“Israel as Pharaoh: A Passover Reflection”
By Ken Boas - Board Member
(published in April 2018 New People, Pittsburgh PA)
Has Israel, the promised land for so many Jews all over the world, become a land of oppression and cruelty? Have the Palestinians become the people now waiting, after 70 years of bondage and Occupation, to cross the 25 foot high concrete apartheid wall, into freedom? It is now Israel who is Pharaoh, whose heart has been hardened, and who is obsessed with keeping the Palestinians from their freedom. Has the history of oppression suffered by the Jews so inured them to the suffering they are inflicting upon the Palestinian people? The Israeli society and those who support its illegal policies have become compassionless, violent, and in pathological denial about their crimes, like their Egyptian slave masters before them. Perhaps this Passover season is the time to look more closely at this.
So many of us still think we can reform Israel, that Israel is still the great democracy of the Middle East. This is an illusion. Far too few will accept that the entire Zionist system of Apartheid is intentional and always has been, and will not change. To accept this seems to be a place even the most liberal will not enter: a place that is a promise to ourselves that oppression will not be rationalized nor appeased, even though our daughters and cousins live in Israel, and we love the beaches of Tel Aviv..
The most difficult moment comes when we must confront our own refusal to condemn the policies of the Israel we have grown up loving, and the malignant nature of the State of Israel to which we feel such a deep allegiance. I suppose it is our moment of truth when we are asked to look in the face of those we love and defend and find that what we see can not be defended and must be exposed for what it has become.
How painfully hard must it have been for Moses to throw down the tablets inscribed by God and see them break against the rocks as he witnessed his people worshipping before the golden calf, so soon after he had led them from slavery and bondage. So too must we accept that Jews around the world now worship in idolatry the Golden Calf that has become the State of Israel. This is not Judaism, this is idolatry. Moses, did not hesitate to call his own people to task for their essentialist betrayal
Does not this holiday ask us to do the same? That is, to stare at truth and to call out the lies we witness. To be righteously angry and condemn injustice, especially when it comes from within ourselves. Just what is the Seder about if not to retell our story, to bring back to life our story of bondage and oppression, liberation and freedom? The story of the Golden Calf is never omitted from the Seder, yet we systematically delete our own perverse worship of the Golden Calf from the narrative of our lives. This has become the wrong story and has resulted in horrible destruction and human misery. We probably keep telling the same story every year because we haven’t figured it out yet. We only see ourselves in one role in the story, but in fact we play every role.
For shouldn’t we know by now that if allowed to continue as a Jewish State, Israel will never free the Palestinian people. If were honest, we should be repelled by and not celebrate Israel; we should be able to accept that from the very beginning, when the earliest Zionist founding fathers conceived of this plot to take this land that they would do anything they could to keep the Palestinians from their rightful heritage. Yet so many don’t want to walk into the light. So many persist in holding out hope that the Pharaoh will act compassionately and with justice. But we know this will not happen. It never happens. We know, but we continue to lie to ourselves and remain in darkness.
This Passover, our most important struggle is to accept that Pharaoh now rules within Israel and within us. We cannot continue to be shameful apologists for ourselves. How can we, at this time of remembrance of Jewish liberation, not stand up to this country that has betrayed us as Jews and betrayed the very best that is Judaism and human dignity—justice and compassion—love of the stranger—equality and democratic law?
The Pharaoh takes on many disguises; most sinister is the disguise of the beloved. We must see through this disguise, as discomforting as that might be. Only then can we heal the wounds we have inflicted upon the Palestinians; only then can we heal the wound in our own hearts.
Our discomfort and our fears are the places to begin; the door swings slowly open on the hinges of such discomfort, and enables us to walk toward a vision of peace and freedom we will otherwise never reach. Palestine/Israel can then finally become a promised land for all its people. Ken Boas
Ken Boas is Chair of ICAHD-USA (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), retired Lecturer in the University of Pittsburgh English Department, a member of The Pittsburgh BDS Coalition, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Humanities Center, and former Chair of The Thomas Merton Center Board.
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Jeff’s Halper’s “War Against the People” is “Mind-boggling”
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Stop Palestinian Suffering: A New Conversation on Campus
by Ken Boas - Board Member
When Israeli supporters complain about student interruptions of pro-Israel speakers they miss the point of these protests. The debate about Academic freedom is real and important, but there is something that is even more important--stopping the unconscionable suffering of the Palestinian people.
Shouting down pro-Israeli speakers on our campuses is not an attempt to stifle Academic freedom. It is a militant refusal to legitimize the insidious and decades long ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Israel and the illegally Occupied Territories—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Ilan Pappe, the renowned Israeli historian, offers great insight to help us comprehend the true nature of Israeli society and the basis of the campus resistance to pro-Israel voices. Speaking of ethnic cleansing since 1948 in Israel, Pappe says: “The international silence in the face of this crime against humanity (which is how ethnic cleansing is defined in the dictionary of international law) transformed the ethnic cleansing into the ideological infrastructure on which the Jewish state was built. Ethnic cleansing became the DNA of Israeli Jewish society—and remains a daily preoccupation for those in power…” from On Palestine, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe (27).
The issue is not Academic freedom, nor is it anti-Semitism. The hidden fear behind these bogus complaints is that the Palestinian solidarity movement is no longer only about the latest racist law passed or the most recent demolition of a village; no longer only about the illegality of the settlements or the egregious checkpoint system or even the criminal wide-scale bombing of Gaza. Those policies and acts of violence are still subjects of protest, as they should be. But the real fear stems from the recognition that the pro-Palestinian movement has shifted its focus from specific targets of the illegal Occupation to the racist nature of the Zionist ideology that is the underlying cause of these policies that dehumanize the Palestinian people.
The pro-Israeli supporters are panicked about this radical “new conversation,” as Pappe calls it, and so trot out their tired party line of anti-Semitism and violations of Academic freedom. These are deceptive arguments. Organized Israeli support does all it can to silence Israeli criticism wherever it is heard. And the definition of anti-Semitism recently adopted by the British government and the US Senate, and heavily supported by AIPAC and the Jewish Federation, is itself a manifestation of a double standard, since it treats Israel differently from every other country in the world rather than as a nation among nations.
The reactionary push-back against this new campus activism is not surprising. What critics like Nelson and Greenberg (in their op-ed in the Post-Gazette of 12/11/16) are saying when they complain about student incivility is in fact an attempt to silence criticism of the Israeli state and its ideology. Their perverse logic is that if you chastise Israel you assault the Jewish state and by association you attack Judaism.
Our students have upped the ante. They will no longer be intimidated about their legitimate criticism of Israel. They are calling out Israel as a pariah state that cannot be allowed to continue acts of ethnic cleansing and incremental genocide. For the defenders of Israel, this new campus focus on the foundational ideology of Zionism is a frightening prospect and must be stopped.
It might be helpful to compare this dynamic to the anti-Apartheid struggle against South Africa. For years, it was only legitimate to criticize examples of South Africa’s Apartheid and not focus criticism on the ideology of Apartheid that constituted the basis of the oppression of 85% of the South African people. Only when the systemic nature of Apartheid was seen for what it was and boycotted as an ideology of racism was the system overturned. This is what the new movement against Israeli Apartheid and its racist nature is now undertaking, and this is what is so threatening to Israel and its American supporters.
The de-legitimization of the Zionist ideology of ethnic cleansing--the foundation of the Jewish state of Israel-- is the heart of the struggle, just as it was in the boycott, divestment, sanction movement against South African Apartheid. The goal is to bring about the end of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel. It is to transform the state of Israel, now one Apartheid state, in complete control of every aspect of Palestinians’ lives from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, into one democratic state with equal rights for all, and for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland. The goal is about the end of a tyrannical settler-colonial state. It is about regime change. This new conversation is hard to hear, yes; yet we don’t have difficulty hearing this when it concerns other anti-democratic regimes.
Our sons and daughters are leading the way—once again. And they are being persecuted for it—once again. They realize that to support Israel is to actively contribute to the continued dehumanization and destruction of the Palestinian people. That is what they are shouting about.