Recently in Israel and the American Jewish community, those who think they are "in charge" of Jewish life have tried to clamp down on opinions that challenge their own.
This is clearly rooted in two fears:
Fear that despite Israel's far superior power, it faces persistent danger from Palestinian rage and terrorism and from "misplaced" sympathy of others for the Palestinian underdogs; and
Fear that those in charge of "official" Jewish institutions in Israel or America are actually less and less in control of events and opinions in actual flesh-and-blood Jewish communities, because people they can't control have begun to speak their own truth.
In Israel, these fears have led to efforts to muzzle the non-governmental organizations (like the New Israel Fund and recipients of its funding) that challenge the government's behavior toward human rights; to denounce and cripple groups that document specific cases in which specific Israeli soldiers committed acts that may have been war crimes; and to slander people (even committed Zionists like Judge Richard Goldstone) who challenge the government's refusal to create an independent commission, as provided by law, to investigate such charges.
In America, these fears have also led to efforts at muzzling non-official views. Let us examine, for example, two recent cases in the Bay Area, which is said to be one of the most "liberal" Jewish communities in the US:
In one, the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation responded to the showing of a film about Rachel Corrie in the local Jewish Film Festival by adopting a code of what ideas were allowed to be expressed and what were forbidden, in Jewish venues they fund. (Corrie, an American who was using direct nonviolent resistance against demolition of Palestinian homes, was killed by a bulldozer in whose path she stood. Some witnesses said the killing was deliberate; others, that it was an accident.) For the story and a response to it by the founders of the Jewish Film Festival, see here.
Three weeks later, just across the Bay in Berkeley, some unknown person who made clear his/her right-wing opinions about Israel vandalized the house of Rabbi Michael Lerner. S/he glued to the house placards and cartoons denouncing Lerner for supporting Judge Richard Goldstone.
Lerner had joined with 37 other rabbis in writing Goldstone their sorrow that threats to disrupt the service in which his own grandson was to become Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, were keeping him from attending. Their letter to Goldstone also supported his report concerning charges that both the Government of Israel and the Hamas government of Gaza had committed war crimes during the Gaza War. Goldstone provided strong evidence that both governments had indeed committed war crimes, and called for each to create fully independent investigations. Neither has done so, and the Israeli government and its toadies in America have mounted vicious personal attacks on Goldstone. (Full disclosure: I was also among the 39 Rabbis. Click here for the rabbis' letter to Goldstone and a brief note on the upshot of that process.
Lerner and his magazine Tikkun noted that the vandalism focused on the Goldstone connection. I would add that it may be no accident that Lerner lives in Berkeley, just across the Bay from San Francisco. Once the "centrist" or even "liberal' establishment puts its kosher stamp on stamping out debate, violence is very likely to follow.
In the great archetypal tale of top-down, irresponsible, unchecked power –- the biblical tale of Pharaoh – the Torah says that when Pharaoh first felt challenged, he made life even worse for the Israelite workers, hoping to terrorize them into submission. ("Bricks without straw!" came the order.) Some gave in; Moses, Aaron, and Miriam did not. And ultimately, many Israelites chose to defy the oppressive system by smearing blood upon their doorways.
That act of bravery turned the doorway into a birth canal -- lined with blood as every human is born through a birth canal lined with blood. A second birthing, into freedom.
Like Pharaoh responding to an unprecedented challenge to his power, those "in charge" of official Jewish life in Israel and America have attacked those who have challenged them. One of them, Alan Dershowitz, has made himself into the Jewish Joe McCarthy, calling Lerner, Goldstone, the liberal Jewish lobby J Street blood libellers against the Jewish people, anti-Semites, even would-be repeaters of the Holocaust.
His words and those even of the "liberal" San Francisco official leadership give license to physical attacks like the vandalism of Rabbi Lerner's home. Those who smeared and glued their threats upon the Lerner family's doorway were turning upside down the ancient act of freedom, when Israelites chose to smear the blood of their own lambs upon their own doorposts.
This reversal is a symbolic attempt at imposing death rather than choosing birth –- and it is not likely to stay only symbolic forever. It attempts to glue us into our old houses, the tight and narrow space (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word "Mitzrayyim, Egypt"), the space of death and slavery.
Today, glue in the most prophetic voices. Tomorrow, the "liberals." Unless we all break free into our own rebirth.
In the ancient story, repression ended badly –
"Pharaoh's Army was drownded,
Deep in the Blood-Red Sea!"
What is wrong with repressing debate?
Three things. First of all, repression twists out of shape the individual conscience and wholeness of each human being who must choose between honest expression of her/his own truth and the fear of losing livelihood, communal connection, even life itself.
Second, repression twists and demeans the Image of God in every human being. Each can only express hir own unique face of God by saying hir own truth – nonviolently and without threats, so as to challenge but not to hurt or kill one of God's Images. For hurting or killing one of God's Images shatters God's Own Wholeness, imposes an internal civil war into the Godself.
Third, repression shatters the wisdom of the community. How can the community – whether Jewish or of any other culture –- make wise decisions without hearing with attention and concern the words and voices of each Mouth of God?
The biblical story tells us that Pharaoh brought on the ruin of his own country, his own family, and at last himself because he refused to listen –-- and tried to punish and threaten instead. Bad listening makes bad policy. Repression breeds yet more repression until the Red Sea recoils.
Pharaoh began by repressing Israelites. He ended by killing Egyptians.
Today Jewish officialdom begins by occupying and blockading Palestinians. It will end by killing Jews.
Unless we take action to open our doors to the rebirthing of both peoples.