Saturday, September 10, 2005


Rabbi Lerner - Mazin Qumsiyeh: a virtual debate

from the Tikkun website, followed up by email postings:

A careful reader of a Tikkun Mail piece rightly corrected an error I made in the formulation of my criticism of the withdrawal. While subsequent events (the escalation of settlement activity in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem) demonstrate the basic point made in that communication, that the withdrawal is largely for the purpose of ending pressure on Israel to return to the 67 borders, the criticism of a Tikkun reader deserve attention. And the response of Palestinian advocate below that are also interesting. Check out both: you can here. (I am only putting up the parts relevant to the Lerner- Qumsiyeh "dialogue").

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Since the Zionist program started, the idea of coexistence and living together with the people of the land was supported by the majority of Palestinians and opposed by all political Zionists (cultural Zionists like Martin Buber and Judas Magnes had different opinions, as did non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews). The problem with the settlers is not that they are Jews but that they are/were racist thieves (if they were Bohemians or Bahai or Buddists, they would be hated just the same).

Never the less, I myself do not think it would be possible nor feasible to either evacuate the 450,000 settlers in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) or to put them as citzens of a fictional proposed Palestinian state (a bantustan). Gaza settlers are <2%> 1967 etc). If we do that, then the solutions become obvious and meaningful. That is what I discuss in detail in my book "Sharing the Land of Canaan" (sharing is a key word here :-)

As for tearing the houses down, I am afraid once you decide to vacate from illegal colonies, psychologically the Israeli government cannot leave such houses for Palestinians. It is a shame actually.

Anyway, my view is coexistence not "us here, them there". Palestinians under occupation/colonization for decades are understandably happy to see any of their oppressors just leave. I am sure if there is real parity in the situation, the feeling would not be like this. It is a byproduct of political Zionist ideology. 99.999% of the people got along regardless of religion before Zionism and they can do so after Zionism (dare we dream of a post-Zionist world). Palestine has always welcomed others and integrated them (Armenians, Circasians, Druze, Ethiopians, Jews and others fleeing persecution).

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Michael Lerner
I certainly share the goal of peaceful coexistence. But I also know that the historical experience of the Jewish people is one of the few powerful arguments I know for keeping a nation state in tact. Given that experience, there are very few Israelis who would agree to have their state merged into a larger reality in which Jews would soon be a minority. As long as there are nation states, minority groups that have previously faced severe oppression and genocide have a strong case for having one of their own, and particularly those groups who already have a state of their own won in the immediate aftermath of surviving genocide. So, I believe that those who support Palestinian rights but can only see them achieved through the elimination of Israel are more likely to prolong rather than shorten the suffering of the Palestinian people--an outcome I seek to avoid by supporting the Geneva Accord's vision of a 2 state solution. I believe that there is considerable evidence of there being a significant majority in both Israel and Palestine for such a solution, and exactly zero support in Israel for a solution based on eliminating the state of Israel. If I were Sharon, I'd be funding one-staters or bionational staters, whether they hope to achieve that goal through violence (Hamas) or through political argument and dialogue (which I take to be Mazin Qumsiyeh's postion), because I'd understand that it is precisely this fear of the elimination of Israel in the aftermath of any peace deal that moves so many Israeli voters to support right-wing politics and a prologation of the Occupation.

There is a part of me, however, that wants to see an end to all nation states and reconfiguration of the planet along different lines altogether--lines of ecological districts aimed at mobilizing people for the major challenge facing the human race: the rectification of 150 years of environmentally irresponsible forms of industrialization. Here is what the Tikkun Community Core Vision says on this point:

Although we do not support any form of nationalism as an ultimate good, we understand why, in this historical moment, the Jewish people need a state of our own. With memories of the murder and genocide of our people still fresh and the perception that we would have been far less vulnerable had we had a state and an army—with the persistence of virulent anti-Semitism in the world today—the Jewish people cannot be asked to be the first to voluntarily eliminate the protections of the nation state. That’s why, at this point in time, the TIKKUN Community is supporting a two-state rather than a bi-national solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis, even though some members of our community believe that such a bi-national state is the only way to achieve social justice for Palestinians. After what Jews have been through, it is not reasonable to expect them to be the first to give up the protections of an armed state. On the other hand, we see nationalism as a perverting influence in Jewish life—and one that must be overcome. So we do hope Israel will become one of the first 20 percent of countries of the world to overcome the trappings of national chauvinism, militarism, and excessive focus on boundaries-—say, for example, after the United States, Russia, China, Japan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, India, Pakistan, England, France, Germany, Italy, Egypt, Poland, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Africa have pioneered that path by abolishing borders and accomplished full disarmament. Until then, the Jewish people have a right to their own state, which we hope will eventually move in the direction of confederation with Palestine and Jordan for economic and political cooperation.

So our short term position is for a two state solution, as long as it is implemented in a spirit of generosity and open-heartedness, repentance and atonment on both sides for the cruel and destructive ways that each side has treated the other, and a true desire for mutual reconciliation. Our long term solution is not a one state solution but a no state solution--dissolving existing states into a different form of organization based on the planet's environmental needs.

and thus ends the web page, which continues in email version from Qumsiyeh:
Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun asked me a question about demolishing colonial/settler houses in Gaza and if settlers could have become citizens in the "Palestinian state". My response followed by Lerner's additional comments responding to the idea of coexistence and bringing up other issues.

Lerner's additional comments argue that a human rights advocates help right wing policies and that the human rights argument is about eliminating Israel. This is simply not true. A human rights agenda is about eliminating racism and discrimination no more and no less. How could any rational human being support rejecting the right of refugees to return to their homes and lands because they are not Jewish while accepting that any Jew including converts get automatic citizenship? How could anyone support forced demographic engineering?

Don't we all agree to basic human rights? In South Africa, removing apartheid and giving the native blacks their rights was not about eliminating South Africa, it was about basic human rights and equality. For a detailed discussion/debate on these issues, please read this exchange between Rabbi Lerner and Dr. Abu Sitta:

My plea to Rabbi Lerner is to read the excellent book of Marc Ellis "Out of the Ashes" (Ellis is a Jewish theologian at Baylor) and for us to join together as one human family working for true equality and justice rather than "us here, them there".


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