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Religious pluralism cannot be separated from the fight against occupation

As the 50th anniversary of the occupation draws near, those who consider themselves to be on the left cannot hide behind the battles that keep us in our comfort zone.

By Emily Hilton

Ultra-Orthodox Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis, along with Women of the Wall, from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound, Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis, along with Women of the Wall, from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound, Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Confrontations erupted at the Western Wall last week between security forces and activists from Reform and Conservative movement, after the activists broke through security barriers with torah scrolls in their arms, defying the ultra-Orthodox authorities that run the holy site.

The prayer rally was staged after the government failed to implement a resolution approved in January to create a pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

In the aftermath of the pandemonium, a global plea of solidarity was sent out to diaspora Jewry to help support religious pluralism in Israel.

As a passionate and proud Reform Jew, I feel strongly that a Jewish state should reflect a diversity of Jewish practice. Praying with Women of the Wall this past summer was easily one of the most meaningful religious experiences I have ever had.

Yet there was another incident of violence that took place against a different minority in Israel last week, one that the media all but ignored: Israeli authorities demolished the Bedouin village of Al-Aqarib for the 105th time.

At the Western Wall and at Al-Aqarib we saw similar examples of Jewish violence — of the grip that an extremist faction has on public life and discourse. Yet the mainstream Jewish press, both in Israel and abroad, did not seem as interested in the experiences of those who do not belong to that small group of extremists.

Residents of al-Araqib rebuild a structure demolished by Israeli authorities, January 16, 2011. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Residents of al-Araqib rebuild a structure demolished by Israeli authorities, January 16, 2011.
(Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

For the past several years, the demonstrations at the Western Wall have been led primarily by Women of the Wall — a godsend to the liberal Zionist diaspora. They allow us to feel like we are feminist human rights warriors striving for an Israel that is more tolerant and just. Why? Because supporting Women of the Wall means that we do not have to think about the occupation and still feel like we are living out Jewish democratic values. They are an easy rallying cry for diaspora Jewry, since they do not force us to consider our own complicity in oppression.

Having been involved with numerous liberal Zionist organizations for the last few years, the increasing intellectual separation of “internal” and “external” issues in Israel makes it even tougher to have conversations about 1967, let alone 1948. That warm, fuzzy feeling one gets from supporting a ‘good cause’ gives the impression of a free pass from having to fight against other forms of oppression.

After all it is so much easier to stand up for a woman wearing a talit (Jewish prayer shawl) as a liberal, left-leaning Jew in London than it is to stand up for the residents of Al-Aqarib. A woman in a talit does not challenge our connection to Israel; if anything it only seeks to reaffirm it. Human rights abuses against those who are our other make us feel guilty. That is why it is far less painful to make torah scrolls and angry ultra-Orthodox men the focus of our righteous indignation.

As the occupation continues to muddy the water of all aspects of Israeli and Palestinian society, breaking the Right’s grasp on internal Israeli conflicts could have an effect on issues of race and gender in the country. But this argument only holds true if the voices that cry out over Robinson’s Arch shout just as loudly about Al-Aqarib, Susiya, and Umm Al-Kheir. It is the responsibility of those of us abroad, as well as organizations like Women of the Wall, to use the privilege and power we wield to call for justice and dignity for all of the inhabitants of Israel-Palestine, not just those who are like us.

As the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War draws nearer, those who consider themselves to be on the liberal left cannot hide behind the battles that keep us in our comfort zone. There is nothing noble in griping about the lack of egalitarianism at the Western Wall while sitting back and sipping wine produced in West Bank settlements.

Emily Hilton is Jewish anti-occupation activist based in the UK. She was a delegate on the Centre For Jewish non-Violence  trip to the West Bank in July 2016. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyhilton.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bus189

      The article should be called: “How to get a society to lose all sympathy for a cause with one easy step”

      When reform/conservative Jews protest for more tolerance of different Jewish religious practices in Israel that is an internal Jewish conflict. They are fighting against the ultra-Orthodox, who aren’t exactly popular among most Israelis and thus can hope to achieve sympathy and support from most Israeli Jews. Once they side with the Arabs against Israel they would turn themselves into just another threat to the Jewish collective to be ignored, ridiculed, fought and defeated.

      Reply to Comment
    2. AJew

      Instead of protesting occupation, I would like those protestors to present their vision about HOW to end the occupation without risking the idea of a Jewish majority state.

      To protest is easy. To present ideas about the HOW is much harder. I think that most Israeli Jews would be willing to embrace PRACTICAL solutions. Negatives however? Like protests without any clues and ideas? Most of us are not in the business of being persuaded by such actions.

      NOTE
      The above is not a comment about sharing the Kotel. In principle, I support that idea but not if one group or another ends up trampling on the religious sensitivities of others by treating our holy site frivolously.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @AJew (from AnotherJew): Blue White Future, the Abraham Center For Middle East Peace and Commanders For Israel’s Security all endorse a more or less unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, they all have carefully thought out plans written up by former Mossad directors and such, they all have detailed position papers that discuss security issues. But many people won’t support their plans because they don’t require enough humiliation of the Palestinians (i.e., recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State”), they don’t involve phony “negotiations” between parties of unequal strength.
        http://en.cis.org.il/

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “But many people won’t support their plans because they don’t require enough humiliation of the Palestinians (i.e., recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State”)”

          I am not buying this already because:

          Recognising Israel as the Jewish nation state should not be humiliating for the Palestinians. So long as they say that it is, alarm bells ring in my head. As I said many times on other threads, there are literally hundreds of Christian and Muslim states out there and no one seems to object to those states. The fact that only the idea of a Jewish state humiliates them, does not bode well.

          Hey, the idea of the two state solution was always two states for two peoples. One state for Jews and another state for the Arabs. Each state can and should have minorities of Arabs and Jews respectively. In line with UN resolution 181 (but no return of descendants of refugees because that would destroy the Jewish majority and which has to date been a ploy by the Arabs to try and do exactly that).

          I said PRACTICAL plan Bruce. But you gave me a plan (no matter who it was written by) which ignores reality and which makes foolish compromises for the sake of compromising but which just sell us out and which have no hope of success).

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Recognising Israel as the Jewish nation state should not be humiliating for the Palestinians.”

            The obtuseness here, the lack of even cold, tactical empathy, is a gulf too wide to bridge, an arresting phenomenon, a fact of nature to be pondered by science.

            “…but no return of descendants of refugees” to our territory…but we get to transfer our population into their territory (which we knew was illegal from the start–Theodor Meron told us).” Right. Got it. Eminently plausible, Gustavus Flavius Josephus Maximus, Self-Appointed Spokesman for The Jews, eminently plausible. Brilliant, Sir.

            “I said PRACTICAL plan Bruce.”

            Spoken by the champion of the brilliantly impractical plan known as “In return for their recognizing a Jewish State, we get to keep Ariel; does that work for you?”

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “The obtuseness here, the lack of even cold, tactical empathy”

            Ben is describing himself again.

            Fact: the UN voted for two states. One Jewish state one Arab state. Not Israel and an Arab state.

            The Arabs rioted in response because they rejected the idea of the Jewish state. 68 years later they still find the idea of a Jewish state “humiliating” but they want us to withdraw and make it easier to prosecute their fight. Not bloody likely. No one would act differently if they would be in our shoes.

            If someone attacks me with a shovel because he claims that the shoes that I am wearing are his. If I manage to take his shovel off him and If that someone then starts yelping that he wants his shovel back and accuses me of theft if I make the return of the shovel conditional on his promise not to claim my shoes again but he refuses, I and most people would refuse to return the shovel till that individual regains his senses and promises not to demand my shoes again.

            Ben can do whatever he wants if he finds himself in such a situation. But if he gives back the shovel unconditianally, he might find himself without shoes and badly beaten up to boot ?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            By the way, the topic that I was discussing was the issue of recognition of the Jewish state by the Palestinians.

            So while it is ok for Ben to butt in but it would be nice if he wouldn’t always hijack the conversation with his other favorite accusations. Why? Because this is what it boils down to:

            Unless the Palestinians recognise the nation state of the Jewish state, nothing else can be discussed. I have already outlined why this is so.

            As for Ben’s hystrionics about me appointing myself as the spokesperson of the Jewish people. That ain’t really so. But I do represent one strand of opinion in Israel and even in the Jewish diaspora. And we are at least as entitled to voice our opinions as Ben is. In fact, maybe even more so since we live here. On the other hand, where does Ben live? Who does he represent? If he is an Arab, he too like me can voice his opinion but if not? If he is an outsider then why is he so biased? Could it be that he is just someone who hates Jews? And he attacks Israel in order to hurt Jews?

            Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Emily doesn’t face the fact that there is a lot of hypocrisy among these non-Orthodox activists. FIrst of all she is “based in the UK”, so no matter how passionate she feels about the struggle at the Kotel, she does’t feel “passionate enough” about it to actually make aliyah and fight for her position in person.
      Secondly, she says she opposes the settlements in the West Bank. How, exactly is the Kotel any different than these settlements which she doesn’t like? It is in what she and her fellow “liberal Zionists” consider “occupied territory”. Why is it important for her to be at the Kotel and at the same delegitimize Jewish settlement in other areas like Hevron where Jews have lived for thousands of years?
      Thirdly, the Reform and Conservative movements who claim to want to pray at the Kotel in their own way, have failed miserably to build communities throughout Israel where prayers are conducted the way they want. Forty years ago, there were about 40 Conservative congregations, today, they only have about 65. In the Conservative congregation in my town, they do not have daily services, even though one would think women would be breaking down the doors in order to pray with Tallit and Tefillin, like they demand at the kotel. Apparently, they can’t be bothered on a day-to-day basis.
      Thus, their struggle at the Kotel has nothing to do with “rights’ or “piety” but rather seem to be nothing more than making noise for the sake of provoking the Orthodox.

      Reply to Comment
      • Frank John

        “Why is it important for her to be at the Kotel and at the same delegitimize Jewish settlement in other areas like Hevron where Jews have lived for thousands of years?”

        My parents and their kin owned land in the Soviet Union which they legitimately purchased (in some cases from absentee landlords — sound familiar?). According to your way of thinking they should be able to go back there and reclaim their former property which was taken from them by the Communists. Is that right?
        It all depends on who has the guns and who will support them (in your case the US). There is an interesting recent book out by Grant, BIG ISRAEL, which all should read.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “My parents and their kin owned land in the Soviet Union which they legitimately purchased (in some cases from absentee landlords — sound familiar?).”

          Absentee landlords in the Soviet Union? Sounds like a tall story to me.

          Go on Frankie, tell us some more porkies ?

          Reply to Comment
    4. Liz

      Israel’s policies are interconnected, based on a disregard for democracy. Single issue rights groups should never ignore the wider picture.

      Reply to Comment

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