Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

I am not at peace with Jewish Voice for Peace

Rasmea Odeh

“Rabbi Salkin, we are organizing an event in [name of Florida city deleted], involving Jews and Muslims on issues of social justice. Is your synagogue interested in participating?”

Sure. Normally.

Except, the caller represents Jewish Voice for Peace, a radical left wing organization that supports the BDS movement.

“I cannot be part of any program that includes JVP.”

“Why not?” he asks.

“Because you are hosting Rasmea Odeh at your upcoming conference.”

In 1969, the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine planted a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket. Two Hebrew University students, Leon Kaner and Edward Jaffe, were killed. Four days later, the PFLP bombed the British Consulate in Tel Aviv.

At that time, Odeh was a 21-year-old university student in Ramallah. She confessed to the bombings. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison — a sentence later upended by a prisoner exchange. She since moved to Chicago.

“She was framed. Her confession was coerced.”

Thus says JVP: “We are eager to hear from Odeh, a feminist leader in the Palestinian and Arab-American community in Chicago, precisely because she has survived decades of Israeli and U.S. government persecution and oppression, and also because she lives and breathes the essential work of community organizing.”

“So,” I said, “you will at least agree with me – that Odeh is hardly a friend of Israel.”

“Well,” he said, “JVP is anti-Zionist.”

As we used to say in geometry class: QED.

This is why I reject Jewish Voice for Peace. In the same way that I will have nothing to do with Satmar and other anti-Zionist groups on the Jewish right — as well as pro-Zionist groups on the far right.

But, wait, you say: this Jewish-Muslim social justice thing is a good cause, right?

Several weeks ago, I asked some of my friends and teachers a more general and theoretical question about how we handle alliances with those who disagree with us on Israel. The question was not about JVP.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, activist and spiritual leader of Ikar in Los Angeles.

In multi-faith and coalitional politics, we won’t agree on all issues all the time. Our nation is suffering from a soul crisis, rooted in a cynical politics that pits vulnerable populations against each other. The antidote to this toxic new reality is a reawakening to shared foundational principles and moral imperatives…It won’t always feel good to stand with folks who share some, but not all of our priorities. But the only way to work effectively toward justice today is together. We have to do less finger pointing and accusing and more listening. We just might find not only shared humanity but also shared purpose, even in people who hold perspectives that differ from our own.

Or, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance:

I object to somewhat arbitrary litmus tests for worthwhile coalition partners. I march alongside of Roman Catholics who would deny my wife and daughters certain legal health care… I cooperate with Evangelical Christians who seek to reassign my spiritual identity.  I work with Mormons who converted my ancestors posthumously. Israel is central to my concerns, but it shares that space with my relationship with God and Torah as I understand them. To be sure, I would not stand with extremists who would take life to save life or deny me human rights in the name of their savior, but in a mass movement there are going to be some loose nuts mixed in.  Including Jews.

Finally, novelist and law professor, Thane Rosenbaum:

Throughout history, Jews have never received extra credit for siding with our avowed enemies on issues on which we were united. In fact, it ended up backfiring, displaying a willingness to ignore, placate, and disarm rather than standing up for the dignity and respect of our people. We have no business marching alongside those who disguise their Jew-hatred under the false pretense of human rights.

Here is my thought process about alliances.

  1. How problematic is the position taken by the “problematic” group? I disagree with J Street on some issues, but not on the fundamental existence of Israel. On the right, in some situations, I have stood with the ZOA. Ultra-right wing Kahane types? Nope.
  2. How large is the context? Let’s say that it is a large demonstration on issues with which I am in agreement. If a problematic group is part of it, I might agree to join in. I cannot micromanage every social movement. If the program is smaller and more local, probably not.
  3. Are there other ways for me to express my commitments? Take the Muslim-Jewish program that I described at the beginning. Since we are already involved in Muslim-Jewish dialogue, our synagogue does not “need” to be part of the JVC-partnered program to show our bona fides and to do the work of healing.

Jews should not engage in self-erasure.

Jews should not excuse or relativize the killers of Jews.

If Dylan Roof, the shooter in Charleston, is treif, so is Ms. Odeh.

If Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the killers of Matthew Shepard, are anathema, so is Ms. Odeh.

The blood of Leon Kaner and Edward Jaffe, killed in 1969, cries out to me from the ground.

Had they lived, they would be seventy years old. They never married; never had children; never danced at a bar or bat mitzvah of a grandchild.

Jewish lives also matter.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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