My visit to anti-Israel events at St. Mark’s – part two

St.Mark's Part2a

Guest writer Randy Kessler follows up on his recent column about anti-Israel events at Seattle’s St. Mark’s to ask some pointed questions.

My recent column on  The Mike Report, about my experiences at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church’s recent film series garnered an interesting headline.

“Confronting the hate: A lone supporter of the Jewish state goes face to face against Israel’s enemies,” said the graphic.
stmarks2aIt conjures up an image of an angry mob, looking to attack anyone foolish enough to enter their territory.  My experience was quite the opposite; the assembled crowd was generally grey-haired seniors, and any discussions I had with them were calm and civil, even when we disagreed.

So what’s the truth?  Are these people haters?  Are they anti-Semites?  Or are they well-meaning and moral citizens who are simply critics of Israeli government policy?

After all, criticism of Israeli policy does not make one anti-Semitic, just like criticizing American policy does not necessarily make one anti-American.  The one moderator that I saw who was an Arab mentioned a number of times that his opposition is not to Jews, but to the Israeli state.  The moderators of the fifth film were actually Jewish.  I was advised to read books by Ilan Pappe, Miko Peled, Mark Braverman, and Max Blumenthal, all of whom are Jewish, yet all of whom broadcast a fringe worldview where Palestinian rejectionism is noble, Israeli self-defense is cruel, and opponents are labeled as right-wing radicals. 

If the folks who attend Saint Mark’s hear condemnation of Israel’s policies from “enlightened” Jews, they can support actions that clearly harm the Jewish people while having a  defense against charges of anti-Semitism.

This creates an interesting conceptual frame in which to answer the question of anti-Semitism.  If the folks who attend Saint Mark’s hear condemnation of Israel’s policies not just from Arabs, but from “enlightened” Jews, they can support actions like boycott, divestment, and sanctions that clearly harm the Jewish people, while having a seemingly legitimate defense against any charges of anti-Semitism.

The “bad guys” in their view are not Jews in general, but specifically religious Jews.

Are these the bad guys?

Are these the bad guys?

Then it hit me, and I gained an important insight into the psychology of the anti-Israel crowd.  The “bad guys” in their view are not Jews in general, but specifically religious Jews. In the films, those are the ones shown as the radically zealous settlers, with their kippot and tzitzit, shooting off guns, and displaying sometimes offensive views about Arabs.  Like most stereotypes, there is a shred of truth, as members of the religious right have said and done some bad things.  But to extrapolate those bad things to an entire religious community is false, misleading, and offensive not just to religious Jews, but to all people who oppose bigotry, as it is a very insidious type of anti-Semitism, one that is unfortunately seen even within the Jewish community.  This results in a situation in which one person’s truth is another person’s lie, and it’s easy to be confused by the swirl of arguments.

How do you explain this phenomenon of multiple truths?  It depends on the premise you use in formulating your beliefs.  According to a recent Pew study, 84% of American Orthodox Jews believe that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, while only 16% of secular Jews and 35% of Reform Jews believe this.

If you believe the Torah is the Divine word of God, you see the world, and the political situation in the Middle East differently than if you don’t.

This trend plays out in the Christian community as well.  Quite simply, if you believe the Torah is the Divine word of God, you see the world and the political situation in the Middle East differently than if you don’t.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or as Harvard professor Ruth Wisse calls it, the Arab war against the Jews, is not a war over land.  It’s a war over beliefs, ideologies, and values. 

Ultimately, this begs an important question for each of us: Is the Torah a Divinely authored document, or was it written by a group of men in the desert 3,000 years ago?  The answer to that question goes a long way in helping frame your view of today’s headlines.

So if my thoughts have inspired you to do anything, I hope it is to tackle that question.  Go find a teacher, explore with an open mind, and see where the process takes you.  After that, come back and let’s talk about the Middle East.

KesslerGuest blogger Randy Kessler describes himself as a Radically moderate left-wing Conservative. He lives in the Puget Sound region and is a graduate of the University of Washington and Seattle University (where he earned his MBA)

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