On Alice Walker, Judaism, and Palestine

By looking to the Jewish religion as the source of Israeli cruelty, Walker is making two significant errors. 1. Pathologizing Judaism itself, instead of the larger problem of religions in general and how they are used to justify supremacy ideology. and 2. Ascribing religion as the central motive for apartheid when many Jews who support the Zionist state are not religious, and many Jews who stand with Palestine are religious.

I deeply disagree with both the gist and substance of this comment, and frankly, consider this to be an excellent example of the kind of gatekeeping way too many Jewish American and Jews in the world make.

Unfortunately, you CANNOT separate Judaism from israel, no matter how hard you – or other apologists (and yes, I mean it when I say apologists) try. Israel may have been founded by socialists from eastern Europe who were secular to the bone. The founders and the earlier arrivals in israel in the 40’s were indeed keep to discard much of the “baggage” of Judaism, including its reactionary shtetl culture. And yes, many, like myself, grew up in a secular israel where the Talmud was considered a serious anachronism, a pointless boring set of arcane and archaic, rather primitive bit of mumbo-jumbo. Furthermore, the ones who were raised in israel – that earlier israel of the 50’s to ’70s, actually did not even like to think of themselves as Jews. They were, to their own minds, Israelis.

Still, that ultra-secular israel of ben Gurion et al, saw fit to have the halacha – adocument every bit as archaic as the Sharia – part of the law of the land. That as time went on, israel became more and more wedded to religion is hardly surprising, given the ill-considered beginnings which failed to separate church and state. making Israel a very very un-American kind of place.

When I first arrived in the US and met Jewish Americans I felt next to no kinship. They were, to me, basically Americans, who had something to do with a jewish history (most of which I had, by then, mercifully forgotten, since it was – again, to me – an unbelievably boring history. I was much more interested in learning about Vikings and the early Russ and the Cowboy culture). Some would even go to synagogs, places to which I had no more affinity than I had to churches (ie, pretty paintings and painted glass are fine. Choral music too).

But, later it became clear that the jews of the US have a strange affinity to that shetetl mentality, which we the israelis, have put behind us (or so we thought. Or rather, i thought). The invented something they called “Tikun Olam” as a foundational belief principle, which frankly, to me was simply a cultural appropriation of some deeply Christian notion. I grew up with no notion of Tikun or much respect for the “olam” part.

I now, after some decades, and further study of what judaism was (a subject I was supposedly taught, if only i cared to pay the slightest attention to dusty old tales of some rabbis) came to the conclusion that yes, Judaism IS and DOES bear responsibility for the cruelty Israel commits and the atrocities they visit upon humans in their midst day in and day out. Judaism, that vague thing I tried very hard to ignore while growing up, did have a streak of contempt towards non-Jews. It just did. The contempt and spite towards the non-Jewish is the LEADING THEME of the Old testament. The prohibitions upon “mixing” with the “pagans” or “indigenous populations’ of biblical times were the over-arching theme of nearly ALL the prophets. And the “never mix” part was also a dominant theme and a very important reason jews did not even try to leave the shtetls, even when opportunities were there (which were, if one cares to read history honestly rather than through the lens of eternal persecution).

That “prophetic judaism” American jews sometimes like the talk about and wave as a “humanistic flag”? it was not there, not in the original hebrew/Aramaic, and not in the Talmudic interpretations. people Like marc Ellis bring up that “tradition”, and I have no quarrell with reinventing a tradition and ascribing to it meanings that were never there. heck, all religions do that, and there’s no harm in adapting old words to new times. But to maintain that humanism, as we understand it, was a dominant theme in Judaism is nonsense. That it wasn’t, though there were plenty of admonitions to be nice to other jews, and if possible exercise what I now call “political correctness’ when dealing with gentiles.

Humanism WAS introduced into judaism, starting in the 18th century (and please don’t tell me about maimonides!), just as it was being introduced into Christianity, as part and parcel of the enlightenment. That enlightenment was fashioned, described, promulgated, and eventually adopted by non-Jews. That’s a historical fact, even if one wants to bring up a Moses Mendelsson or a Spinoza.

So, having gone off on this little tangent, I’ll take up again Schulman’s points:

1. pathologizing Judaism does have a historical basis in jewish history, in the sense, that yes, it did teach supremacy and yes, this is what jews believed up until the exit from the rabbi-controlled shtetls. Enlightenment has greatly softened these pathological elements,but deep in the soul of many jewish people – and woven through the entirety of Israel’s Jewish conciousness – is the belief that yes, we are superior, even if we can’t admit the existence of the belief even to ourselves.

Even I, who tried to deconstruct whatever I could, still have remnants of that pathology. I am big enough to confess it, and think it’s a good idea to admit it, because out in the open is the only way to fight such notions. But people like Schulman have to do it too. Even if its hard for them.

So yes, Judaism does bear a responsibility for the policies of israel. The religion itself does, even if fine souls like Schulman believe they have expounged those elements.

2. Schulaman is right when stating ascribing religion as the main villain in rationalizing apartheid is an overreach. But I’d say she is not looking deep enough into israel’s CURRENT (not so much past) mentality which suffused the supremacist elements that were always present in Judaism into the israeli militant gestalt. Israel as it is currently is the true inheritor of the maccabbi zealot ideology – and the biblical zealotry that drove Joshua – where religion is used to justify cruelty right along with military necessity.

I do understand that American jews may not want any part of this military/religious ideology and are perfectly happy to criticize it severly. After all, it’s not exactly an attractive trait. But they cannot continue to hide under the umbrella of a “holier than thou” mentality just because they are pro-Palestinians and contribute to Tikkun Olam.

What Alice walker saw was there, even if she is making the mistake of stating what she saw and understood while not-Jewish. And the way she is being treated now (cf. the Spinoza treatment) is an absolute abomination, given the contributions she has made to the palestinians’ cause.

And I would go further and say, it wasn’t just the palestinian cause she helped. It was also the jewish cause, as she is speaking truth to [Jewish] power and showing the way to rescue what humanism is left in Judaism to Jews who’d rather not think about certain disturbing issues.

I says, make Alice walker an honorary Rabbi!

PS I consider myself an ex-Israeli, though unlike a certain person with first name starting with G I wouldn’t call myself an ex-Jew, because as a once israeli I never thought of myself as jewish anyways, so there’s nothing to be ‘ex” about. Also, labels are silly.

Source Article from https://mondoweiss.net/2018/12/walker-judaism-palestine/

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