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Liberal Jewish Community

L.A.’s Liberal Jewish Community Gathers for a Town Hall on the Gaza War

Thursday night, I attended a town hall meeting at the Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard, organized by J Street and the New Israel Fund, intended to speak to “the progressive Jewish community.” However, from everything I heard from the three speakers, Rabbi Sharon Brous, David Meyers and Daniel Sokatch, nothing was said about the horrific suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, the shelling of hospitals and schools, and the high number of children killed. Indeed, when Sharon Brous was speaking about suffering, she was talking about Israeli/Jewish suffering. How out of touch are these so-called "progressive" Jews?

David Meyers, a professor of history at UCLA and an avowed liberal centrist in the Jewish community who as an historian takes vocal responsibility for the ethnic cleansing that was part of the Nabka history, talked about Israel’s right to safe borders and the right to defend itself. Fortunately, he also admitted that Palestinians “have a right to defend themselves.” I did not agree with his use of the phrase “cyclical nature” of the violence, however, because it reminded me too much of the phrase “cycle of violence,” which has been used in western media to lay much of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse on the Palestinian side—in other words, Palestinian forces have been prone to “terrorism” and a “cycle of violence” which Israel has to defend itself against. Flip that around and the way it might look from the Arab side is that the IDF has used terrifying force to kill and beat Palestinians into submission. After all, why has Miko Peled, an Israeli, said that the IDF is a terrorist force that exists to terrorize Palestinians?

Meyers gave a detailed albeit brief history of the conflict going back to early settler Zionism in 1882 as a reaction to the Pogroms in Russia. He discussed 1948 and 1967. He did admit that Israel's “militarism” has become “dehumanizing” for Israelis. He suggested “realists” understand that Israelis and Palestinians have to share the land, whereas “idealists” believe they can “win” by ridding themselves of the “other.”

Liberal Jewish Community

Photos from a rally at the Westwood Federal Building on July 25th, by Mike Chickey

45 minutes into this town hall and there was still no overt condemnation of the indiscriminate use of force by Israel, and no talk of the asymmetrical nature of the conflict—it is a misnomer to call it a war when the Israeli side has such overwhelming superiority. Nor did I hear an admission of the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties.

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The best and let's face it, closest thing to a progressive speaker was Daniel Sokatch, an apparatchik for the New Israel Fund. He gave a clear and honest history of the last few weeks. We heard just how much responsibility the Israeli state and military bore for the results, including the fact that the Shin Bet knew early on the three Israeli teenagers were dead. They discovered that Hamas didn’t order the killings, but cynically exploited a gag order on the press in order to attempt to arrest Hamas representatives throughout the West Bank. Sokatch also related that Hamas didn’t begin sending rockets into Israel out of the blue but in response to IDF attacks. Hence it was not Hamas that violated the 2012 ceasefire.

 I am not a fan of Hamas, and would like to see Palestinians elect a more secular leadership for their unity government.

But in the end, Sokatch talked about the “two state” solution, and he referred to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria.” For Palestinians the use of ancient terms to describe the West Bank is code for Greater Israel. What all of these speakers appeared to believe is that they can have Israel ultimately be a free, democratic, independent Jewish country, next to an anemic Palestine that the Israeli military can control or defeat whenever it wants. It’s not unlike the delusion of the white supremacist regime in Pretoria, South Africa, that believed it could maintain power amid apartheid indefinitely.

If there are still many liberal Israelis that want peace and a viable two-state solution, they should know that the clock is ticking and they need to take back the country from the vile right-wing.

Israel is looking more and more like South Africa as it drifts further and further to the right, with racist pronouncements by Knesset members, unequal treatment under the law for Arabs and African immigrants, and settlers in the West Bank who exact “price tag” vengeance on the local Palestinian population. If there are still many liberal Israelis that want peace and a viable two-state solution, they should know that the clock is ticking and they need to take back the country from the vile right-wing. Some analysts would say it’s already too late.

There is an active progressive Jewish group in Los Angeles, LA Jews for Peace (LAJP), some of whose members were in the audience at the JCC last night. When David Meyers took a question on a cue card about the large number of Palestinian civilian casualties, he talked about “collateral damage” and the “fog of war.” One LAJP member, Rick Chertoff, shot up and blurted, “You’re not addressing the fact that the Israeli army has deliberately targeted civilians, in schools and hospitals.” Chertoff was removed from the auditorium. Another member, Dick Platkin, pointed out that there was no mention of the U.S. role in supplying Israel with “massive armaments that have been used to cause enormous death and destruction in Gaza.” He also noted that “both U.S. political parties have failed to stand up to AIPAC.”

Finally, LAJP member Marcy Winograd, a Los Angeles school teacher, had this to say: “I think the current state of endless warfare and bombardment of an imprisoned Palestinian population is unfortunately the inevitable trajectory of building and trying to preserve a Jewish state on Palestinian land. The sooner we, the collective we as well as we, LA Jews for Peace, give up on this idea of Israel as a Jewish state, the closer we will be to achieving everlasting peace.”

jordan elgrably

Jordan Elgrably
The Politics of Culture