What we talk about when we talk about peace
February 17, 2010
Can anyone tell me what it means to be “pro-peace,” as used by J Street? Jews supposedly were always about peace. One of the first things we were taught in Hebrew school was “shalom” meant “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace”; we also learned early on: “Shalom aleichem” — “Peace be upon you.”
Ever since Israel’s War of Independence, over 60 years ago, the country has not truly known peace.
The word “peace” has been bandied about for so long it is hard to distinguish its original meaning from its use in propaganda. “Peace conference” seems to be an oxymoron. Has one ever led to lasting peace? Cessation of hostilities, yes, for a while, but permanent peace, no.
It is fascinating to have seen the peace movement morph into the antiwar movement. While the latter condemns, in the name of peace and justice, wars and economic policies of the Western democracies, this movement is not above using violence, especially street violence, as a tactic. Pro-peace?
What did the 1930s peace movement accomplish? Munich? Did it or the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact bring peace to Europe? The League of Nations sowed the seeds of future conflict, and the United Nations seems ineffective in either preventing or ending conflicts. (Darfur and Rwanda are but two examples.)
When it comes to Israel, the UN is duplicitous and craven. No action by Israel, even a defensive one and no matter how small, is above condemnation. Conversely, a blind eye is turned to the actions of Hamas, Hizbullah, and Fatah. To the UN and its component parts, nothing that these organizations do is equivalent to the actions, real or alleged, of Israel. The Goldstone Report is the most recent example.
I look to the left of the political spectrum and I see people who, while spouting Thoreau, Gandhi, and King, are wearing shirts with the visages of Mao and Che. The image and the message are contradictory. They demand freedom of political action and movement for themselves while denying the equivalent for those they oppose. And this is done in order to achieve peace and justice as objectives.
These contradictions were captured in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, when a colonel asks Private Joker to explain why he wrote “Born to Kill” on his helmet while wearing a peace button.
Colonel: “Whose side are you on, son?”
Private Joker: “Our side, sir.”
Colonel: “Don’t you love your country?”
Private Joker: “Yes, sir.”
In this context, I try to figure out what J Street means when it describes itself as the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Jewish American lobby. Like, Kubrick’s colonel, I ask, “Whose side are you on? Don’t you love Israel?”
I believe J Street supporters would answer, “Yes, but….”
Earlier this month, J Street unveiled two new programs, J Street Local, a local organizing campaign, and J Street U, aimed at college students. At the launch, J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, proclaimed, “Tonight we open a new chapter in the struggle for tzedek v’shalom — justice and peace — in the Middle East.”
Is “justice and peace in the Middle East” something different from being “pro-Israel, pro-peace?”
Ben-Ami stated J Street wants to “redefine and expand the very concept of being pro-Israel.” This statement cries for clarification.
Whom does Ben-Ami invite to join him? “Maybe you’re looking for a home — as a Jew or as a progressive,” he said. “Or maybe you just believe that all people have a right to self-determination, opportunity, and security — and you want to see an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people.”
You don’t have to be a Jew. Progressives are welcome. And, you must “want to see an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people.” Rachel Corrie would have qualified.
However, Ben-Ami’s statement contains nary a word about Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Fatah, or the Palestinian Authority. What exactly does J Street have in mind when Ben-Ami says, “So our first objective as a movement is to press for real American leadership to achieve a regional comprehensive peace that ends the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all”?
By introducing the concept of a “regional comprehensive peace,” Ben-Ami seemingly goes beyond Israel and the Palestinians to include Iran and its ally, Syria. J Street opposes military action against Iran. How would a nuclear Iran, or a denuclearized Israel for that matter, be “pro-Israel, pro-peace?”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ben-Ami said J Street and J Street U share mission statements that support the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. “The question is whether or not every single group has to use the phrase, pro-Israel,” he said. “If they feel they can get more students to turn out using different words, they don’t need to put that in 48-point letters in everything they do.
“As long as their mission statement is clear,” he continued, “we’re going to give them some latitude in how they market their events.”
Maybe they can give out Mao and Che shirts to show their support of peace for Israel.