Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

I Am Pro-Israel, Therefore I Criticize Israel

Ira Chernus, a religious Jew and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains that he is a critic of Israel precisely because he believes in Israel and wants it to be secure and at peace.

I don’t say much about the immorality of Israeli actions. They are shockingly immoral. But talking about it won’t make much difference. So I appeal to naked self-interest. I point out the obvious: Every time a Palestinian or Lebanese is hit by an Israeli bomb or bullet, it spells more risk for the safety of Israel.

As a Christian, I can make similar claims to be both pro-Israel and pro-U.S. and thus to criticize both out of loyalty. And I understand Chernus’ argument for pragmatism. There are times and places not to mention that I am also pro-Palestinian or Pro-Lebanese, precisely in order to get a hearing for peacemaking.But I wonder. Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, editor of Tikkun, and founding co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, has been pointing out for some time that Center-Left folk specialize in pragmatic language and the language of policy and that we keep losing elections and policy debates. Yes, appeal to enlightened self-interest, but appeals to such alone are striking the public as “spiritually lifeless.” Humans are more than rational, self-interested beings (this is the fatal flaw in both Communism and Laissez-faire captialism) and want to have people appeal to their moral side and their compassion. That is the value of bumper stickers like Torture is Unamerican. The historical record may show many times when America has tortured, but our publicly declared values have never before endorsed torture. So we appeal not only to pragmatic arguments (e.g., torture yields little trustworthy information, creates more people who hate us enough to launch terror attacks,places Americans abroad at greater risk, etc.) but to that part of people who want both to love their nation and to see it live up to its highest values.

So, with Israel. Yes, we need Prof. Chernus’ arguments that the best thing for Israel’s peace and security would be to end the Occupation of Palestine, withdraw from Lebanon, and make peace with its neighbors. We need to point out that the longer the war in Lebanon continues, the more pan-Arab support Hezbollah is receiving (even Lebanese Christians, who previously had no use for Hezbollah at all since Hezbollah’s ideology would remake the entire Arab world into an Islamic theocracy like Iran’s, are now admiring its “defense” of their neighborhoods against what is viewed as naked Israeli aggression), the more anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiment is generated, and the more likely it is that Israel will be drawn into a nightmarish quagmire such as when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. But we also need the moral appeals: Secular Jewish Israelis need to be reminded that Israel is losing the high ideals with which it was founded in 1948 and fast becoming a police state. Religious Jews, both in Israel and the U.S., need to be reminded of Judaism’s insistence that all are made in God’s likeness and the Hebrew Bible’s insistence that strangers and aliens be treated as one would treat the Covenant People.

When people are threatened, physically or otherwise, moral appeals alone usually fall on deaf ears, but so do simple pragmatic appeals to enlightened self-interest because the case for violence, for war, for ignoring atrocities, can also appeal to pragmatism and fear gives that appeal the louder megaphone. Combining the pragmatic and moral appeals, however, has a chance to break through since it pulls people’s self-interest and their desire to live up to their ideals in the same direction.

If we are pro-Israel and wish her survival and security, we must call for a ceasefire. If we want Israel to be the kind of land dreamed of at its founding, we will also call for a ceasefire and more. If we are pro-American, we need to see that this war is not in our self-interest and we need to see that America is in danger of losing its soul. We must pray that similar combinations of pragmatism and moral appeal are being made in Lebanon, too.

A range of voices on these issues which escape most of the U.S. mainstream media, can be found here.

August 8, 2006 - Posted by | Israel

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