I am mining and sharing a treasure trove of documents from the files of Allan Solomonow. Most of his papers and recollections pertain to efforts to resolve the conflict in Palestine/Israel. From as early as the 1960s, Allan has been working on all parties involved in the Middle East, especially private and governmental entities in the United States to listen to one another and come together for the good of the people in the region. As a Jew and as a long time staff member of the American Friends Service Committee, Allan has collected myriad articles, meeting notes, conference agendas, reports of peace delegations to the region and material related to tours of peacemakers visiting the United States.
I will share pieces of documents that touch me, that make me consider how close we have come to a broader understanding of the competing interests that each side needs to hear from the other’s perspective. You may cringe with me at the thought that if only so-and-so hadn’t subverted some effort, all would have worked out long ago.
The views expressed in some of the uncovered documents are astounding. Some are notable because they expose the longstanding, insidious nature of racist attitudes and propaganda that have existed for a long time in the establishment Jewish community in the United States and Israel. It can be easily argued that Israeli leaders and political parties have actually precluded any peaceful resolution because they truly haven’t wanted to respect the needs or rights of the Palestinian people. I have been amazed at the insightful, aware statements by some commentators within the American Jewish community but their inability (unwillingness?) to push for more honest brokering.
Because the US media, politicians and general public blame the Palestinians (be it the Palestinian Authority or the PLO before it, its leaders, its rogue elements, Hamas, its leaders its rogue elements or just the Palestinian people themselves) as the de facto impediment to peaceful coexistence, I am focusing on the examples in which the racism, Islamophobia and support for violating Palestinian human rights are expressed, to show that the problem has been at least as much the fault of the hateful, dishonest intransigence of American Jews and the Zionist establishment.
Understanding this history won’t be enough to shift the discourse to a more honest view of the situation, but without accepting that these attitudes have had a terrible influence on peace efforts over the years, I don’t know that justice and righteousness will be able to flow. I hope that what isn’t new will be seen in an historical light. Steps taken may be small, they may be infinitesimal, they may take us in the wrong direction, but many of them aren’t baby steps in that this work isn’t newly born. If we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (to mix metaphors for a moment), we need to honor the work and vision, and sadly, the longstanding prejudices that must be acknowledged to be overcome.
This first piece I want to discuss is from 1971, from the Joint Message to the 82nd Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis by Roland Gittelsohn (President) and David Polish (Vice President). This is no leftie document; very mainstream, but importantly, they already were challenging Jewish communities to discuss with dissenters more fully and honestly. To be sure, they decry much of what I hold dear and what motivates me as I work against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. They don’t want Jewish destiny left in my hands or leftists like Jerry Rubin, the Black Panthers or Noam Chomsky. “While adhering to our hardwon positions on race and peace, we urge this Conference to reject the flagrantly hostile policies of those movements on the Left or Right, in the White community or the Black, in Jewish and non-Jewish life, which make common cause with Israel’s enemies and the enemies of the Jewish people.” They also consider “Israel’s greatest non-military asset is its moral sensitivity which has not broken down under stress of conflict.”
I have been less than impressed by the Jewish establishment’s “hardwon positions on race and peace”, and consider Israel’s moral sensitivity a tragically popular myth. I also question their record deciding who is an ally and who is an enemy of either Jews or Israel. I see Zionists colluding with racists and anti-Semites far more than I ever do. They’re taking advantage of the fears and wealth of Jewish elites to oppress Palestinians. Gittelsohn and Polish dismiss as outrageous, charges of racism and colonialism leveled against the Jewish State, but over the last 40+ years, those charges seem more and more relevant and prophetic. They decry the singling out of Jewish nationalism or Zionism as the only bad nationalism, a problem in the left that is overstated by the right.
What hasn’t happened in as honest a way as necessary is something they called for in their recommendations to reform rabbis to implement in their synagogues. One of the key passages that Allan had underlined in the pamphlet version of the Joint Message was
- The greatest culprit in suppressing dissent is a large sector of the American Jewish Community itself, reinforced by its Israel-oriented establishments. We seek to make honorable debate on Israel possible, not to satisfy the vulgar motive of establishing our credibility in Washington, but to redeem American Jewry from an industrial-military complex mentality. The American Jewish Community has amply demonstrated impassioned concern for Israel, but this concern rarely rises above the adulation of Israel’s power.
The passage continues:
- Misguided dependence upon that alone, essential as it is to Israel’s survival, can result in a Jewry which is dangerously self-deceived, arrogant, desensitized, and ultimately a danger to Israel itself. When Zionist bodies openly and officially embrace America’s most reactionary politicians who would betray Israel overnight if it suited their purposes, and when organized American Jewry does not demur, there is peril to all of us and to our spirit. American Jewry must come of age. It must be no less zealous in fighting for the survival of its soul than is the Jewry of Israel.”
I don’t know what Gittlesohn and Polish would think of the current level of discourse in the United States or Israel. They didn’t want reform congregations to abstain or stifle questions because they could see that such efforts as Jewish Voice for Peace and the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network would necessarily step up to facilitate the solidarity with Palestinians that really flows from our prophetic tradition of justice for all, and the proper lesson of the Nazi Shoah or holocaust: that we must not let such barbarity exist, and we certainly must guard against elements in our own society which seem hell-bent on carrying them out ourselves.