Monday, March 19, 2012

A Response to Peter Beinart from Fran Gordon

A Response to Peter Beinart 
by Fran Gordon

Like many, I cringed when I read Peter Beinart's essay "To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements."  Unlike Mr. Beinart, however, as I write my response to his challenging piece, I do not cringe.  As opposed to a pincer, my counteroffensive to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a performance of "Sacred Rights, Sacred Song" - A Concert of Concern.  The aim of this creative arts project is to strengthen the modern Jewish democracy through music and song.  Avoiding the problematic B.S.D. campaign, I am leading a movement to engage American Jews to be in a "vigorous embrace of democratic Israel."   Like Mr. Beinart, I am a committed Jew, owning a second home in Jerusalem, I belong to a Masorti congregation in Beachwood, Ohio, sent my children to Jewish school and having just married off my 21 year old daughter in a traditional Orthodox wedding, have obviously instilled in my children a  devotion to the Jewish people.  However, unlike Mr. Beinart, my activism on behalf of Israeli democracy, is not a painful, unnatural act.  Rather, my response is a proactive invitation to American Jews to join with Israelis in the social change movement that I call the modern Jewish Democracy Movement.  The name of my counteroffensive is The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project.

While I agree with Mr. Beinart's assertion that the "counteroffensive must begin with language," I would shift the focus of the conversation from distinguishing between "democratic Israel" and "nondemocratic Israel."  This is a harmful conversation and mires modern Zionists in the complexities of the geopolitical, strategic, and military morass presented by settlements, especially those such as Ariel.  Rather than place those who believe in a democratic Jewish state "between the jaws of a pincer", I invite modern Zionists to strengthen Israeli democracy by joining forces with leaders such as Anat Hoffman.  Since her days as a member of Jerusalem's City Council, Anat has been advocating for a Jewish state that reflects the vision of Israel's founders which Mr. Beinert quotes in his essay:  one that "ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex."

Mr. Beinart may well respond that my concern with freedom of religious expression for all Jews, regardless of sex or style of observance, and my concern with the treatment of women in the public sphere, segregated buses, chained women, unequal distribution of taxpayer resources and other such social issues does not measure up to the issues of the settlements.  Perhaps not.  But frankly Mr. Beinart, I prefer to be active in a place that doesn't place me "between the jaws of a pincer."  I am inviting American Jews and Israeli Jews to be involved in conversations about the nature of the Public Judaism of the Jewish State.  Rather than speak about "religious pluralism" and the overempowerment of the Chief Rabbinate, I suggest that we speak about "spiritual civil rights".  We should be drawing the analogy between the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's in America to the internal struggle to protect the spiritual/civil right of the vast majority of Jews in the Jewish world to enjoy being Jewish in the Jewish State.   We should begin to demand a Public Jewish Law that reflects the best of Jewish tradition, one that enshrines and encodes the Core Values of the Jewish People into the civil law of the State of Israel, leaving strict Orthodox law to the private realm where it will not suffocate "the hope of a Jewish democratic state." 

Finally, I maintain that strengthening the Israeli middle in this manner will prepare the Israeli public for the two-state solution.  For Mr. Beinart to claim that "Through its pro-settler policies, Israel is forging one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea" is just false.  I leave the refuting of that claim to the Israeli government.  I do maintain, however, that strengthening Israeli democracy in a way that is proactive, creative, engaging and otherwise constructive is a much better alternative than the type of Zionism that Mr. Beinart suggests.  I invite those interested in  The Sacred Rights, Song Project to visit the website.  More importantly, I invite Mr. Beinart to consider engaging in a positive, productive conversation with the pro-Israel community rather than one that places him "between the jaws of a pincer."