This is a moment for Prophetic Witness—a time when we need to put our bodies on the line to stop the killing in the Middle East—and to stop the destruction of our moral and spiritual legacy.
We need: Non-violent civil disobedience to dramatize our call for international intervention to separate and protect the Israelis from the Palestinians and the Palestinians from the Israelis. Will you be able to join me and Cornel West (my co-chair of The Tikkun Community—our other CO-chair, Susannah Heschel is in Europe) in Washington D.C. next week or will you be willing to organize something on your own—non-violent, peaceful protest? Let me explain our thinking.
I’m writing you at a moment of real danger for the Jewish people. Of course, first I want to save the lives of Jews, and I want to save the lives of Palestinians. Both are equally precious, both deserve to live in peace and security. The New Planetary Consciousness which we teach in The TIKKUN COMMUNITY helps us recognize that every person is equally to be valued, and that none of us on this planet can expect a good life unless we do what we can to enhance the well-being of everyone else on the planet. Well, this is one place to start: lets protect both the Israeli and Palestinian people who are locked in a struggle from which they are unable to extricate themselves.
We start from a recognition that both sides have created this mess and that any discourse which seeks to stigmatize one side more than the other is deeply mistaken. Both sides continue to take decisions which are morally wrong and self-destructive. The Occupation and the construction of settlements has been misguided from the start, and the use of torture and house demolitions to sustain the Occupation guaranteed that it would be recognized as immoral by people around the globe. That 350 Israeli Defense Force Reserve officers now have signed a pledge refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza only confirms what everyone else could see—that there is no way for the Occupation to continue without daily violations of fundamental human rights. Let us be clear that Israel is using its power today to preserve the Occupation, not to preserve its safety. The Palestinians did not accept Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David, but they continued to negotiate and both sides were very close to an agreement at Taba in 2001 when Ariel Sharon was elected and refused to continue those negotiations. Arab states meeting last week reconfirmed what had been said before: if Israel is willing to return Arab lands conquered in 1967 and to work out a reasonable arrangement for refugees, Israel can live in peace and enjoy normal relations with surrounding Arab states. Ariel Sharon’s response was to launch a major escalation of the struggle, using as justification the disgusting act of terror by Hamas on Passover.
The Palestinians, in turn, have spurned the pleas of TIKKUN magazine and the Israeli peace movement—pleas to renounce violence and follow the successful path of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., a path of principled commitment to non-violence. The indispensable element for Palestinians to achieve their goals is for the Israeli people to believe that a Palestinian state would not be a stepping stone to further aggression. Only an ethos of nonviolence could convince them that Palestinians don’t secretly and sometimes not-so-secretly fantasize about the destruction of the Jewish people, a fantasy which becomes much more intense when Israelis are acting in murderous and oppressive ways as they are this very week of Passover. Instead, by allowing themselves to be seen as sympathetic to or unwilling to constrain acts of violence, the Palestinian people have played right into the hands of the most evil and hateful people in the Israeli Right wing.
Though we at THE TIKKUN COMMUNITY oppose the outrageous and disgusting acts of terror against Israelis, we know that the actual level of violence is small compared to the number of Israelis who die each year in automobile accidents. Israel is in no danger of going out of existence—it is the 4th largest military power in the world, and it faces a Palestinian people who have no tanks, no airplanes, no heavy artillery. And we know that those acts of terror were almost non-existent when the Oslo Accord was being implemented 1993-1995, and could be easily isolated and repressed if most Palestinians felt Israel was acting toward them in a generous and open-hearted and repentant way.
And though we are upset by random acts of violence and the rise of anti-Semitism in response to Israeli activities, we don’t believe that there is any short-term danger of a serious assault on Jews in the world. Though this could become more real the longer Israel is perceived as immorally repressing the Palestinian people and world Jewry is perceived as unthinkingly identified with those repressive and unjust policies.
No, the greatest danger to the Jewish people is spiritual and ethical: that we will stand by quietly and passively as we watch the country that calls itself “the state of the Jewish people” act in ways that are cruel and oppressive toward an entire people whom it has occupied and denied self-determination for the past 35 years. In this last week, Israel’s occupation has gone from obnoxious to criminal, and the people involved will be remembered in Jewish history as betrayers of the Jewish people and its highest moral and spiritual traditions. Jews did not climb out of the gas chambers of Europe to be oppressors of another people. The deepest values of our people have been shaped by the history of our own oppression; yet in the past weeks we’ve become brutalizers without constraints, without historical memory, without moral or spiritual moorings. Fifty years from now people will be studying this period and asking themselves: “How did people alive at this time allow themselves to go along passively with this terrible distortion in Jewish life?”
Israel is leading the Jewish people toward a full-scale abandonment of God’s message of love, justice, peace and the Unity of All Being. In order to be defenders of Israel, Jews are forced to forget everything we stood for as a people throughout our history.
And this is a real existential danger for the Jewish people. There is no way to pass on to future generations a Judaism whose message seems primitive, tribal, chauvinistic, insensitive to the needs of others, cold-hearted, lacking in a spirit of generosity and love. Few will choose to remain part of that kind of a Jewish people.
Of course, we also care about what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people—and reject its militaristic approach both on universal humanistic principles and because of our commitment to human rights.
So that’s why it is so important for us to become a Prophetic Witness to the possibility of another logic in the world besides the logic of fear of the Other, domination over others, and the kind of depressive powerlessness that leads many Jews and many Americans to say, “peace is impossible, so I’ll just keep quiet while Ariel Sharon does his thing.” We at the Tikkun Community represent the voice of those who are committed to a world based on gentleness and kindness, compassion and economic justice, peace and the recognition of the Spirit of God in every person.
And those ideals lead to the necessity of concrete action. That moment has come. We need to stand up and say loudly and clearly that we are not going to allow the Middle East craziness to continue without publicly disassociating ourselves from it. Our central demands: end the Occupation, recognize that both sides are wrong and both sides are responsible for the present mess. End the violence on both sides. Because the terror is outrageous and must end, and the Occupation is outrageous and must end. We call for the US to create and send troops to an international (possibly UN) force that would intervene, separate and protect Israel and the Palestinians from each other, insist that Israel withdraw to the pre-67 borders, that Palestinians stop all acts of terror, and that negotiations for a settlement of the conflict resume based on where they had arrived at Taba in January of 2002.
So, here is what you can do:
1. Join us in nonviolent civil disobedience around the demand for US participation in an international force that would separate the two sides, and restart the process to End the Occupation.
Would you be willing to come to Washington, DC on a few days notice to participate? There will be two groups: the support teams and the people submitting to arrest in a nonviolent way. Which of the two groups would you be part of? If you want to participate, please send a short note to me about who you are—locate yourself in social space. We may be creating a group of smaller affinity groups and we’d like to connect you with others in an intelligent manner, so tell us about yourself .
If you can’t come to DC, but would be willing to organize something like this in your own town, where is that, what kind of work do you do, and would you be willing to be the contact person for an action in your area? Would you be willing to leaflet a Jewish community federation office or a synagogue, a church or a mosque—or else go inside and raise these issues at a meeting or religious service? Would you be willing to create educational meetings about the Middle East (with material we send you) and invite leading “opinion shapers” in your community? When would you begin?
We insist on nonviolence and on respect for those who don’t agree with us. We want our means to be consistent with our ends: the creation of a social world in which people recognize each other as created in the image of God. We do that by insisting on seeing the God energy even in those who attack us—whether it be Palestinian fundamentalists with bombs, Israeli army personnel with their airplanes and tanks, or right-wing Jews who denounce us all as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. All of them, and everyone else including ourselves, embodies various levels of distortion and pain that have led them to act out in hurtful ways. Our response is committed to finding the good in each of them, recognizing that each has been created in the image of God, and that even haters can be moved when they face the testimony of people who remind them of their own highest ideals. So, while we will engage in acts of confrontation against the awful things being done in the name of the Jewish people and also in the name of the Palestinian liberation struggle, we do so with a spirit of love, compassion and affirmation of the fundamental goodness of the Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and everyone else on the planet. Let us be the world of love, generosity, and open-heartedness we wish to create. It is with that kind of energy that we intend to confront American policy makers and insist that the US use its power to create an immediate intervention to separate the forces and protect people on both sides. And then—insist on an End to the Occupation and a genuine peace. If you feel ambivalent about being part of a totally nonviolent demonstration, don’t even think of coming to this or working with us—because we only want people who can respond with the same kind of love and generosity of spirit that we are asking of Israel and the Palestinian people.
The TIKKUN COMMUNITY is the progressive pro-Israel alternative to AIPAC and the voices of the Jewish establishment and their mostly owned and controlled media. But we are more than that. Read our Core Vision at www.Tikkun.org and you will see that we are people committed to a whole new vision of the world, based on love, generosity, connection to the Unity of All Being, calling for a New Bottom Line, for corporate social responsibility and the Social Responsibility Amendment to the Federal Constitution, ecological sanity, economic justice, and a whole different way of organizing our lives together. We are both Jews and our non-Jewish allies, fighting for the highest ideals, rejecting the advice of the self-proclaimed “realists” who have made such a mess of our world because they abandoned their own highest ideals. We invite you to join The TIKKUN COMMUNITY.
2. OUTREACH TO THE MEDIA—give a different voice and more balanced perspective to the American public.
3. DONATE MONEY TO PURCHASE ADVERTISEMENTS—in support of ending the Occupation, ending the violence on both sides, and calling on the U.S. to create an international force to separate the two sides. Ads cost tens of thousands of dollars, but they can reach hundreds of thousands of people.
We’ve found that a full page ad can be very effective in shaping public discourse. Can you donate $1000, $500, $250, $100 or some other amount to help us pay for the publication of such an ad? Please let us know if we can use your name, or whether you’d give anonymously for the next ad.
4. HELP US BUILD The Tikkun Community. Will you do fundraising? media outreach? organize a group in your profession? Or come volunteer your time at our San Francisco office? Or work from home and use your skills to communicate our message to people in your community? Perhaps you have friends, relatives, coworkers who might want to spend a few months with us working at our national office in San Francisco, or building our national student conference October 11-14 in New York. Or perhaps they’d enjoy reading and talking about the latest analyses of what’s happening in the Middle East—written in TIKKUN Magazine? Or are you someone who would like to become more active—and then perhaps you’d benefit from our activists training at the gathering at the Walker Creek Ranch an hour north of San Francisco July 4-7, or at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck New York August 12-16. Whatever works best for you.
So this is how it will all happen—if you help us make it happen. Please don’t despair—we will move beyond this bleak hour of senseless killings. Some day people will look back on this moment and wonder how people could have been so crazy. I’m proud to be associated with you and people like you who will not allow their voices to be co-opted by the voices of hatred or despair.
Reprinted with permission from Rabbi Lerner who asked that we add his appeal to the Muslim community to join with the Tikkun community (read their founding statement at [url=http://www.tikkun.org]http://www.tikkun.org)[/url] and to join Tikkun’’s call for Israelis and Palestinians to reject all forms of violence and adopt the non-violent strategies of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
Last week I met with Taj Hargey, a Professor at Sarah Lawrence University who has taken a sabbatical to work full time to attempt to establish CRESCENT UNIVERSITY. I was impressed with his vision and commitment. They have located a wonderful property with 1,000 acres of land about an hour from NYC, on the main highway and the train line. They need to raise $8 million right away to pay for this land which would be the first step to making this project a reality, and which would be a property that could serve the long term needs of a university for a hundred years.
If you can help in any way please contact Professor Hargey at www.crescentuniversity.org or 914-773-2000