I am writing from the heart of the Jewish community in Montreal, one of the most powerful, well organized, diverse (heavily Sephardic) and liberal Jewish communities in North America. The community is active, particularly the Jewish Public Library and community campus, which serves not only the Jewish community, but the entire working-class, heavily Arab-Palestinian and Lebanese for the most part – and North African community of Cote De Neiges. Indeed, Montreal may be the only place in the world in which Jews and Palestinians live in peace.
As Israeli Prime Minister Sharon started his current assault on the Palestinian Occupied Territories it brought back memories of Saddam in Kuwait as well as Sharon’s own criminal actions in Lebanon. A mutual friend of mine who happens to be serving in the IDF [Israeli military] recently told me that this was “a war for the settlers.” Liberal, secular Israelis, even in the IDF know that Sharon has always seen the Palestinian territories as part of Israel, and they quietly curse him for supporting those settlements, many of which are populated by Russian Mafia figures. In the Jewish Diaspora, even the most strident Zionists, such as Thomas Friedman say that these settlements “threaten the heart of the Zionist enterprise.”
Ariel Sharon has not only gone too far, he has made us all ashamed that these crimes are being committed in our names – whether we identify ourselves as Zionists or not, we are all Jews! An Orthodox friend of mine, hearing of Israel’s desecration of Mosques and Churches in the wake of an attack on a Synagogue in France, told me that what Israel is doing is basically against the very precepts of Judaism.
Indeed, Israel’s actions are very non-Jewish. While Israel is the Jewish state, it is based on an ethnic nationalism that was foisted upon us by European racists, culminating in the Holocaust. Israel’s current despicable actions are actually in the context of many post-colonial second-world autocracies. For Israel to call itself a democracy is uniquely appropriate in the era of Mugabe and Bush.
The most obvious example of Israel’s absolutely non-Jewish actions is the violation of good old, “love thy neighbor.” There are countless examples, particularly in the book of Solomon, that deal with what could modernly be referred to as International Law. As far as my understanding goes, in using the bible as a historical legislative document, if a man attacks the Hebrew people, only that man can be punished, not his family and not his tribe.
Further references to the Jewish concept of social justice can be attained through a perusal of the Talmud, the Kabballah (not dissimilar to Sufism) and particularly in the works of Maimonodes, who incidentally wrote his greatest work in Arabic.
Another friend of mine, a spokesperson for my university’s Hillel organization is miserable that despite the collective view that Sharon had gone too far, he could not publicly criticize Ariel Sharon, because of the nearly Stalinist Jewish community rule that one cannot criticize Israel outside of Israel if one is speaking for the community. So the world gets a perception that we are all at best quiet apologists for state-terror. Morally bankrupt as it may be, if the masses associate Islam with the likes of Bin Laden, my friend – and I – feared that Judaism would be associated with the likes of Sharon. He felt that he was between a rock and a hard place. How could one defend such brutality?
I am not hopeless. Semites have lived together for thousands of years, sometimes fighting, but more often sharing their different strains of olives. I long to see the day when Jews and Palestinians can build a true, inclusive Pan-Semitism. Some may say I am idealistic, but I believe this will turn out to be a truism. We have to live together. There is no other way.
The writer is a graduate student at Concordia University.