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Op-ed: Protests Confuse Religion with Politics

25. June 2004 • Ari Paul
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In an op-ed in Thursday’s Ann Arbor News, two Jewish community members write that they feel that those protesting Beth Israel Congregation for Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza are missing the point.

“True, Beth Israel Congregation – like 99 percent of Americans, like the United Nations, indeed, like the Arab League – supports Israel’s right to exist as a basic principle. True, as a Jewish organization the congregation is more emotionally and publicly invested in that principle than the general population. But no officer or publication of Beth Israel has ever endorsed, officially or unofficially, any Israeli military action, political party, or leader. No officer has ever issued a statement of any sort about the disputed territories. The rabbi himself virtually never speaks about Mideast politics, and when he does so, it is only to pray for peace and understanding in the most abstract, ecumenical sense. All this is entirely appropriate for an institution whose raison d’etre is religious, not political. To conclude that Beth Israel is a suitable target for picketing because the organization, according to the May 28 writer’s allegations, supports the occupation is therefore utterly gratuitous. (Although I have doubts, I take at face value the picketers’ claim that they object to Israel’s actions in the disputed territories, not to the existence of Israel per se.) If they wish to protest an Israeli policy, let them do so before a body that has expressed an opinion about that policy.

As individuals, moreover, Beth Israel’s 1,300 members represent a wide array of views on the Mideast, from utter indifference to fervent support of Likud to equally fervent support of Peace Now. Apart from absurd assumptions of Jewish essentialism, there is no reason to imagine – nor do picketers have the slightest evidence – that congregants as a whole are more sympathetic to Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza than are the generality of Americans. Indeed, insofar as a large majority of Jews historically vote Democratic, one might imagine that they are more liberal and less sympathetic to military solutions in the Mideast than Americans at large.”

To avoid confusion for the goyish readership and those unfamiliar with the Jewish lexicon, the ‘Israel’ in Beth Israel, does not refer to the Israeli polity, but the abstract nation of the Jews, a notion that predates the mere concept of Zionism by a few thousand years.

  1. While Jews historically vote Democrat, Democrats historically support Israel as much as Republicans. Massive financial and military support of Israel has been a bipartisan issue for decades, exactly because it serves to appease a Democratic voting bloc (Jewish Americans) and to pump money into military contracts, a perennial hobby of the Republicans. I know of no particular study of the subject, but without one I would highly dispute a claim that Jews are more receptive to non-military solutions (other than the obvious non-option of Palestinians simply submitting to Israel rule as it currently stands). Jews may be more liberal than the average American on many issues, but I do not believe in the slightest that Israel is among them. Thus, Jews protesting the actions of the Israeli government towards Palestinians becomes a much more powerful symbol in many ways, people accord more credibility to any group’s own self-criticism. If nothing else, arguments of anti-semiticism rapidly fall by the wayside.
       —Dan    Jun. 25 '04 - 04:58PM    #
  2. Normally, Dan, I would agree with you about Jewish protestors being a more powerful symbol due to self-criticism, etc, but the protestors we are dealing with here live in a reality so far from the truth that their only pride in being Jewish is that it gives them more credibility to protest. Therefore all comments about self-criticism dont really exist in this case.
       —a person    Jun. 25 '04 - 05:13PM    #
  3. Hold on… Democrats are Americans-at-large. More voted for the Dem. candidate for 2000’s presidency than did Republican.
    But still, protesting synagogues is tawdry and smacks too much of intolerance for it to be effective.
    C’mon, folks, we can at least all be bright enough to know that just like not every Arab supports terrorism, not every Jew supports Israel’s occupation.
       —js    Jun. 25 '04 - 06:15PM    #
  4. js:

    You’d be surprised at how dumb/bigoted/prejudicial people can be. These same jerkoffs also protest in front of Hillel, where, I can personally testify to the fact that many who attend Hillel’s services agree adamantly with all of Israel’s policies and many disagree with a fervor.

    Nonetheless, they continue to picket, alienating whatever political allies they may have had. It offends me, not only as a Jew who has to walk through that crap to go have Shabbat dinner with friends and/or pray (if I feel so inclined), but also as a human being because I don’t like it when people “assume” they know my opinions and my beliefs, simply because I pray at Hillel.

    It insults me to think that someone thinks I’m either right wing or left wing just because of my ethnicity. It’s because of all that that I’m convinced that they don’t care about debate, or trying to get people to see their point of view. If it were, then they wouldn’t do things that are so offensive. No, they do it just to be assholes. Well, it’s working.
       —Jared Goldberg    Jun. 25 '04 - 10:02PM    #
  5. I’d go so far as to say the American Jews may be more likely to support non-military solutions than the rest of the population in general.
       —Just a Voice    Jun. 25 '04 - 11:36PM    #
  6. Ditto to what Jared said.

    The people who protest outside Beth Israel are crazy.

    Not only do they protest in front of a synagogue every Saturday morning, which is sacraligous for religous and ethical reasons, but they protested the Israeli philharmonic, Hillel open house, and Hillel friday night services. They also walk around ann arbor every weekend with huge billboards strapped to themselves. They have succeeded in alienating anyone who may support them, and rather than recieving more help for their cause, they have turned themselves into a running joke.

    There are many worthwhile, pro-Israel organizations in Ann Arbor worth joining that work in peaceful ways to achieve their end goal. This group, has made a mockery of the rest of them.
       —Alana    Jun. 26 '04 - 01:27AM    #
  7. hmm, wonder how people would react if there were people protesting outside the local mosques and meeting places for muslim prayer, with signs saying ‘stop the suicide bombings, put an end to terrorism’?? Bet that wouldn’t be considered as kosher as going after jewish places of worship??
       —Just a Voice    Jun. 26 '04 - 10:13AM    #
  8. Typically, all negative comments in this column assiduously avoid the topic of a 37-yr-old illegal, cruel (I’ve been there) military occupation.

    The writers have employed lesson #1 from the AIPAC manual: when you have nothing, go after your opponent personally – it’s called “ad hominem”.

    Here’s a suggestion for the name callers: Please contact either Jerry Lax, former City Attorney, or Bob Sims, board member of The Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County. Both have had extended conversations with me. Ask them whether they agree with your personal assessments.

    Then, let’s talk about Occupation.
       —Henry Herskovitz    Jun. 27 '04 - 10:26AM    #
  9. Well, the article was about how protesting in front of synagogues and places of worship is not the most intelligent thing to be doing. It’s also offensive.

    Henry, you and many other anti-Israel protestors employ lesson #1 from the anti-Israel manual, which, coincidentally, is also lesson #1 from Goebbels: If you say a lie long enough, people will believe it. For example: before the Iraq War broke out, people said Israel would use the war as an excuse to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians. It never happened, even though there was no press coverage of Israel for the first month of the war and no countries paid attention. Want another example? Or what about Jenin? Anti-Israel protestors clung to the belief that Israel massacred hundreds, if not thousands of civilians. The truth? Only 53 people died in Jenin, most of them fighters. The lie, therefore, was that hundreds died and were buried in mass graves. I could go on, but you get the point.

    But, that being said, fine Henry, I will talk about the occupation. I think it’s wrong. I think the settlements need to go. I think the military needs to get out and the roadblocks and the checkpoints and the bulldozing need to stop.

    I guess that’s where I agree with you. Did I miss anything? Here’s where you and I depart: while we both may be against the occupation, I still support the existence of the State of Israel. I still believe that Jews deserve self-determination. I also believe that Zionism is a noble cause and is NOT racism.

    I’ve talked about the occupation, Henry. I don’t support it. We attack your methods because your methods indicate not an opposition to just the occupation, but an opposition to any kind of Jewish self-determination or national liberation. You hate anyone who doesn’t hold the EXACT same views as you do. You call anyone who doesn’t hold the EXACT same views as you do a racist.

    I’m sorry, Henry, but just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t give you the right to pretend you know what I think nor judge me.
       —Jared Goldberg    Jun. 27 '04 - 01:07PM    #
  10. Henry – one other small detail.

    Why is the occupation illegal? under what law? I agree the occupation is cruel, painful for the palestinians and Israelis a liek, a bad policy choice, and it needs to end. We agree. You know who else agrees? 70% of Israelis, and even a growing number of likudniks.

    But none of this makes the occupation illegal. And you know what Henry, the arab League – that body that advocates on behalf of the Palestinian cause – they agree with me. In the recent ICJ hearings over 15 Arab countries submitted briefs. And you know what – NONE of them reffered to teh illegality of the occupation. Not the Palestinians, not the Egyptians, not the Algerians, not the Syrians. NO ONE – because while its great for public relation rhetoric, the bottom line is that the occupation is not illegal. (now, you may have a claim for the Golan and E. Jerusalem because those areas were annexed – and that may (and let me stress – MAY) be illegal); but the occupation – is as illegal as the UN is effective (not very).

    As for you, and your organization protesting outside a house of worship, I’m sorry – i don’t need the approval of two jewish individuals, to feel that what you are doing is a disgrace. Its a disgreace to your professed religion. Its a disgrace to your country, which has for the longest time deemed taht religion and politics shall not meet (in a way, you’re as bad as John Ashcroft – you have politicized a religious experience – and that, in itself is DISGUSTING). and most of all, you are a disgrace to your case. And all of that just makes you sad henry.

    If you think i am wrong, please feel free to post, or email me privately (you know my email). But, if you do – lets stick to facts, not hommoly.
       —David Livshiz    Jun. 27 '04 - 04:21PM    #
  11. i like this quotation (from the op-ed) the best:

    “If they wish to protest an Israeli policy, let them do so before a body that has expressed an opinion about that policy.”

    elder of zionfully yours,
    ari p.
       —Ari P.    Jun. 27 '04 - 07:50PM    #
  12. THere is no question these protests are racist because they single out jewish congregations….....Even after 9/11 there were never angry crowds of americans shouting outside every mosque…..somethng that would be much more justified than protesting a synagogue. Unfortunately, The double standard is a disease that still engulfs middle eastern mentality today just as the protesters of Israel, a democratic, liberal, peace loving country, will not even say one bad thing aout their own people, who still practice slavery, polygamy, and violence in many parts of the muslim world…........where are the muslims protesting sudan, or coming out for womens rights?
       —David Weiman    Jun. 28 '04 - 11:27AM    #
  13. The occupation is illegal under the Geneva Conventions because such occupations are supposed to be brief not last for 37 years. Also many specific aspects of the Occupation are legal, such as the transporting your own population into the Occupied Territories.
    As for the issue of the synagogues, I find it offensive that people always assume they have deep insight into the Jewish identities of dissenters. Spare us the psychoanalysis.
    Leaving aside my own discomfort with the strategic implications of targetting synagogues, It is true that whatever the views of individuals inside synagogues (myself included) or Hillels, the institutional positions taken reflect a constant bias towards not just the abstract idea of Israel, but a defense of the specific policies of the government. After all, who benefits from even generic “support for Israel?”
       —trayf    Jun. 28 '04 - 03:55PM    #
  14. Ahm – Trayf can you explain your last paragraph, i simply don’t understand – how? Are you basically saying that by saying tht an institution supaports the right of israel to exist, and lets take it a step further, to exist as a jewish state – this endorses the position of the Sharon administration????

    as for legalities. ahm…no shrug. The Geneva convention on Occupation is in the present case modified by the later in time UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 (Vienna Convention on Treaties, Article 33). As those say that the state of israel should withdrawl – but link the withdrawl to negotiations – as long as the state of israel engages in negotiations (which for better of worth, wiht success and failure) they have – the occupation is legal.

    Making it more complicated is that the pertinant documents refer to Israel “returning” the territory to Jordan, Egypt and Syrria (see the legislative hisotyr behind 242). As jordan has abdicated any claim of soveregnty its not clear that Israel has to withdrawl at all. Note: this is not MINE argument, and its not even the argument of the Israeli government – it is however the argument that is implicitly accepted by all who do the legal work on this for a living. I repeat NO ONE contested that the occupation was illegal at the recent hearings. They accused Israel of lots of stuff, inlcuding being worse then the Nazis, but not a single lawyer claimed that its illegal. THere is areason for that – credebility. If a laywer, talking to judges lies with a straight face – chances are they’ll loose.

    In terms of behavior. I think you have a strong claim. Thougth, i think, and to be honest, i DO NOT know how this would play out. But i think israel will claim that only permenant transfer of population is illegal, and as the settlements are temporary – see Gaza, Sinai – they are not illegal.

    Look – in either case – the occupation should end. And a lot of what Israel does in the territories is not good (call it amoral if that makes you feel better).

    But if we want international law to be taken seriously by policy makers we need to be very judicial as to what is and is not illegal. Int’l law is a bizzare animal. because the source of law is inherently anti democratic it is particularly important that countries are held to that which they agreed to undertake and not more.

    In the domestic sense – all of us are in one way or another locked into a legal system. Thats not true in the international arena. Countries, can, and frequently do, opt out. And, no, not just the United States or Israel. The EU (or member states), Japan, Canada and Australia have all at one time or another opted out of Internatiaonl obligations. If this happens to often, the international agreement in question becomes swiss cheese – too many wholes to be effective. The way to avoid it is to avoid creating obligations which countires did not explicitly adopt. yes, it means that the reach of international law is less. and some things that we all agree on, we may not get a legal barrier to. But, on the flip side it means that its EFFECTIVE for that which it does cover. and what good is a law that not effective?

    So – you want to say that the occupation is wrong, sure why not, its your opinion. Think its amoral, bad policy choise, fool harde, evil (in a deontological sense) – ok. But when you say that its illegal, when it snot, bear in mind – the first people to be hurt will be the palestinians who will be unable to benefit from teh protectison THEY DO have – b/c the entire enterprise (one that is fairly recent) may well fall appart – as it has began to already.
       —David L    Jun. 28 '04 - 04:55PM    #
  15. livshiz,
    i think, often, when people talk about the illegality of the occupation, this refers to policies associated with the occupation that are in-and-of-themselves illegal, such as home demolitions, settlements (see article in the new yorker explaining the illegality, i’m no lawyer), collective punishments, killing babies, curfews, that sort of stuff…

    thus, when it is said that the occupation is illegal, i don’t think it just means the fact that israel is there that is illegal, but the fact that in the process of carrying out the occupation (which, as you argue, is legal) israel commits crimes…

    let my livshiz go,
    ari p.
       —Ari P.    Jun. 28 '04 - 05:09PM    #
  16. Hey Ari,

    Out of curiosity, where does it say specifically that each of the things you cited are illegal? If you could provide specific article names and numbers, that would be great…

       —curious...    Jun. 28 '04 - 11:21PM    #
  17. Well, ‘Curious,’ the Israeli Defense Force’s Code of Conduct declares pillaging, use of human shields, rape, and other uncivilized/intuitively disgusting behavior to be illegal. Soldiers that are caught committing these acts are usually tried in front of the Israeli Supreme Court, and many are dihonorably discharged, and serve sentences comparable to what they might serve if they were to commit such foul behavior in the U.S. Although, ‘curious,’ I don’t know whether or not these actions are listed as crimes elsewhere.

    And, by the the by, Henry Herskovitz, an Ad Hominem attack isn’t telling someone that they don’t appreciate their picketing tactics. See Webster’s definition:
    “appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect”

    The cardboard huts that you bear in front of local synagogues each week are nothing more than that.

    You’re refusal to attend an open invitation to attend a June 6th dialogue between members of the Jewish Community illuminates your group’s level of interest in actually acheiving anything constructive, or having your voices heard in a proper forum. I can’t imagine that you didn’t get an invitation to this dialogue, as I saw you and your fellow picketers STANDING OUTSIDE while an open dialogue—featuring plenty of people who oppose the occupation—took place. Really, Henry? Purposely expressing your views OUTSIDE OF an OPEN DIALOGUE?

    Please stop occupying places of worship. And next time you wish me a “Shabbat Shalom” (A Peaceful Sabbath), bear in mind that so long as you come bearing signs, I can not and will not reciprocate your greeting; your actions are disruptful to the peace/serenity that I used to feel on Saturdays, which have now been replaced by anxst and bewilderment at your presence.
       —A    Jun. 29 '04 - 06:04PM    #
  18. Ari –

    very well put.

    Although, the IDF code of conduct is NOT international law, is simply Isreal’s military code. akin to our CMJ.

    With your permission, i’d like to second your comments to Henry.

       —David Livshiz    Jun. 29 '04 - 06:25PM    #
  19. To Clarify:
    Comment #17 was NOT written by Ari. Sorry for the confusion.
       —bystand    Jun. 29 '04 - 09:56PM    #
  20. yeah, livshiz, all that stuff about idf code was news to me, but to whomever did write it: good show!...

    sharon and bin laden are lovers,
    ari p.
       —Ari P.    Jun. 30 '04 - 04:05PM    #
  21. As a side note: Ad hominem means “to the man.” Historically an ad hominem fallacy is an argument based on emotion, rather than logic, thus appealing to the humanity of the listener rather than their good sense. Think of any time that a bill is put forth in Congress with the ostensible purpose of protecting children. 90% of them are based on ad hominem logic. Because, well, we all like children. WIth duck sauce. Other notable times are any speech given by Bush in which he makes reference to fighting against evil. We hate evil. Unless you’re a sk8er, when you’ll say “evil sick wicked” to describe your ollie. Ari would say “deck,” but that’s because he thinks being a hipster is “cool.” It is not.
    However, the ad hominem fallacy also has another strain to it, and one that is widely and wrongly reported as the original. That second sense is to attack the speaker in order to invalidate the point. Like if I said that Hitler’s Volkswagon project was ultimately a good thing to come out of Nazi Germany, and Ari said that I only thought so because I was a jackbooted German. He’s attacked me, not the premise. Or if I said that the terrorists attacked us because of complex socio-political circumstances, and Ari said that I only believed that because I hated America.
    The first type of fallacy, the appeal to emotions, can also fall under ad populum, which is the appeal to a large group.
    Hope to have helped.
       —js    Jun. 30 '04 - 04:50PM    #
  22. Re Ari on bin Laden and Sharon kissee kissee; I think I’ve posted before (on Goodspeed) that the quick solution for the Middle East would be for Sharon and Arafat to join in a civil union in Vermont.

    Honeymoon activities:

    1. Do the “Gaza Strip” for each other

    2. Watch “The Passion of the Christ”
       —David Boyle    Jun. 30 '04 - 08:21PM    #
  23. From a March 29th A2 News Article:

    “The group also protested outside Hill Auditorium before the Israel Philharmonic concert on March 20.”

    Yes, Henry; I’m quite certain the first string violinist instigated the occupation. And even if he didn’t, I bet that every Jew who paid admission for the concert is rich, and sends money to AIPAC. And even if they don’t, I bet the conductor is Ariel Sharon’s brother, and has a direct say on ISraeli Military policy. These are all GREAT reasons to picket in front of a Philharmonic concert.

    That was sarcastic. The Jewish Witnesses For Peace must choose proper forums in which to express their opinions. To all those reading this post: please join this request for the JWP to be more respectful, and stop labelling all things Jewish and Israeli as exclusively militaristic in their nature.
       —JWP is disrespectful    Jul. 1 '04 - 04:10AM    #