I write my blog posts in stages, usually writing about 2/3 of a piece, then stepping away from it (sometimes a topic just overwhelms me) then re-reading it, making a few cuts and additions, then picking up where I left off. So I already had a good chunk of a post about Gaza written yesterday, before I left to go to the vigil for those killed this past week.
The post included a delightful anecdote from the movie Clueless (Cher Horwitz’s confused and privileged “I thought they declared peace in the middle east?) and a lot of discussion about an old friend of mine who I don’t see much anymore -because she lives in Israel. And then I went to the vigil, and things shifted in my head. I still want to talk about those things, and why the US supports Israel and how overwhelming religious politics can be, but I also walked away from it feeling like “this is not complicated at all.”
A few years ago, I made friends with a fascinating and utterly brilliant Orthodox Jewish woman. We were both talkers and so we talked about everything (her faith, my faith, how they were different and how they were related, how their differences didn’t stop us from caring deeply about each other). We don’t talk too much anymore, because a couple of years back, after she married, she and her husband moved to Jerusalem. It was this friend who first introduced me to a particular political stance that I had never even thought about or considered. One day, when I made a (probably awful) comment about how it was my understanding those most minorities, including Jewish people, leaned to the left of the American political spectrum, she informed me of one important exception. She said that some Jewish people (the subtext was “but not me” but I don’t actually know) are single issue voters, and will vote for whatever candidate looks most likely to support Israel. Period. The End.
I was dumbfounded. I said something like “but… you live here, you’re not just Jews, you’re also Americans, you have to live with the laws here.” Fortunately, I had already read Maus. What I mean by that is that I had a framework to understand how horrible anti-semitism could be, and how deeply people might fear it. My friend very patiently explained to me that while that was true, the Western World had gone through various periods of being Against The Jews so often, and the holocaust was so recent in people’s memories, that even if you wanted to live your whole life in the US you might still find it advantageous to have somewhere else to go. And what better place than the holy land? And what better place than a country controlled by Jews? So the thought process would be (and again, these are not my thoughts, I’m paraphrasing a friend here) “if everything else goes to shit, we’ll still have Israel.”
It was probably one of our least interesting conversations at the time, but I’ve lately been thinking about it, and her, a lot. I don’t have the courage to write her and ask her what she thinks about everything that happened this week, because I’m afraid that I won’t like the answer. And then I feel terrible about that fear, like I’m not giving my friend, who is a good person, enough credit.
The United States government does not back Israel because of Jewish Zionists, they are not a major enough part of the electorate for them to feel the need to do so. Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, it looked like McCain was more pro-Israel than Obama, and that may have even been (though I don’t recall) what inspired our conversation about the political leanings of American Jews. But McCain wasn’t trying to attract Jewish votes with his stance on Israel. No, he was trying to attract Christian votes, and a particular kind of Christian vote at that.
What we do have a lot of in this country are Protestants, and a good chunk of those fall under the umbrella of Fundamentalist, Evangelical, or sometimes both. Now I haven’t read the book of Revelations since I was twelve (that. goodness.) but apparently many of these Christians believe that certain parts of the holy lands need to be in Jewish hands in order for the apocalypse to happen – in order for Christ to rise again.
I for one find this line of thought to be a bit weird. I don’t believe in prophesies like the ones in the New Testament, but I could image how, if you did, you would believe that X would necessarily happen before Y. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the idea that since X will happen before Y, we should try to help X along so that therefore Y can happen. Why worry about it, if it’s a prophesy, it’ll just happen when it’s supposed to, you know? And certainly plenty of Christians are more than happy to wait for it to happen whenever it happens, but there are also plenty who think in the way I just described. And there is evidence that, yes, that is why the US tends to back Israel.
I try to play really, really, nice when it comes to religion. Everyone can believe whatever they want to or feel compelled to believe, doesn’t bother me. Do you believe marriage should be between one man and one woman and the man should be the head of the household? Great! That is the kind of marriage you should have (and you should look for a like-minded spouse!). Do you believe that abortion is a sin? Cool, definitely don’t have one then, and by all means feel free to encourage others not to as well (but please be nice, ok? Helping a lady with medical expenses goes a whole lot further than calling her a murderer). If you believe that wearing two kinds of fabric at once is wrong, then I want to help you avoid cotton-poly blends. But this stuff gets tricky when your beliefs start to affect other people.
For instances, if you had two groups of people who believed that they had a God Given Right to occupy a certain piece of land, and that since it was ordained by God that it should be so, almost anything they did to maintain control of that land was a-ok? Well, that shit would get messy really fast. And just suppose, just suppose that because of the beliefs of a third religious group, a much larger and wealthier country consistently backed one side over the other. Sounds like a recipe for some pretty major unfairness, doesn’t it?
In trying to write this, I looked at some mainstream news sources that I usually try to avoid (because they make me angry). The information is clear. Israel has been periodically bombing Gaza for quite a while, and intensified those attacks on Wednesday, in an effort to kill Hamas leaders. On Thursday, Hamas retaliated and fired rockets at Tel Aviv. As of Friday night 29 Palestinians were dead, including 11 children. Three Israelis were dead. And the message from the West? Western countries say that the majority of the blame lies with Hamas, and Hamas should stop firing rockets immediately.
I understand why my old friend would want to live in Jerusalem, where she lives today. I think that she has a right to live where she feels compelled to live, and I support her beliefs even though they are different than mine.
Last night, I went to this vigil with a couple of friends. There were speakers. A man who’s name I did not catch talked about his time in Israeli prison for the crime of giving food to Palestinians. Many of the participants were of Arabic decent, and many of them had relatives over there that they were worried about. It was very emotional. A woman from Jewish Voices for Peace spoke, and I was very happy to see that.
After all of the speakers were done and the candles were (somewhat awkwardly) lit, my friends and I stood in the cold chatting with a young woman in a hijab. We shared our opinions about American militarism with each other, and then she said:
“We all just want to live. The Jews want to live, the Palestinians want to live, everyone wants to live. We’ve been killing each other for so long, we tried it, and it doesn’t work. So it’s time to do something else. It’s solution time.”
So, thank you, new friend, for showing me that this is not complicated at all.
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