Friday, October 22, 2010

Choosing Authenticity over Honesty

Lots of people care about being authentic. In a cultural or religious context, some people are positively obsessive about it. In Jewish circles, this can manifest in different ways-- be it the Reform struggle over what a Reform prayer service "should" look like, or the Orthodox infighting in Israel over whose conversions are (or aren't) acceptable. Throwing his hat into the ring this week is eminent leap-before-he-looks master Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. I admit before going into this that I have a strong anti-Shmuley bias, not because he's always wrong but because he's always so damn full of himself. That said, let's hear Shmuley educate us about "Living Judaism in the West Bank."

To start, Shmuley wants you to know he objects to the word settlers.
The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom the world derisively describes as settlers - as if Jews living in their own ancient capitol are newcomers - is their warmth, friendliness, and hospitality. 
This, of course, is pure politics. The fact that Hebron is an ancient Jewish site has zero ramifications on its Jewish occupants' legal status, which is at issue. Neither, incidentally, does the fact that they were friendly and said hi.
All around us children were playing, utterly carefree, on pristine playgrounds. So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror attacks over the years. Yet the residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid. They are also liberated from hatred.
Ah yes, that must be why we never hear about any conflict in Hebron. Nope, not ever.
When their friends die - as did the four two weeks ago - they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them, and get on with their lives. There are no calls for revenge attacks, there are no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay.
Except when they machine-gun a college, attach bombs to buses, attack foreign volunteers, NGOs and diplomats visiting Palestinians, break into people's houses and beat them to a pulp, desecrate Muslim graves, or just go rioting in the streets. You know, little things like that. Honestly, Shmuley, do you just not do basic research, or do you not expect us to bother with Google? Look, either you're stupid, gullible, or just a terrible liar. Those are your choices, decide now.

Shmuley goes over the tragic history of Hebron (no argument here), and points out that the Muslim residents are not exactly friendly to their Jewish neighbors. Fair enough. However, the argument that the settlers' biggest problem is that the media hates them-- as opposed to the decades of ongoing, double-sided violence which anyone can look up and verify for themselves-- is nothing but blatant partisanship.

There are no fluctuations in the commitment to pray by the graves of those who gave the world monotheism.
Yet these residents have been demonized by the entire world. They face daily character-assassination in the media by those who would decry their simple desire to walk in the footsteps of Abraham. 

Oh please. Sorry Shmuley, the settlers aren't saints. They're real people, making real choices, and some of them, frankly, are bad ones. They're armed, hostile, and antagonistic. I'm not saying I wouldn't be some of those things if I was in their shoes (though, personally, I would never put my family through such a situation), but let's at least call an automatic-rifle-wielding spade a spade.
Abraham, at whose tomb I prayed with my children tonight, is the father of all peoples, Jew and Arab alike. The Arabs are my brothers, equal children of G-d in every respect. And Arabs and Jews must learn to live peacefully together in the land. 
Quite right, which is part of what makes the Hebron situation so upsetting and painful. On an ideological level, I agree with Shmuley that well-meaning Jews and Muslims should, in principle, have the right to live where they want as part of the two-state solution. However, let's also think about what this entails: In any final status agreement, Hebron will be part of a Palestinian state. If the settlers' real attachment to Hebron is its religious significance, and not as part of a political stance or ideology, this would mean committing to becoming Jewish citizens of a Palestinian state. I have yet to see or read any evidence that indicates any members of the Hebron community think this way. They are not interested in being part of a two-state solution, certainly not in Hebron. Part of the settlers' raison d'etre in Hebron (or at least a very satisfying side-effect) is the smug knowledge that their presence acts as a permanent spoiler to Palestinian sovereignty in the city. Any appeal to "tolerance" is mere cynical sophistry. To have Shmuley parrot these recycled arguments as if he's discovered some new truth is both boring and pathetic.
It is not the spiritual-seeking settlers who threaten the peace, but rather the murderous groups of Hezbollah and Hamas, who wish to make all of Israel judenrein.
Again, you're either being disingenuous or incredibly naive, take your pick.
Could it really be that a community who simply wish to live aside the earthly remains of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, are obstacles to peace?
As long as they see themselves as human Israeli "outposts" whose job is to preclude a Palestinian state, yes. By definition.
But don't take my word for it. The next time you're in Israel, come and immerse yourself in the city chosen by Abraham as the eternal resting place for a wife he so loved to forever rest in peace.
And there you have it: anyone who opposes the Hebron community does so because they hate that Jews, especially religious Jews, are living in a place that has historical and religious significance to Judaism. It has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with the settlers' own questionable behavior or troublesome ideology, it's all anti-semitic, anti-Israeli, and anti-Orthodox bias. To Shmuley, the mere fact that the settlers are living in Hebron (and, of course, that they were nice to him) already seems to elevate them. They aren't hardliners, they're spiritual. They aren't intractable, they're committed to "walking in the footsteps of Abraham." The way Shmuley tells it, the Hebronites are hippies on a commune, as opposed to hardcore radicals whose beliefs, actions, and choices continue to cause massive problems for their neighbors and fellow citizens. In short, Shmuley sees the settlers as good, authentic Jews, living where Jews "should" live. Everything else, even terrorism against their neighbors, is secondary (i.e., doesn't exist).

Take my advice, Shmuley: drink less Kool-aid. Even if it's kosher.


scazon said...

Part of the settlers' raison d'etre in Hebron (or at least a very satisfying side-effect) is the smug knowledge that their presence acts as a permanent spoiler to Palestinian sovereignty in the city.


I would even extend it further: part of the raison d'etre of many settlers in all of the West Bank (sorry, Judea and Samaria) is to be a spoiler, to create preexisting facts on the ground that will make the entire concept of an independent, whole, sovereign Palestinian state a nonstarter. (Admittedly, some settlers are there for other reasons, mostly having to do with cheap housing, but the ideology can't be very far away from the minds of most of them, of of the government officials who enable them.)

To these people, Israel doesn't need a two-state solution. Or rather, the two-state solution it needs, it already has: a strong independent Israel, and an Israeli Palestine that Israelis can go be Israelis in and Palestinians should just shut up and take it or move to Jordan. Anyone who denies that the settlers and the settler movement are a huge obstacle to peace is blinded, willingly or not, by some variation of this philosophy.

Friar Yid said...

One of my big questions about the settler population these days is about how many "pragmatic" settlers are still left. I know there were a sizable number before the Gaza pullout. I fear that their numbers may have decreased as the movement has continued to circle its wagons and accuse the government of "hating" them. If I had to guess, I'd say that as a general rule, folks closer to the Green Line probably tend to be somewhat less ideological, along perhaps with people from more secular and/or more established settlements, as opposed to ones which are most, if not entirely, Orthodox and/or deep in West Bank territory.

One thing I'm pretty sure about is that no one moves to Hebron for the fringe benefits.