid political movement to advocate a liberal cause is revolting.
The Reform Jewish billboard says: “Jews don’t expel Jews from the Western Wall.” The fine print adds: “Israel is the home of all Jews.” There are several plays on words here worth explaining, which add further alarm to one’s reading of the advertisement. The word “expulsion” is the same used both by Palestinians to describe Nakba and by settlers to portray their eviction from Gaza and West Bank settlements. But here, it’s specifically echoing the settler rhetoric, as if to say to Israelis: ‘you sympathize with settlers removed from their “homes,” we Reform Jews are no different. We deserve to be at the Kotel as much as settlers deserve to remain in their settlements.’ The thought of evoking such a comparison is odious.
Further, the word “home” in the second phrase of the ad is the same word used for the Holy Temple (habayit). In other words, a second reading could be “Israel is the Temple for all Jews.” An equally disturbing concept, especially if you believe Israel is a democratic society, rather than a theocracy.
Now, let’s move to the settler campaign which “inspired” the Reform movement’s. The settlers were protesting against Shin Bet arrests of Hilltop Youth, who were engaging in acts of violence, vandalism, arson, and murder against Palestinians in the West Bank. For the settlers, merely arresting these suspects was considered akin to abuse or torture, so their banner said: “Jewish don’t torture other Jews.” In other words, no self-respecting Jew would abuse a fellow Jew “just” for harming a Palestinian. Jewish tribal loyalty should trump any consideration of Palestinian humanity.
What possessed the Reform movement or the ad agency it hired to create this campaign to think it was a good idea to imitate the political rhetoric of the settler movement? What this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the settler movement is the moving force behind all Israeli politics. The rhetoric it uses, including the shameful attempts to evoke guilt through crocodile tears, have been mainstreamed thanks to the ultra-nationalist political class, which happily does their will.
This is yet another example of the dangers of being a liberal Zionist in today’s political climate. The principles and vision of this movement are so gelatinous, that they can resort to adopting the language of Jewish fascists to advance their own agenda. However, the net effect of sounding like a settler is that the average Israeli will be totally confused about who Reform Jews are and what they want. If you are claiming to be different from the settlers why would you try to sound like them? Why are you not confident enough in your own philosophy to promote it with words that are true to it and reflect it?
Finally, there is a great danger in Reform Jews asserting the political primacy of their struggle for egalitarian prayer when a far more profound problem afflicts Israel. Why quarrel over who gets to pray at the Kotel when Israel hasn’t done the least to confront the injustice of the Occupation? The Reform movement has divorced their campaign from any attempt to gain religious freedom for Muslim worshippers restricted (or often barred entirely) from the Haram al Sharif. It’s as if they’re praying in a vacuum that excludes any other religion or conflict. This is yet another sign of liberal Zionism, which often buries its head in the sand instead of confronting issues directly.
To be fair, I don’t believe there to be a nefarious reason in the Reform Movement’s advertising, it is entirely apposite in appealing to the memory of the slogan (from the 2005 Gazan disengagement) on many people’s cars (inter-alia) and appropriates it for an opposite meaning. The other poster/broadsheet that you are conflating it with here also appeals to that memory. I don’t believe that because you disagree with the slogan in the past that it automatically means that any allusion to it in the present now is wrong de-juris
Another point: Whereas you are correct that the Jerusalem Temple(s) were referred to as הבית (HaBayit), I don’t know that it is fair to construe that reading in (or from) the billboard.
Maybe the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities could meet in the middle, so to say, and agree on procedures for Jewish worship around the Holy of Holies on the mountain top and not off of quite late Herodian retaining wall.
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Richard, Thank you. It might be supposed that the reform folks who wrote the ads were totally tone-deaf to the echoes you found in their ad. It happens. For example, remember the problem the Chevrolet NOVA had when advertised in Spanish-speaking countries (NOVA = NO VA = doesn’t go), suggesting the naming committee at Chevrolet-central was tone-deaf or didn’t care about sales in Spanish America.
However, taking USA Jewish big-shots as a group, I think they have the wherewithal to test the meanings and echoes of their Hebrew pronouncements (advertisers do focus groups, don’t they?) and the more so Israeli Jewish big-shots. And they all seem to be lock-step with current Israeli politics, whatever that may be; nowadays it is settlerism. So the echoes do indeed seem to be appeals to the heart-strings of settlers and settler-sympathizers.
If there is something that I abhor more than settler Zionism, it’s liberal Zionism. At least the settlers – vicious and stupid as they are – are doing what they do out of a firm ideological footing.
The lib-zios, on the other hand, have no firm ideology. The one thing that seems to guide them is an adherence to an imagined status quo through which they can continue to fool themselves that Israel is a mostly benign state that is merely waiting for Palestinians to become Swedes in order to strike a deal with them. In fact, Israel enjoys its virtual impunity by catering to the lib-zios and putting them to sleep with the sweet talk that Netanyahu excels at (being a professional furniture salesman).
It’s time for lib-zios like Peter Beinart to pick a side and stick to it. Are they okay with apartheid, ethnic cleansing and occupation? If they’re not, then let them reject Israel and everything it stands for! The day the lib-zios tell finally tell Israel to take a hike, is the day Israel will begin to change for the better!
It beggars belief that a binary construct can be applied here, “Zionism” as purported in your comment is either pure in its “settler form” or devoid of meaning in some “lib-zio form”? I think you’ll find most Israelis are neither that… not that.
Richard Silverstein says
@gefilte: Actually, the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are either settlerists or lib Zionists. There are, of course, leftists & traditional free market Likudists like Rivlin who don’t fit this mold. But they are a minority.
I’m not talking about Israelis. I’m talking about American liberal Jews who define themselves as liberal (and even progressive), yet seem to be okay with the apartheid state of Israel.
I have zero expectations from Israelis. Most of them are rabid Arab haters, and outright racists. They need to have a rude awakening in the form of economic sanctions that force them to change their ways. Short of that, I have no use for any dialogue with them.
Richard, the campaign you should be comparing to is the anti disengagement from gaza.