On Religious Ethical Zionism: An Open Letter to J Street

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

I would like to respond to the J Street letter, “Join Us in Supporting Religious Ethical Zionism” and share why I cannot sign this letter in its present form.

Although I also strongly condemn the actions of those who participated in the crimes you describe and am glad you are speaking out in public to denounce these crimes, I find that your letter has some serious shortcomings which I would like to address:

1) The crimes and sexist/racist behaviors committed by “Anti-Zionist Haredim and Ultra-Zionist settlers” are only one aspect of a system of structural violence which defines Israel’s relationship to Palestinians. The Israeli state and its various civil and government institutions, employ both direct and indirect forms of violence to displace Palestinians, seize their land, detain them illegally in prison, deny them access to water, their livelihood, holy places and families.

2) While settler violence is increasing, it is, as we all know, carried out with impunity because neither the Israeli military, nor Israeli police are committed to protecting Palestinian human rights. 500 Palestinian homes were destroyed in 2011. Over 200 children were arrested and detained as a matter of policy for “throwing stones.” Thousands of soldiers deny Palestinians from all sectors of civilian life the right to travel freely on the road. Settler violence and state violence go hand in hand.

Settler violence would not happen without the implicit cooperation of the state. Many times Israeli state support of settler violence is explicit, as in its practice of bringing Israeli teenagers to remove furniture from Palestinian homes destroyed in the Negev.

3) By singling out the most extreme version of Orthodoxy as a culprit we are, I believe, failing to understand the larger structural issue of systemic violence symbolized by the word “Occupation.” Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors which dehumanize “Arabs” through constant stereotyping accompanied by military occupation has a deteriorating effect on the whole society. For instance, Birthright Israel alumni often report frequent hate speech directed toward Palestinians during trips by their guides and sometimes the IDF kids that accompany them.

4) Speaking out is important on a symbolic level. I believe however, that more is needed. What actions are we taking to pressure Israel into ending the confiscation of Palestinian lands, unchecked administrative detention, checkpoints, the continual expansion of settlements and the outrageous siege of Gaza which seems to know no end?

Our outrage at so many violations of human rights should be broad and deep. We cannot condemn only one sector of the society without articulating its relationship to the whole. Singling out these specific crimes without reference to the context obscures the system of violence out of which these acts are born.

You may know the story of a person who sees a drowning man floating down the river and pulls him out. More bodies keep coming and she keeps trying to rescue each and every one. She fails to realize, however, that until rescuers go to the source of the violence upstream and deal with what is causing people to be thrown into the river in the first place, she will never be able to truly halt the violence.

Thank you for your courage and your decision to speak out in order to stand up for human rights.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb


One thought on “On Religious Ethical Zionism: An Open Letter to J Street

  1. It is a reasoned, articulate description ; however, I didn’t see the original letter by J Street, so I can’t judge—- not that I would judge anyway. I appreciate the calm way in which the points are made.

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