A Bar Mitzvah Story

This past weekend I went to a bar mitzvah, one that Phil Weiss was also invited to. I hoped that we would get to meet face to face after a few years blogging after childhood friendship, but he was at another event far away.

The community at the bar mitzvah was liberal to a T. (I’m sure that there were exceptions.)

One theme of Phil Weiss’s on his blog Mondoweiss, is his desire for avid intra-family discussion on Israel/Palestine. He’s stated that he notes, and I believe hopes for, a “generation-gap” on Israel/Palestine, in which younger and American generations question and then divorce from sympathy for Israel, let alone adherence, migration, or later institutional support for Israel.

At this point, its a propaganda “war”, a “war of ideas”, postures moreso than any recommendations of alternative policies. And, the form of the war is guerilla, and stated only in terms of what is criticized, not what is proposed or supported. I call it a silhouette approach, or rohrscach, or alternately constellational.

A silhouette is the drawing of the appearance of identifiable lines and image by holes moreso than by substance. Rohrshach or constellation refers to the formation of prejudicial conclusions from usually insufficient evidence to form any conclusion. Both construct guesses more than certainties or even proposals.

Both rabid anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, opportunistic settlement expansion movements; and anti-Israeli movements employ the silhouette or rohrschach method of organizing. They criticize only.

Unless the movements in fact do not have an understanding of what their goals are, the silhouette approach can only be described as deceptive, misrepresentative. (That that is the modus operandi of the republican party in the US is a great tragedy.)

In contrast, the liberal perspective incorporates “LIVE  #AND#  LET LIVE”. All three, and stated positively, with mutual health as the goal.

“Live” – Self-identify, live well, securely, healthily.

“Let Live” – Give room for others to self-identify, to live well, securely, healthily.

“AND” – Do them both. One without the other is half a life, and conflicts with an ecological perspective.

Back to Phil’s themes of generational conflict.

We had Vietnam. My parents were opponents of the Vietnam War, but mostly as an opinion, not so much active. I think they went to one local very civil demonstration with me. Phil’s parents (whom I knew and know) were a step more active, but still attracted to only civil demonstration. Strongly held and expressed views, but not revolutionary, and willing to disagree especially within family.

Israel was a much less consequential backdrop. My parents took me to Israel as a young teenager (in 1968, a year after the enthusiastic conquering of the West Bank, Sinai, Golan) and I experienced connection, pride in national emergence, but also questions. We took a private taxi tour of the Golan. Our driver was a veteran of the Golan campaign, conservative sephardi, distrusting and hateful towards Arabs in general and specifically Syrians (who had shelled the Israeli civilian Galilee communities in the two years before 1967).

I don’t remember the specific comment he made, but I criticized his views. At one point, I do remember him stopping the cab and telling me to get out of the car. (A paid private tour, with my parents in the same vehicle, in the remote mine-strewn Golani hills; chutzpa on both our parts).

At 13, I had a moral conscience, and the incongruity of what I was told to believe and what I reasoned independently was a tension.

Over time, my views about Israel have changed, and largely because of my perception of radical dissent over an extended period. I’ve come to see few that remain principled to the compassion and sense of incongruity that originally motivated their sympathies with the underdog. Most that I’ve dialogued with have adopted a form of self-medication in ignoring the uncomfortable, inconsistent, even cruel, in their own views, while they actively condemn similar in ANY sympathetic with Israel or Zionist.

They’ve at least partially adopted doctrine.

Its taken a long time for me to see. I originally saw only the incongruity. I am still obviously highly critical of Israeli policies, particularly as they institutionalize prejudicial attitudes towards Arabs and Palestinians, and self-fulfillingly divest in efforts for peace.

Live and Let Live.

The bar mitzvah boy/man courageously spoke about Israel/Palestine in his bar mitzvah speech. He reflected on the original cruel Biblical conquering of the land and compared it to the current, and concluded “something is wrong here”. (I noted that when speaking of the people of Israel that exodused from Egypt, and stood on the border of Canaan/Israel ordered to spy on the land and then later to conquer the land, he used the term “they”, rather than “we”.)

I very much identified with the bar mitzvah boy in that respect. ‘Something is wrong here.’

Maybe this is the generation gap that Phil Weiss is referring to/hoping for. Every generation growing into first inquiries, then questioning, then certain in their alternative interpretation, then motivated to make change, then later moderating their formerly “certain” views, and many later identifying.

We did personally as 14 year old kids. I first canvassed door to door alone in opposition to the war in Vietnam at 14. I hung out with Phil and his older brother a couple summers on Cape Cod. We hung out together on Pete Seeger’s Clearwater sloop when they came to Woods Hole in 69, with serious adult dissenters.

It happens naturally in every generation. Different topics. The intensity of inquiry and discussion depends on how much room one has in one’s life one for thinking and then activism. Most in modern society don’t have much room for activism at all, at least where I live. Our economic life is too insecure. We have other important things to pay attention to and more important things to get active about.

The community of the bar mitzvah was a bit more secure, liberal, urban, kids going to private liberal arts colleges, not needing to work to pay their way through school. Maybe they will become rebels. Maybe the younger kids in the family will, not so much forced into the public spotlight, not so much “representing their families”.

Israel/Palestine is a MUCH MUCH more sensitive topic than Vietnam for Jewish families. Most American Jewish liberal affluent have some but limited connection with European Jewish family heritage, and exposure to actual experiencers of the holocaust, or even the war on their own territory. I married a child of a holocaust survivor, and the awareness of her family’s actual (and some imagined) personal history, changed my views on Judaism, Israel certainly. Israel WAS a haven for them, harrassed when they returned to their former villages in Hungary, nowhere really to go but to Israel.

That experience compelled the necessity of a painful and pain-inducing birth (to third parties), Morris’ “breaking eggs to make an omelet”.

Even without that direct European experience, Jewish families cannot calmly stomach insensitivity to the experience of their grandparents, their distant families who they would never get the opportunity to know, the ones who didn’t migrate to the US in the early part of the twentieth centuries and were genocided in the real meaning of the term.

They generally do not respond to “Zionism is racism” kindly, and shouldn’t be expected to. They can sympathize with the experience of Palestinians, their plight, the institutionalization of expulsion and expropriation (even in those terms). But, they will not regard the establishment of the state of Israel as an oppression, certainly never as an oppression only. They know that it occurred in a war to the death, and that refugee Israelis survived from genocidal death perpetrated by the nazis (with MANY sympathizers), and from threatened ethnic cleansing back to genocidal Europe by the Arabs and Palestinians.

The liberal response to that experience, the compassionate response is “enough Israel”. Given the history, it is a compassionate response. Willing to accept some risk, rather than seeking to eliminate ALL risk.

Live AND Let Live, with the sentiment of willing restoration, active care to help Palestine form as a viable and healthy good neighbor, and active care for continually displaced peoples.

But, a giant step, a continental divide step short of “solidarity”.

Few Jane Fonda’s in Hanoi. A few, but only a few.

Will the young new bar mitzvahs, then active college students, then some professional activists, take the continental divide step to “solidarity”? Some will. They will be harrangued for it, and resent the harrangue, which will fuel their convictions.

At some point, they will take a breather, and actually research history in full, including others’ interpretations beyond the politically correct. Most will experience a path similar to mine, I expect.

Dissent for the purpose of restoration of health, congruity, pride, peace, with NO punitive effort, no pendulum swings.

I personally hope that Phil’s urging for a new generation-gap stimulated by Israel/Palestine fails, and fails miserably. I like the idea of dialog, of continual learning, of the questioning of the incongruities. But, I do not wish for a depreciation of my grandparents’ and parents and my experience in youthful ideals gone ideological.

I prefer the sincere path to peace. (Neither the Israeli right nor the Palestinian right and solidarity right/left are considering or pursuing it.) The people that are pursuing it emphasize contact (not walls and not BDS isolation).

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5 Responses to A Bar Mitzvah Story

  1. amsocialist says:

    Your story has confused me almost as much as it has informed me. I feel that the continued support for the state of Israel is problem to all who believe in freedom, regardless of how bad that time was, regardless of how horrible the holocaust was, that doesn’t give anyone the right to do what’s being done in Israel today, I feel like it’s a giant cop out.

  2. Gay State Girl says:

    Thank you very much for this piece. It can be applied far beyond Israel/Palestine as well as our current increasingly polarized political system. I am dissalusioned with both groups. What is particularly sad is that extremists tend to dominate in every conflict. I’m not simply referring to the rabid settlers or suicide bombers, or other obvious players in the conflict, but those few and far beyond who have developed polarizing ideologies and refuse to self reflect. The problem is not to hold a particular ideology, but to hold that ideology sacred and beyond criticism and will go to the end of the earth to defend that ideology.
    For instance, my father, in addition to his unquestioning support for Israel, also dismisses male genital mutilation rights avctivists and animal rights activists who oppose the jewish slaughtering shechita as rabid antisemites, on par with Hitler. To him, jewish practices are sacred and thus taboo, to criticize though he is not well versed in either field. I see a similar trend with Phil and his commenters. They are so disallusioned by the current conflict and equally fatigued by endless US support for Israel, that seems to have developed romantic fantasies about the Palestinians and can not view them in an objective fashion. As long as any group continue to hold their ideologies above criticism, reconciliation will be impossible and humanity is doomed.

  3. Benjamin says:

    amsocialist, I’d like to ask you a question that about your statement:

    ‘I feel that the continued support for the state of Israel is problem to all who believe in freedom, regardless of how bad that time was, regardless of how horrible the holocaust was, that doesn’t give anyone the right to do what’s being done in Israel today, I feel like it’s a giant cop out.’

    Who exactly believes that the Shoa gives Israel the impunity to do whatever it wants? I may just be ill-read, but I have to say that I’ve never actually heard any serious thinkers (or internet posters) actually say that.

  4. amsocialist says:

    I have heard a number of people claim this, and no, I can’t say I take them very seriously

  5. Benjamin says:

    I don’t doubt that you’ve heard -some- people say that; I can’t exactly be brought to care about what a few morons I’ve never met think about, or believe that they’re very relavent, or representative of anything besides they’re own moral myopia.

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