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"All Things Considered" Israel commentary

There's an old joke about the Jews that goes something like this: “Eight Jews in a room, twelve opinions...” That's because my people not only love to argue, but also pride themselves at looking at all sides of any question.

At times like these though, our community closes up as tight as a drum. There is a tacit understanding that expressing any criticism of Israel whatsoever is just “not good for the Jews.” There is an expectation that we Jews will keep any disagreements strictly “within the family” and speak with a unified voice to the outside world.

My current fear of expressing opinions contrary to the Jewish mainstream brings up a memory from my childhood. Sneaking out of the sanctuary of the synagogue on a Sabbath morning, I hoped no one would see me pop a dime into the pay phone to make a quick call. We weren't supposed to handle money on the Sabbath, and it seemed that no matter my stealth, some grownup enforcer appeared right on cue to scold me and send me back to my father. It did absolutely no good to try to explain why I was using the phone--that there was illness in the family-- the rules were the rules!

Well, I've got that dime in my fist again, and this time I'm going to use it! To raise my voice, as an American Jew, in support of an end to the disastrous occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This occupation is wrong and I believe that defending it is killing the soul of the Jewish people. I can't stop the Palestinian extremists but I can try to stop my people from creating the conditions that fuel their rage. Yes, we as Jews have suffered enormously. Yes, there is still anti-semitism in the world. But our oppression only gives us the right to liberate ourselves, not to oppress another people. We must negotiate a just and lasting peace.

Permit me to place just one more reel from my childhood in the projector... It's the one of my father being honored by our congregation for his heroism as an American pilot who went to Israel to fight in the War of Independence.

After flying bombers in the Second World War, he came home to Long Island determined to find a way to help bring a Jewish state into being. In 1947, he was recruited by the Jewish Underground to fly smuggled airplanes in order to assemble a rag-tag airforce. Shot down over the Gaza Strip, he spent a year in Al Mazza Prison, just outside of Cairo.

Fast forward to 1994. He is seventy-two and in extremely ill health. I don't know it at the time, but it will be our last visit. Yet, as we sit in the hospital visiting room he still wants to talk politics! We have our usual debate about the American labor movement and then move into the Middle East and the Oslo Accords. I am expecting a fight. But then he drops the dime.

He says: “I realize now that it was not 'a land without a people for a people without a land.' It is time for the Israelis and for American Jews to support a Palestinian state.”

I agree with my father.



These comments were heard on National Public Radio's “All Things Considered” on April 11, 2002. To read or listen to them or hear the entire broadcast, click here.
Type: Essay

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