JVP Rabbinical Council Statement as Black Churches Burn

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Could it be that no one is running this world?

JVP Rabbinical Council Statement as Black Churches Burn
July 2015

A classical Jewish teaching compares Abraham’s spiritual awakening to a wanderer who saw a palace on fire. He said, “Could it be that no one is running this palace?” Just then the master of the palace looked out, and said “I am the master of the palace.” So too, Abraham looked out into the world and said, “Could it be that no one is running this world?” And the Holy Blessed One appeared to him and said “I am the master of the world.”

(Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 39:1)

God’s houses are on fire. The palace is burning and we cannot, must not look away. We are compelled to ask: Who is in charge here? Will we continue to countenance such acts of hatred? Will we allow white supremacist terrorism to threaten the fabric of Black life in the U.S.?

No, we cannot stand idly by.

We, the members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, are heart-broken, devastated and outraged at the recent murder of nine African Americans in the Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston and the burning of seven Black churches. We stand in solidarity with church members and with all whose spiritual homes and communities are under racist attack. We believe a threat to sanctity anywhere is a threat to sanctity everywhere.

This is the time for people of all faiths to recognize the toxic reality of white supremacy in our country. We call upon our national, state and local leaders to prioritize challenging and eliminating white supremacist terror in our country. This work must include not only holding individuals accountable for their heinous acts, but also a re-commitment to uproot racism from the social, political, and economic fabric of our communities.

We offer our prayers, condolences and support to the members of the destroyed churches. We join with all people of conscience to act however and wherever we can to end the burning of Black churches, communities, and lives.

We commit ourselves to actively wrestle with the ways we may reinforce, benefit from, or be harmed by white supremacy in our lives, our communities and the wider world. As religious leaders, we stand with all who challenge structural racism, particularly inequity in educational opportunity, segregation in housing, and the shocking gap in wealth and income.

Let us find the courage to walk in the ways of Abraham, to be awake to what is real and true, and to see for ourselves that the palace is burning and that it is our responsibility to put out the fires that have been allowed to burn unabated for far too long. May we help to bring justice, healing and hope to our world, speedly and in our lifetimes.

Some ways you can take action:

  1. Help rebuild the fallen churches. Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal church in St. Louis, has started the Rebuild the Churches Fund. All donations are tax-deductible and will be dispersed equally to the churches whom investigators conclude were destroyed by arson.
  2. Intentionally pursue and support the leadership of Jews of color within the Jewish community.
  3. Create opportunities in your community for the study of institutionalized racism, including an exploration of white privilege and Ashkenazi dominance.
  4. Build relationships with African American religious congregations in your community, show up for their events, create opportunities to listen to their experiences and discuss how we can be in solidarity with their struggle for racial justice.

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There for Each Other: On Anti-Semitism, Christian Privilege and Palestine Solidarity

The following is a transcript of Rabbi Alissa Wise’s remarks to the Friends of Sabeel North America Conference in Vancouver, BC April 2015.

As a young girl, I attended a Jewish day school in Cincinnati, Ohio. The bus I took to school was shared with the local Catholic day schools as well. I didn’t ride that bus for that long. After a few months, some of the kids on the bus started to tease me, asking if they could see my horns. I was quite naïve about what that meant. I thought they were just being silly. Today, I hope I know a bit more about the history of anti-Semitism in the Christian world and the wrong-headed myths about who Jews are.

At that Jewish Day School, education about the Nazi Holocaust was a centerpiece of our learning. In High School, I visited Auschwitz, Majdonek and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps with my Jewish youth movement. We were told stories of how the Christian world was complicit in Nazism and their crimes. I sobbed and wailed at each visit to the camps, horrified and disturbed. I knew then my life would be about interrupting today’s violence and hatred however I could.

In my twenties, I was inspired by the White Rose, a nonviolent group of Christian Germans who organized against Hitler’s regime. My first year in rabbinical school I adopted as my spiritual mentor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor, ethicist, and activist who was to me the embodiment of a spiritual leader. He was someone with vision, courage, passion, clarity and purpose. The model of both the White Rose and Bonhoeffer, that of those who benefit from the systems of power and oppression actively opposing and resisting it with their lives, continues to feed me in this work.

As for my Christian counterparts, I see you all working hard to get out from underneath the history of Christian violence against Jews, and I know that our work together as Jews and Christians to stand with justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians is central to our ability to navigate their internalized messages of guilt and heavy conscience.

As a rabbi, working to support the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s efforts to pass a resolution calling for selective divestment from companies that profit from human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I am engaging with my Christian counterparts in deep, if unconventional, ways.  For my part, I am continuing to unlearn the legacy of trauma messages I got growing up like “no one will save us” or “we are all alone in the world”. Those dead-end ideas can lead to behaving out of a place of fear or vulnerability, rather than hope and resilience.

By a raise of hands…

– How many in the room are familiar with the claim by some large Jewish institutions that critique of Israel is anti-Semitic?

– How many of you feel like these charges have been made falsely?

Many of us – Jews and non-Jews alike – have had accusations of anti-Semitism lobbed at us for standing up for justice, equality and freedom for all people.

As we all know, there is a conscious strategy that has been developed by large Jewish institutions and Israel itself, to attempt to blur or even completely erase the lines between Israel and the Jewish people.

I want to be very clear that there is nothing anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel and there is nothing anti-Semitic in the BDS call by Palestinian civil society. It is a conditional call that will end when conditions of oppression end; that targets state policies, not the Jewish people. It is based on standards of universal human rights and international law that are specifically not reliant upon ethnicity or religion.

That being said, when I get asked how to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism i do caution people to ask themselves if they are in fact anti-Semitic. While there is nothing inherently anti-Semitic in critiquing Israel, that does not mean you do not also harbor anti-Semitic sentiments toward Jews. This is something worth exploring personally and perhaps also in your congregations or organizations.

As with all oppressions, anti-Semitism manifests institutionally, like the quotas at US universities that were in place until the 1970s, but also interpersonally – like ideas of Jews as greedy, controlling, rich, powerful – and also it is internalized by many Jews, leading some Jews to behave out of a place of fear or vulnerability.

Anti-Semitism, just like other forms of oppression, lumps all Jewish people together and assigns us a set of characteristics. Some of the stereotypes we hear include: Jews are rich, Jews are stingy, Jews are smart, Jews control the media, or Jews are to blame for whatever the current crisis is. Even when these stereotypes are framed positively, being reduced as an individual to having assumed attributes based on our religion can be very dehumanizing. That includes the idea that all Jews are implicated by the deeds of the Israeli government.

But – and here’s where things get complicated – that notion can be turned on its head, because Israel specifically defines itself as the state of all the Jews in the world, rather than a state of all its citizens. Israel itself may in fact be the greatest contributor to this fallacy.

To complicate things further, while critiquing Israel is not anti-Semitic, for some Christian Zionists, supporting Israel is.

Apocalyptic Christian Zionist John Hagee was recently quoted affirming that he does indeed believe that the Jewish people are going to burn in Hell for all of eternity unless they abandon Judaism and convert to Christianity. There is hardly a more deeply anti-Semitic notion than that.

While this example illustrates that anti-Semitism certainly does still exist in the here and now, it has largely lost its power in the US.  It does not keep us from jobs, schools, access to health care, housing, or positions of influence.  In other words, Jewish people are not impeded in any material way from pursuing the life of our choosing.

Anti-Semitism has been cyclical throughout history and deeply connected with other systems of oppression. Anti-Jewish sentiment has always served the interests of classism and white supremacy, by placing Jews as middle agents and scapegoats for the crimes of the ruling classes, thus obscuring the structural nature of injustices.

While the recents attacks in France are sobering, we have not seen that level of interpersonal violence against Jews in the US and Canada. Yet, there are still occasional outbursts against Jewish targets that helps keep Jewish fears alive. And despite the lack of structural barriers for Jews in the US, we still live in a country whose dominant culture is Christian. Many Jews in the US and Canada still feel very much like the “other” in society, as do other non-Christian people.  These feelings are real, and not easy.

I also need to name here: it is essential, when we talk about anti-Semitism, that we do so understanding the breadth of Jewish experience – Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews of Middle Eastern, North African, Asian and Spanish descent have had a very different historical relationship to anti-Semitism than those of us who are Ashkenazi, of Eastern European descent. Even when we are reflecting on histories and realities of oppression against Jews, we bump against the relative privilege of us Jews of Eastern European origin. The vast majority of Jews in the US and Canada are Ashkenazi and are thus generally classified as white, with all the race privilege that entails. The important and urgent topic of both internal and external racism within the Jewish community is not something i have time to delve into today, but still felt important to name.

So – it is a balancing act of being sensitive to Jewish history and trauma, without pulling punches about today’s reality. While Jews in the US have more political, economic, cultural and intellectual status than perhaps ever before, the Jewish narrative is still about vulnerability. Part of the work that we as progressive Jews need to take responsibility for is challenging that narrative.

It means that we all, collectively, need to be able to hold, simultaneously, the idea that anti-Semitism in our society is still real, if not very potent at this moment; and at the same time, recognize and fight how accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as an effective weapon to silence debate on Israel. In the US we are up against attempts to codify re-definitions of anti-Semitism that would encompass advocacy to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian human rights. This represents a scary and dangerous development and if successful, formidable obstacle in our nonviolent activism to ensure Palestinian human rights.

A bill was recently passed by the UCLA student government along these lines. The lawyers at Palestine Legal Support have said this about the proposed legislation making its way through campus and statewide legislatures:

The definition is so broadly drawn — and its examples so vague—that any speech critical of Israel could conceivably fall within it.

Likewise, any criticism of Zionism — which questions Israel’s definition as a state that premises citizenship on race, ethnicity, and religion — is considered anti-Semitic under this re-definition, because such speech can be seen as “denying Israel the right to exist” as a Jewish-only state.

Legislating a new definition is a new tactic that is evidence of the desperation of those fighting against the growing strength of BDS.

In light of these efforts, it is all the more critically important to speak out. For those of us who are Jewish in the movement, we strongly feel the obligation – strategically and morally – to speak out when false charges of anti-Semitism are used to tar the movement.

As Jews we often find ourselves in a position of privilege in this realm.  Partially this is because Jews can be the most effective at rebutting the accusations of anti-Semitism which can paralyze BDS efforts, and partially because our overall place in society, and our perceived connection to Israel, gives us greater credibility by society at large than Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian people.

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we try to use our privilege strategically when we can (for example, there is a reason it was useful to the conference organizers for the JVP Rabbinical Council to issue a statement of support for this conference). We also try  -though don’t always succeed – to not participate in reinforcing the very structures of power and inequity that the BDS movement is trying to address.

Nevertheless, as progressive people who are part of a social justice movement who should model the change we want to see in the world — we all need to speak out to make sure that everyone’s full humanity is respected in all cases and at all times.

It is both an ethical imperative and a strategic one to speak out against anti-Semitism if you hear it.  This movement is hurt any time a truly anti-Semitic statement is made, just as it is when we perpetuate systems of privilege – as Jews or as Christians – that we need to dismantle to win.

To that end, I offer  a challenge to you all as Christians in this movement: what can you all do to confront and address Christian hegemony in the world, and in our work organizing for justice? I have frankly been surprised that I am often the person to raise this questio, and hope to see organizations like Friends of Sabeel acknowledge, unpack and address Christian privilege, just as we at JVP do the same as I just explained with Jewish privilege.  Bringing in a Jew to talk on this topic is no replacement for doing the hard work of examining the legacy and current realities of anti-Semitism – and Islamophobia – in Christian communities, and Christian dominance in our culture.

For example, this could look like doing study groups about the legacy of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Christianity.

It could look like workshopping ways Christian dominance manifests in our media, educational systems, and pop culture, for example, reflecting on questions such as:

– Have you ever been given a school vacation or paid holiday related to Christmas or Easter when school vacations or paid Holidays for Ramadan or the Jewish High Holidays were not observed?

– Are public institutions you use, such as offices, buildings, banks, parking meters, the post office, libraries, and stores, open on Fridays and Saturdays but closed on Sundays?

– Is the calendar year you observe calculated from the year designated as the birth of Christ?

– Have you ever seen a public institution in your community, such as a school, hospital, or city hall, decorated with Christian symbols (such as Christmas trees, wreaths, portraits or sculptures of Jesus, nativity scenes, “Commandment” displays, or crosses)?

On top of these types of reflections, I can imagine your communities working to support and encourage each other to ensure that your work advocating for Palestinian human rights does not rely on anti-Semitic ideas.

Some members of our JVP chapter in Philadelphia recently put together materials for addressing issues of anti-Semitism and offered some examples. I would like to share them to help elucidate the differences between a clear criticism of Israeli policy and its backers and anti-Semitic ideas often repeated by activists with no anti-Jewish intentions and lines emerging from Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations.

For example:

– A clear criticism of Israel would be: “Israel has a repeated and ongoing record of human rights offenses.”

– A way to say this same idea in a way that reflects anti-Semitic sentiment, even unwittingly, would be to say: “Israel is a worse humans rights violator than most or all other countries.”

– A way that anti-Semitic organizations or people say the same idea: “Israel is the root of the world’s problems.”

Here is another example:

– A clear criticism: “In this issue, as in so many, the corporate media provide one-dimensional, sensationalized coverage, usually biased toward whatever side the US government is backing – when they cover it at all.”

– A way to say this same idea in a way that reflects anti-semitic sentiment, even unwittingly would be to say: “The media, controlled by Zionists, never talks about the plight of Palestinians.”

– A way that anti-Semitic organizations or people say the same idea: “Zionist control of the media is part of a vast web of Zionist power over banks and world governments in their conspiracy to rule over humanity.”

One final example:

– A clear criticism: “Many Israeli soldiers justify their actions toward Palestinians by saying they are just following orders.”

– A way to say this same idea in a way that reflects anti-Semitic sentiment, even unwittingly, would be to say: “Israelis are just like Nazis.”

– A way that anti-Semitic organizations or people say the same idea: “Israel is worse the Nazis. This wouldn’t be happening if the Nazis were successful,” and so on.

It is important for us to mindful of the ways we talk about the issue and ensure we are not replicating oppressions, as we seek to end them.

I want to reiterate that I personally, at least, find this to be an extremely small problem, much smaller than the issues of Jewish privilege and Islamophobia issues in our movement.

We together, Christians and Jews, are speaking out against injustice when we see it – as our faith demands of us.  As a rabbi I take my role seriously as a moral leader, as we are taught in the Babylonian Talmud:

“Whoever has the ability to denounce [the sins of] their 
family members, but fails to denounce them, is held 
accountable for [the sins of] thier family members; if
[ one has influence] over the residents of his city [but
fails to denounce their sins], he is held accountable
for [the sins of] the residents of his city; if [he
has influence] over the entire world [but fails to
 denounce their sins], he is held accountable for [the
sins of] the entire world.”  (Shabbos 54a)

We will be held accountable should we stay silent as the land theft, home demolitions, restrictions on movement, economic strangling, and other human rights abuses that are the daily realities of life under occupation for Palestinians.

May we have the courage, to not sit silent, but to be able to look back at this time with pride for how we, Christians and Jews together, manifested the most basic ethical tenet of our traditions: what is hateful to you, do not do to others.

May we be part of the transformation of a painful history of Christian anti-Semitism and of Jewish trauma by working together to realize justice, equality and freedom, not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but for all people.

My work alongside Christians is an important challenge to those dangerous and disempowering messages I learned growing up. I no longer believe Jews are inevitably alone in the world, but in fact quite the opposite. I now see just how much we are there for each other.

The JVP Rabbinical Council Supports the Canadian Friends of Sabeel Conference “Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem,” (Vancouver BC, April 23-25, 2015)

As rabbis and people of faith, we stand in solidarity with the work of Friends of Sabeel North America and Canadian Friends of Sabeel.

Palestinian Christian liberation theologians such as Canon Naim Ateek of Sabeel challenge Jews and Christians to rethink our relationship to the Holy Land and each other on the basis of a universal standard of human rights grounded in nonviolence. We have long encouraged the Jewish community to engage the Palestinian Christian faith community with an open heart and mind in order to encounter another version of faithfulness.

As Jews, we believe it is enormously important to engage in dialogue and find common cause with Sabeel. We appreciate their justice-based approach for providing needed alternatives to Christian Zionism and Replacement Theology, which so often find their basis in fundamentalism and anti-Semitism. We are also aware that far too often, mainstream Christians are loath to criticize Zionism and/or Israel for fear of offending their Jewish sisters and brothers.

In fact, we must speak out – and we must do it together. The Palestinian people suffer from daily brutality by the Israeli authorities, who are destroying their homes, confiscating their land and water, manning the checkpoints that prevent freedom of movement to hospitals, work and study, shooting tear gas during demonstrations, and dropping bombs in civilian areas. They are also forced to endure a toxic form of racism growing in Israeli society, as was recently evidenced during Israel’s national election.

The work of Sabeel is rooted in a theological vision of justice for all who live in the land. This is why we, as religious Jews, are honored to stand in solidarity with them. When the Declaration of Human Rights was written in response to the Holocaust, Jews were grateful for a universal measure by which to judge human behavior. We believe groups like Sabeel are our partners in affirming these sacred standards that are rooted in our shared conviction that all human beings are created in the image of God.

We are proud to stand together with them in our shared work of justice, dignity and liberation for all.

– Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

Walking for Peace

Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace, co-founded by Rabbi Lynn Gottleib and Abdul Rauf with local Philadelphia activists. This sign is hanging on the walls of the International Airport in Philadelphia in the International Terminal as part of a Civil Rights display. Abdul Rauf is wearing a white kufi and holding the banner.
Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace, co-founded by JVP Rabbinical Council member Rabbi Lynn Gottleib and Abdul Rauf with local Philadelphia activists. This sign is hanging on the walls of the International Airport in Philadelphia in the International Terminal as part of a Civil Rights display. Abdul Rauf is wearing a white kufi and holding the banner.

I know our hearts are breaking for the many wounds we tend, and the sorrow we feel for the brokenness of this world. As a comfort to our hearts, I would like to share these moving words from my dear friend and peacewalk colleague, Abdul Rauf Campos Marquetti. Abdul Rauf has been unflagging in his advocacy for peace building among his brothers and sisters in Islam, as well as among people of faith everywhere. He has a life long commitment to serving incarcerated brothers and working for prison justice. His vision of Islam is shared with hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world who have suffered immense trauma at the hands of the West for a thousand years. We join interfaith brothers and sisters who are choosing to actively pursue healing and restorative justice, to build peace, and walk into the future with awareness, skill, determination and hope. We choose to heal the wounds of structural violence and transform attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that perpetuate violence through the work of restorative justice and peacebuilding. May Abdul Rauf’s words inspire us in our interfaith work.

–Lynn Gottleib
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, The Muslim-Jewish Peacewalk is about transformation and the use of an alternative methodology that is deeply rooted in the Ibrahimic traditions.

Each peacewalk has its purpose, its challenges, its different forms, yet they all lead to dialogue, conflict resolution, reconciliation, peace, justice and compassionate actions. These are walks of peace without the violence that so mars the face of our world. As a Muslim I have personally conducted many peacewalks that have taken these different forms. Twice the journey of Umra from my home in Albuquerque, NM to the Holy City of Mecca. I have walked through Palestine, Lebanon and Israel and seen the devastation of occupation and woe, as an interfaith peace delegate with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I have walked the PeaceWalk from masjids to synagogues to churches throughout the US and Canada, and to the Nevada Test Site on Shoshoni Land. These peacewalks have transformed my life and given me a new perspective on what it means to be a Muslim and the responsibility that it entails.Why the Peacewalk? Allah Subhana Wa’tala says in the Holy Qur’an: “I made you different so that you may get to know one another.”And for what purpose? “that you may learn righteousness.” And the crux of righteousness? It is centered on the pursuit of justice and peace for those who are suffering and those who are oppressed. Why the Peacewalk? In these times of conflict and unrestrained military violence we must be able to find creative, nonviolent and alternative ways to build Peace…for the future of our children. “

Abdul Rauf Campos Marquetti, 2004

On Multifaith Solidarity and Movement Building Among Asian Americans and Palestinians

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The proclamation of June 4 as Palestinian Cultural Day was initiated by the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, California, in partnership with the Arab Community Cultural Center. This has been one component  of its active commitment to struggle for Palestinian human rights. This community has launched a series of research, education, and direct action projects, including a partnership with the West Bank village of Wadi Foquin and an oral history project with local Palestinian elders, in conjunction with Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and the Arab Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora (AMED) project at San Francisco State University.

Because of its ongoing relationships in the Palestinian community, Buena Vista United Methodist Church (BVUMC) approached Loubna Qutami, the executive director of the Arab Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco, with the idea of proposing the above proclamation and getting it passed by the Alameda County board of supervisors. Their collaboration was eventually successful. The first year, one member of the board of supervisors blocked the proclamation due to pressure from reactionary elements in the Jewish community, resulting in the first and only time the county had rejected a proclamation to honor one of the Bay Area’s immigrant communities. The proponents of the proclamation went through another round of conversations with county supervisors and received complete support the second time around.

At a luncheon to celebrate the passage of Palestinian Culture Day held at the church, Rev. Michael Yoshii, senior pastor of BVUMC, shared the remarkable history of the church, which shapes its unique perspective in support of Palestinian human rights. The church is well known as one of the outstanding social justice solidarity communities in the area with a wide range of concerns. Part of the philosophy of the church’s activism is an understanding that the current debate about Israel-Palestine (as in all issues of human rights) must be framed by the personal experiences of people most vulnerable to the oppression and violence. The BVUMC community understands this need due to its history.

Reverend Yoshii told the story of the church’s place in the history of Japanese American in the United States. In 1924, Congress passed the Anti-Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, which barred immigration from Japan and other Asian countries because of racist backlash against these communities. Originally founded as a mission church to the Japanese community in 1898, the current church building on Buena Vista Avenue was built in 1926 as a way of strengthening the community for those families choosing to establish roots in this country, even in a highly segregated time. Another shameful part of American history unfolded during World War Two. Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, mandated detention camps for Japanese Americans, and 120,000 people were removed from their homes and communities and relocated to ten camps across the country. The church on Alameda Boulevard stood empty four years, serving as a space to store the belongings of an entire community.

The emotional trauma generated by that episode was still felt by the community for years. In 2000, the church was completing its 100th anniversary renovation project, and decided not to sand the wooden floor in the social hall. Instead, they chose to leave the scratches visible as a witness to the wounds and hardships faced by the community.

The Japanese-American community proactively sought redress for their injustice through the Redress and Reparations Campaign in the 1980s. In 1981, a Congressional Commission heard the stories of Japanese Americans in a variety of cities across the country. These stories were the first time in 40 years that members of the Japanese American community shared their truth with the American public. An official apology from the U.S. government and checks of $20,000 were issued to each surviving internee through the Civil Liberties Act passed on August 10, 1988.

As part of the apology three reasons were sited as the cause of the roundup and imprisonment of 120,000 people, two-thirds of whom were citizens of the United States, and one-third unnaturalized immigrants. Rev. Yoshii reiterated the reasons that led to the roundup and persecution of U.S. citizens during war time as a call to all of us to be aware of the social conditions in our current national environment that are similar to those that produced Executive Order 9066:

  1. War hysteria produced a collective mentality that made it acceptable to deny civil liberties to a wide section of society.
  2. A lack of political leadership allowed extremist policies to be implemented.
  3. Pre-existing racial prejudices which enabled mass support from the public who did not question the injustice of the roundups due to racist attitudes towards the Japanese.

Loubna Qutami spoke on a parallel track. She described how the institutionalizing of racist practices have become national policy as part of the neverending, so-called “War on Terror.” Institutionalizing racist policies is deadly for those who are most vulnerable to the impact of these policies. In 2008, rendition began with the Patriot Act which limits freedom of speech, has a policy of informants, often targets the mentally ill, and subjects U.S. citizens to military detention due to new definitions of military law, security, and terrorism. Are we watching a pattern repeat itself with Muslim Americans?

The process of profound changes in laws impacting the public connects directly to Palestine where two separate systems of laws were created and two sets of legal identities were initiated. Citizenship is given on the basis of Jewish affiliation by birth or conversion. Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, are ruled by Israeli military courts, and have little or no access to any of the legal guarantees or rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens.

Both the Palestinian-American community and the Asian-American community share a capacity for resilience and a commitment to keep moving forward born of their struggle for justice. Another way to describe this quality is sumud, or steadfastness to one’s cultural and physical survival. That is why storytelling is part of BVUMC and Arab Cultural Center’s collaboration and the day’s celebration.

Qutami mentioned another element critical to a positive solidarity partnership: “There is no pressure to reduce our narratives from our allies. In other words, people are free to speak the truth of their experience without being asked to alter it for the sake of another community’s political or cultural goals.”

“There are natural partnerships,” said Qutami, “that we can build upon: resisting racial profiling, resisting mass incarceration and detention, empowering our community voices.

Several Palestinian Americans were invited to share their story. People’s reflections included:

  • the need to create more cultural programing opportunities for youth
  • the need to organize in order “to protect our liberties, and not be passive about our future.”
  • the desire to bring public awareness to the fact that, “somehow it is acceptable to insult arabs, muslims in public spaces…we should challenge this!”
  • the mourning of a sister who died during the First Intifada and the need to “remain steadfast, sumud, to the freedom struggle for the homeland.”
  • the desire to share something with ” my grandchildren before I move on.”
  • thanksgiving for the oral history project because it became “a road map for finding my voice. I want to make up for all the years my voice was silenced,  that’s what sharing stories as part of the storytelling project has done to me.”

The events leading to Palestinian Cultural Day are an important lesson of the positive and empowering results that occur when communities work together to support each other in our collective effort to maintain our civil liberties and to safeguard the beauty of our cultural resources and traditions for the benefit of future generations.

PALESTINIAN CULTURAL DAY
proclaimed in Alameda County, June 4, 2013

Whereas, Palestinians trace their roots back to the historic land of Palestine and profess many faiths; and

Whereas, Palestinian culture is presented through books, poetry, music, dance, oral history, folktales, proverbs, and handicrafts made with cross-stitch embroidery patterns that often display ethnic or regional identity and honor a rich cultural legacy from centuries past that are important symbols of Palestinian culture; and

Whereas, Palestinians have embraced for over 2,000 years core values such as love of family, commitment to education, hospitality, and reverence for land, community empowerment, strong sense of justice and they now share these values with the residents of Alameda County; and

Whereas, Palestinian residents of Alameda County now number approximately 20,000 and continue to make major contributions to the County in the fields of arts and culture, community organizing, student activism, law and medicine, and we are valued members of the community as small business owners; and

Whereas, Palestinians living in Alameda County will hold the second annual Palestinian Cultural Day that honors the local Palestinian community and its contributions to the County’s civic life as well as the historical and cultural contributions of Palestinians throughout the world, and, now therefore be it

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED that this Board of Supervisors, County of Alameda, State of California does hereby proclaim JUNE 4, 2013 as “Palestinian Cultural Day”  and recognizes the contributions of the local Palestinian population to Alameda County residents and communities.

Rabbi Liz Bolton on Values-Based Solidarity

Statement delivered by Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton at the Kairos USA Press Conference in Support of the American Christian Leaders’ Call for an End to Unconditional US Military Aid to Israel, Washington, DC, November 29, 2012:

My name is Elizabeth Bolton. I am a rabbi from Baltimore and a member of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, and honored to be here.

Along with my Jewish clergy colleagues, I stand in support of the church leaders asking Congress for review of military aid to Israel so that it complies with its own laws and legislation.

A core value in my rabbinate is the passage in Genesis – that we are all created b’tzelem elohim/in God’s image.  The people of Israel are my people, yet I abhor the deliberate debasement of the divine image through systemic violations of human rights committed in the name of Israel the people in the land of Israel.

Some in our communities have been falsely stoking fears that decades of Jewish Christian dialogue would be destroyed as a result of the call by the fifteen church leaders. This is a false prophecy.  Jews and Christians and activists and humanists must all be able to speak truth to power, to call out as witnesses, and hold our civic leaders to account for their stewardship of our resources.

This is consonant with the principle found in the Talmud – dina d’malhuta dina – the law of the land is the law. Applied in this context, the principle is an extension of my citizenship here, and enhances my personal understanding if the complexities inherent in faith-based, particularly Christian-faith-based, calls for justice in Israel and Palestine.  I understand this interest in, and concern for, the holy land, and believe that the motivation for these actions is thoughtful, deeply considered, and values-based.

True interfaith cooperation and dialogue starts with a commonality of principles and ideals, and a willingness to engage with open eyes and open hearts, especially when looking at the painful and tragic intersections of faith and history.  Jews, humanists and activists who stand with these churches do so because we share respect for law, for dignity, and self-determination based on human rights.

In that spirit, JVP has created another opportunity to echo the church’s call. At obamaletter.org, you can find a petition asking President Obama to ensure that American aid to Israel is in compliance with current US laws. Our president has identified himself as a person of faith, and I call that to our attention at this moment precisely because some of us at this table do this work as people of faith. Jewish Voice for Peace is just that – a Jewish voice speaking and seeking peace, and taking this opportunity to raise the voices in chorus.

Ten thousand voices have already declared their support for the churches’ call, in this petition to Congress:

We are Jews, Christians, Muslims,  and other people of conscience who wish to thank you for your principled stand asking members of the United States Congress to hold Israel accountable in its use of U.S. military aid as required by U.S. law.

May our solidarity continue to be driven by values, not tribal allegiances, motivated by the prophetic vision that demands we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful.

May our shared work be for a blessing.

Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel

The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s “compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”

We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.

The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”  The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.

It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs -– including Social Security and food stamps –- to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy.  Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?

While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israel’s security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israel’s primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians – – and true security for all who live in the region.

As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.

We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest.  We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.

We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.

Signed (list in formation):

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student