Anti-Israel Speaker at UW Dishes Out the Hate

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By TMR Contributor Randy Kessler.

Randy Kessler suffered through a truth challenged screed against the Jewish state delivered by Alice Rothchild at the University of Washington earlier this month. Randy was moved by the experience to thoughtful introspection. Below he generously shares with our readers the product of his pondering.

You may be familiar with the saying  “two Jews, three opinions.”  We  as a people are noted for differing with one another about so many things, yet paradoxically, there is also a strong sense of unity.  Nothing illustrates this dichotomy as much as a recent speaker who came to Seattle – a speaker whose connection to the land and people of Israel could not be more different from mine.

Promotional poster for Alice Rothchild Lecture at UW.

Promotional poster for Alice Rothchild Lecture at UW.

While one might expect Arabs or Muslims to oppose Jewish sovereignty in that land, in recent generations, Jews have been largely of one voice that the state of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people. Jews understand that if Israel had existed as an independent state in the 1930’s, the Nazis would never have been able to murder six million souls.  We understand that Israel’s founding was rooted in three millennia of uninterrupted connection to the land. We know that our sovereignty is supported by the legal decisions of world governments and the United Nations during the 20th century. This knowledge is enhanced by the sad fact that even today Jews are not safe in the public expression of their faith in countries like France and all across Europe. We are grateful and comforted to know that there is a country that will embrace them unconditionally.

Yet now, just 66 years after the establishment of the Jewish state, and in spite of constant Arab threats of annihilation, thousands of acts of terror against civilians and consistent rejection of peace offers to her neighbors, there are some Jews today who see Israel as an evil entity, the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East.  These Jews against Israel are increasingly outspoken, organizing under such benign names as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and American Jews for a Just Peace.

What is going on here?  What happened to the Talmudic concept of “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh” – that Jews have a communal responsibility to one another?  What happened to the idea that Israel, while imperfect, is a leader in human rights and military morality – and therefore, a country that we are proud of?

Earlier this month, I went to a lecture at the University of Washington by Alice Rothchild, a Boston-based physician, filmmaker.  Her talk was sponsored by *SUPER-UW (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights), which appears to be the leading critic of Israel on campus.  It was no surprise that I saw students in Muslim religious head coverings there, but most of the 35 people in attendance did not appear to be Muslim or Arab. 

Rothchild began her talk by describing her upbringing, labeling herself “a nice Jewish girl” who was raised with Zionist pride.  She went to Israel as a teenager and thought it was magical. 

But then something changed she tells us. She aligned herself with the anti-war movement in the 1960s,  she segued into feminist activism and worked for health care reform. Then she turned her attention to the Middle East.

Now she describes herself as an anti-Zionist Jew. Her talk was replete with descriptions of Israel as the embodiment of evil;  a racist, colonialist enterprise, with a government dominated by fascistic, militaristic, rabidly right-wing settlers who routinely deprive Palestinians of their human rights.  She advocated for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, effectively declaring economic war on 6.2 million Jews as well as the many Arabs who benefit from a healthy Israeli economy.  She considers this to be her tikkun olam – the repair of a broken world.

I and most of the Jews I know agree with Alice Rothchild on one thing; the situation in that land is difficult, after that we part ways. We wish that the security measures that make life more challenging for the average Palestinian (and Israeli) were not necessary. We are saddened by the loss of innocent Palestinian life while we grieve at the loss of innocent Jewish life, all humanity is created in the image of God.

But then we see how Palestinian children are taught that Jews are not human.  We see how the Palestinian people are taught to yearn for death in the cause of killing us,  we see them shoot rockets into Israeli cities, we see them stab innocents on public buses.  These things harden us to the bitter reality that while we yearn for peace, we must always be prepared to defend ourselves.

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Alice Rothchild does not see that, because she has either lost her Judaism, or twisted it into something unrecognizable.  While she is Jewish by birth, she has effectively chosen a different faith. a faith called secular humanism, ultra-liberalism, or maybe pacifism.  But whatever it’s called, it is diametrically opposed to Judaism, the Judaism that asks  if I am only for myself what am I, but of equal importance asks if I am not for myself, who will be for me

Being a Jew does not require knee-jerk agreement with all of Israel’s policies, I don’t know of any Jew who thinks that it does.  There is virtue in preserving life, in feeling the pain of those who suffer, in speaking out against injustice.  These are Jewish values.

But if Israel, the birthplace of the Jewish people, is not closer to the heart of a Jew than say Issaquah or Iowa, then we have a problem.  Because even if America is our home, Israel is our spiritual homeland.  While we must hold the life of every human being to be infinitely precious, this does not absolve us of our obligation to hold a special place in our heart for our extended Jewish family. One does not exclude the other.

Alice Rothchild has lost that side of her Judaism.  She chooses to identify as a member of the grand human family to the exclusion of her Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel. For reasons difficult to understand, she is all too ready to extinguish from this earth the one land that ensures our survival as a people and a faith.

Alice Rothchild lecturing at the University of Washington. Jan. 8, 2015. Photo: Randy Kessler

Alice Rothchild lecturing at the University of Washington. Jan. 8, 2015. Photo: Randy Kessler

Most saddening to me was the question at the end Rothchild’s lecture that came from a young Jewish woman. This young woman expressed relief that this lecture hall was a safe space for her to express her anti-Israel feelings.  If only this woman had been exposed to a more honest place where she could have positive Jewish experiences, where she could learn of her deep millennia old connection to the Jewish homeland. We have somehow failed this young woman, we have not instilled in her the love and pride in her people and in the land that is her birthright. A true love of the “other” cannot happen when one hates oneself.  

On a personal note, I ask each of you to think about a person you know who is ambivalent or antagonistic about Israel and try to explore the issues in a sensitive and open way.  Share with them our proud history, our glorious present and the miracle that is modern Israel.  Together, we can impact the next generation of young people and change the Jewish world.

*SUPER-UW is an affiliate of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Randykessler

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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