Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speech for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF)

I was scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund this month. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled. However, I decided to share my speech here, since I prepared it and hope that I can deliver it at a related event in the future.

I am the Alberta representative on the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices. IJV is a humanitarian organization that believes in human rights for all people, and especially a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine, a resolution that would result in peace and justice for all people in that region. We oppose the ongoing, illegal occupation and are the first (and as far as I know, the only) Canadian Jewish organization to endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

I was asked to speak a bit about my perspective on the most recent Gaza incursion from a Jewish perspective. That is rather difficult to do because, as goes the story, if you have two Jewish people, you have three opinions. Jewish people are known for intellectual discourse, debate, examination of issues, and, of course, being opinionated. Except, however, when it comes to this issue. Jewish people who are level headed and willing to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden anywhere else in the world, may suddenly find themselves choking when the question of Palestine is raised. So much so, in fact, that there are national organizations that claim to speak on behalf of all Jews in Canada, such as B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Independent Jewish Voices exists to provide that alternative voice, to say that those organizations do not, in fact, speak for all Jews. As proof, our membership rose just recently during Operation Protective Edge. Our members were out in droves at the many anti-Zionist peace rallies held across Canada.

Indeed, Jewish people have many opinions, so I am going to speak a little about myself. I was raised in a fairly traditional, Modern Orthodox home, where our traditions and values were important. Unlike other Jewish families, Israel was not overly discussed or stressed, and I always had trouble wrapping my head around the conflict, since Jews and Arabs are both people of Abraham. Over the years I swung numerous ways on the issue and a few years ago, I think it was during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, I became appalled at the number of civilian casualties the Palestinian people incurred, especially of children. It was disproportionate, inappropriate, and disgusting.

It was around then that I discovered and became a member of of Independent Jewish Voices and began speaking on their behalf at a number of events. As part of the Jewish community, the reaction has been mixed, from agreeing to disagree, to people outright walking out of my life as friends. However, I believe that no cause is worth standing up for if there is no threat of sacrifice, and if anything, my views separate the people in my life into two camps: those who are my real friends, and those who are not.

I am not a Torah scholar, but from a theological perspective I don't believe that the modern political State of Israel is the same as Eretz Yisroel which is described in the Torah. In fact, Israel was founded by working class, mostly Socialist Jewish people who had survived the Holocaust. It had nothing to do with religion, as such. As a Jewish person, I don't feel I need to have unwavering loyalty to a nation in order to maintain my Jewish identity.

However, this does not stop me from being accused of being a “self-hating Jew” or “anti-Semitic.” Both of these claims are absolutely ridiculous. First of all, I can't be a self-hating Jewish when I so openly identify with my Jewishness. The same applies to supposedly being anti-Semitic. And as far as that goes, Arabs are Semites also. So anyone who calls me anti-Semitic is actually being anti-semantic.

I am also not anti-Israel. I believe there needs to be a just peace for all people in that region. In fact, there is a growing, vocal peace movement from within Israel amongst Jewish people, such as the journalist Gideon Levy. Why? Peace is important for everyone’s security and safety. The occupation is bad for the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.

As a Jewish person, certain values are of utmost importance to me. One of these is the concept of Tikkun Olam, which refers to healing or repairing the world. The rift in the Middle East needs to be repaired or the world remains incomplete.