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It's time for Jewish dissenters
to challenge Israeli policies

just peace

By Henri Picciotto

My op ed in the San Jose Mercury News, Aug. 11, 2006,
during the Israeli attack on Lebanon,
and some of the responses it generated.

I grew up Jewish in Beirut. Although I left nearly 40 years ago, my memories of Lebanon -- vibrant and multicultural -- have stayed with me. And so, my wife and I had started talking about taking a trip there.

I would show her the neighborhood where I grew up, the beaches where I swam in the warm Mediterranean waters and the small mountain hotel we loved to stay at in the summer. I would also show her my school, where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children learned and grew together.

After the past few weeks, we may never be able to take this trip. Israeli bombings have killed more than 700 Lebanese civilians. Hundreds of thousands -- more than one-fifth of the population -- have become refugees, uprooted from their homes. Lebanon's civilian infrastructure has been systematically destroyed.

We, as Americans, bear a special responsibility for this carnage. If Washington would withhold its unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel, the Israeli government would waste no time in starting genuine negotiations. Current U.S.-backed cease-fire proposals are so unfair to Lebanon that the Lebanese government has already indicated it cannot accept the terms, which do not even include a full Israeli withdrawal.

This one-sided U.S. policy is the result of a combination of factors, but it thrives on the myth that all American Jews stand uncritically behind the Israeli government.

Many believe that American Jews unanimously and unconditionally support the Israeli government. That what we learned from the Holocaust is to shoot first and ask questions later. That our commitment to justice and equal rights is a quaint feature of our past.

There is a saying ``two Jews, three opinions.'' Now we are told ``1 million Jews, one opinion.''

In fact, our community is profoundly divided:

  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews all over the country have demonstrated to demand an end to the bombing of Gaza and Lebanon. In one of these demonstrations, 17 Jewish protesters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
  • In the past few days, thousands of Jews have signed a petition demanding that the United States intervene to stop the wanton killing of Lebanese civilians by the Israeli war machine.
  • Jewish organizations that sponsor such demonstrations and petitions, such as Jewish Voice for Peace (on whose board I serve), are experiencing exponential growth. Jews are looking for ways to express their outrage at the actions of the Israeli government, and of the blind support accorded by the Jewish establishment in this country.

We are appalled by the Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli cities, just as we were the earlier attacks by Israel on Lebanese cities. We mourn the loss of Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese lives equally. We are outraged by the destruction of Lebanese airports, roads and bridges, the bombing of homes and private cars, the killing of children, and the other horrors visited by the Israelis on their neighbors.

It is this kind of past Israeli behavior that gave birth to both Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that have strengthened immeasurably in recent weeks. Israeli intransigence has made Israel a pariah state, and is the biggest enemy of all the people of the Middle East -- Arabs and Israelis alike.

Jewish American leaders work tirelessly to promote the myth of Jewish consensus. Their tactics include refusing to rent space to dissenters, threatening funding cuts when Jewish institutions question Israel's actions and canceling meetings when they suspect debate might occur. Their most ubiquitous weapon is the hurtful charge of anti-Semitism, hurled at both dissenting Jews and Gentiles.

Many Jews question Israel's policies, but are afraid to speak out in their congregations or even to their families. The time has come for Jewish dissidents to challenge the policies of the Israeli government. In the short run these policies kill Arabs, mostly innocent civilians; in the long run, they can result only in disaster for Israelis and Jews worldwide. Our silence in this time of crisis is complicity. We need to help bring about the peace that would one day make my visit to Beirut -- and the visit of all Jews -- possible.


HENRI PICCIOTTO of Berkeley is a mathematics educator and chairman of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

Responses

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The piece was picked up by many, many sites on the internet, ending up two weeks later in the Daily Star, an English-language daily in Beirut. I received many messages in response, from all over the world, which I excerpt below, along with my comments about some of them.

I was relieved by the relatively small number of hostile messages, and moved by the extraordinary diversity of the backgrounds of the respondents. I was particularly touched by the number of Lebanese correspondents. We are not yet able to change US policy, but the mere existence of a Jewish voice for peace undermines the identification of all Jews with the Israeli government, and is an essential step towards peace.


"I deeply appreciated your article today and admire you for the courage it must have taken to write it as well as to engage in the sociopolitical conversation you are active in. I am a practicing Catholic with a degree in interfaith studies."

Pattie C, San Jose, CA


"The continued refusal of Hezbollah to recognize the people of Israel's right to life--to exist--their continued support of suicide killers, their military incursions into Israel and their rocket attacks, left Israel no choice but to defend itself."

Alan K., Fremont, CA

Actually, Hezbollah had not attacked Israeli civilians in more than ten years. Their incursion and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers was ill-considered, but in no way justifies Israel's obscenely disproportional attack on the people of Lebanon. Also keep in mind that Israeli incursions in Lebanon and the abduction and holding of Lebanese prisoners are equally as objectionable, and did not result in a comparable response by Hezbollah.

Moreover, while the rocket attacks on civilians in Northern Israel were criminal, they did not cause the Israeli attack on Lebanon -- quite the opposite: they started after the Israelis started bombing Lebanon, and were a response to that bombing.

Finally, the Israeli attack had been planned for a long time. The Hezbollah provocation was probably the excuse they had been waiting for, but no serious analysts believe that it was actually the cause of the attack. The only way to get the kidnapped soldiers back is through a prisoner exchange, which will probably happen sooner or later. The destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure, the killing of hundreds in Lebanon and dozens in Israel, the legacy of thousands of unexploded cluster bombs -- all this could have been avoided.


"As a Muslim Lebanese, I want to take the opportunity to thank Jewish Voice for Peace, especially Henri Picciotto for such a touching article. With people like you and your organization, there will always be a hope for peace. When I read articles like this, I won't give up. Let's hope and pray that one day I will be swimming in the beaches of Tel Aviv and you in the beaches of south Lebanon AGAIN."

Hassan B.


"The Raging Grannies enjoyed your opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News.

Let us know how we can join with you in your work for peace in the Middle East."

Granny Ruth R., Palo Alto, CA


"While its true that 'Not all US Jews stand behind the Israeli military action,' I think you have been somewhat deceptive--it would have been more honest to say, 'A small minority of US Jews oppose the Israeli action.' The same is true for Israelis."

Saul W.

If this is true, it only makes my point more urgent: those of us who value the lives of more than just Jews have an even greater responsibility to speak out. If we don't make ourselves heard, the world's opposition to Israeli war crimes will turn into anti-Semitism.


"Hello 'Jews' by birth,

After reading your article in the Mercury News, I went into your site and was amazed by the lies, garbage and anti Israeli propaganda.

The BBC, Gardian and the rest of the EU media are fainting by comparison to you. Please do not insult the 6M that perished in the Holocaust and the 15M of current Jewish world population by calling your self Jews. You are self hating Jews, thinking that by proclaiming your love to the Jewish haters and enemies some how they may forget that you had a Jewish mother. I still remember words of my late father - a Holocaust survivor; You may forget that you are Jewish but your haters and enemies will never forget.

So, in the name of 15M please don't call yourself Jews. Call yourself what ever you desire, I will call you a disgrace to Jewish religion.

And as it written: May you be scribed in the Book of Life. For all of you self hating Jews: May you be shamed in the Book of Life."

Unsigned


"That was a very thoughtful piece and I wanted to commend you for writing it. I am Shi'a Muslim from Pakistan and carry the baggage of being a targeted minority in my country by Wahhabi extremists.

Anyways, your statement was courageous and I have always maintained to Muslim friends and acquaintances that the Jewish voice is far from monolithic and we Muslims need to get out of our ignorance and wipe out the cancer of anti-Jewish sentiments that has been creeping into our communities. Problems have to be analyzed and solved politically and via raising awareness and voicing protest. During the course of the last 5 years, I have corresponded with Michael Sfard (the lawyer representing the refuseniks in the IDF) , read brave reports from Uri Avneri, Israel Shamir, Amira Haas and Gideon Levy amongst others, all of whom have been admirable in being fair. We Muslims need their counterparts and I think we are slowly getting there. As recent as March 2004, I was a volunteer marshall in an anti-war rally in Toronto where a Jewish peace group far outnumbered a tiny rally of pro-neocon supporters. Indeed the anti-war movement in Toronto has had tremendous contributions from Jewish activists and intellectuals.

A couple of decades ago I had sympathies for the Hezbollah for mobilizing the under privileged Shi'a of Lebanon and fighting an occupying force whilst making it a policy of not harming civilians. However, their recent rocket attacks on Israeli civilians is deplorable and should be condemned! They no longer possess the high moral ground.

Their recent cooperation with groups that target civilians in gruesome suicide bomb attacks is deplorable. It is even ironic as the Wahhabi-inclined Hamas do not even consider Shi'as as muslims but the worse kind of heretics. In this ceasefire, Hezbollah may have won a Pyrrhic victory but at what cost. Surely there was a better way to negotiate for prisoners."

Ali A., Karachi


"My name is Jana. I am Lebanese. I came across your article in the Mercury News (a Palestinian friend of mine forwarded it to me actually).

Forgive me if I seem nosy but I couldn't pass up the chance to meet a Lebanese Jew. My parents and grandparents told me stories as a kid about them living in Beirut, old friends that had long gone but I am a child of the civil war and all I know of the Jewish community there is the Jewish Cemetery (which you'll be glad to know is still intact and well cared for).

I hope one day you can return to Lebanon to see it. Unfortunately, the old downtown area has changed so much (at least from the photos my parents showed me). I only remember it as rubble and then it was rebuilt - but no where like it used to look I'm told. And now... That part of Beirut has so far been spared. But who knows for how long. If the Israelis don't destroy it themselves, there's a good chance they've planted enough seeds of discord among Lebanese to reignite those embers that will take care of that for them.

The last month has been a nightmare for me. I was 16 when the first Qana massacre took place and the memories of the burnt flesh that filled the village 2 days later when I came with a humanitarian team are vivid in my mind - as are the memories of the civil war. I can not imagine what it was like for you to leave Lebanon all those years ago. I am waiting for 5 GMT today to come but I know there is only faint hope that it will make any difference.

All we can do is pray and I will pray for you to return to Lebanon one day - the way I pray for Palestinian and Lebanese refugees to return to their homes."

Jana F., Toronto


"I am grateful for your article about Jewish dissenters for peace. It was thorough and balanced. I am a Christian American that wants peace for both sides, who believes that the Palestinian people and the Israeli people have more in common than differences, and that the governments and radicals keep fueling the fighting. Thank you so much for your point of view."

Wendy R. S.


"I'd been wondering where I'd find organized Jewish voices for peace - somehow saw nothing till the San Jose Mercury article in Common Dreams today.

How come no New York chapter?"

Nina K., New York

Help us start one!


"I have just read the article in Electronic Intifada by Board Member Mr. Picciotto.

Henri, thank you, through your article, I am more and more hopeful and relieved to hear of Jewish voices for dissent and peace.

And why may ask I you, wouldn't you be able to visit Lebanon?

I am Lebanese, and currently stranded in NYC, because of the offensive. I am writing to share an idea, as I am preparing myself mentally to return to a completely different reality in my homeland.

I think that we should not wait too long to initiate the seeds of dialogue between the Lebanese citizens and the Jewish-Israeli voices... these voices continue to spearhead change in Israel and hopefully will open the door for dialogue between Israeli citizens and Lebanese citizens in the future (It might be too soon for some, as the wounds of 1982 and now 2006 need to heal)

But I am thinking a first step could be in the lines of organizing some kind of solidarity trip for Lebanon as soon as it is safe to do so. Bringing Israeli-Americans and Jewish-Americans, as eyewitnesses to the effect of this war, and as ambassadors of peace and reconciliation of some kind.

Maybe we can start by bringing a peace delegation of American-Jewish and American-Israeli activists, artists, writers, filmmakers, etc... to come to Lebanon and engage in solidarity with fellow Lebanese activists, artists, writers, etc...

It is becoming so much clearer for all of us, that citizens need to act on behalf of the people, when governments are failing more and more to do so and represent the desires for peace specially in Israel and the US.

Of course, I am not sure how this could be organized in practical terms, but we can start by sharing this idea so it can take seed."

Rima


"I happen to be a Jew in Chicago, have a bit of difficulty with family and Jewish friends who still think Israel can do no wrong and don't understand it can and does plenty and must be held accountable. Those following corporate media, especially on TV and sadly NYT, WSJ, etc. get gross distortions and one-sided pro-Israel views.

Mine are quite the opposite and I've been very direct and vocal about it and will continue to. Without question, this time Israel bit off more than it could chew and was humiliated by a determined Hezbollah resistance. They are not terrorists, will never disarm (meaning surrender) and will resist all Israel assaults against their country as they should."

Stephen L.

"The one disagreement I have is Henri’s equating the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed. The victimizer and the victimized. In other words the state terrorism of Israel and the response of Hezbollah."

David S.

I certainly do not equate them, but I do oppose all attacks on civilians.


"Please, don't claim to represent progressive Jewish people when you are representing only the right-wing end of the antiwar spectrum. People won't know that there are more genuinely progressive Jewish people unless you let them know.

Even better would be to stop altogether equating the perpetrators with the victims. It really is quite sickening. There is no symmetry there. Victims have little choice but to fight their oppressors. The oppressors do have a choice. And if you are going to equate the victims with the perpetrators, at least do it in a different order. Or at least put in some numbers so people can see the huge difference in scale of death on each side."

Carl K.

I do not claim to represent all progressive Jews. This op ed was a call for dissenting Jews to speak out. I have no illusions that all Jews will dissent the same way. Two dissenting Jews, three opinions, as we realize daily within the ranks of JVP. Still, if we want to have an impact, we need to find ways to unite with each other, with the many Christians who are building a movement for Middle East peace, and with Palestinian solidarity activists.

I do not claim symmetry between Hezbollah and the Israeli government -- that is not what I intended to convey in this piece, and that is not how most readers interpreted it.


"This craven support of evil on your part does not bode well for your future.

After Auschwitz and the numerous other concentration camps, no person on this earth is permitted to calumniate the holy Jewish people and their land with impunity. The holy Jewish people will never again be martyred by bestial fanatics wherever they may reside or whatever title they carry or whatever gender they proclaim.

In light of the foregoing evidence, it is my solemn duty to inform you that our ecclesiastical court has issued an edict inscribing you as a SLANDERER OF ZION. This means that our disciples are hereby empowered to facilitate your removal from your position and from the community of professional educators.

You may wish to exercise your right to have this decree set aside. In such case, you are invited to submit an affidavit renouncing your calumnies against the holy Jewish state, circulating a statement of support for the victory of the holy Jewish people in the Holy Land against their enemies to all your affiliated organizations and publications, whether online or offline, and paying our court costs of $US 975."

His Eminence The Very Rev. Charles J. E., Penticton BC


"I read your wonderful thoughts about the war in Lebanon. It was a moving article, since I am an Armenian, born in Lebanon and lived there for 21 years and left the country of my birth because of the 1967 war.

I had the same thoughts - to take my wife and grown up children to Lebanon, show them the Mediterranean sea, the mountain resorts (jabal), to taste the excellent food of Zahle-Wadi etc. We changed our mind because of my sickness.

I had friends from the Jewish quarter of Beirut. One of them lived just next to the Synagogue. I remember his mother, who was a faithful lady, there were Saturdays when she asked me to light a match. I did it naturally. Among our friends there were other Armenians, Christians, Muslim and Druzes. I do not remember any quarrels. We just accepted each other as we were.

I congratulate your courage at Berkeley, where I have Armenian students who graduated from my high school (I am a teacher). I congratulate you because you are opening and widening the path of dialogue."

Minas K.


"My daughter sent me your article 'Jewish Dissidents Must Speak Out.'

It was wonderfully written. As a Jewish American I have been upset by Israeli policies for years.

Keep speaking out."

Bob S., Frisco, CO


"I just read Henri Picciotto's op-ed, 'It's time for Jewish dissenters to challenge Israeli policies' on Electronic Intifada. i just wanted to say thank you for writing it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Ellen, Milwaukee


"I just received the above article by Dr. Picciotto by email, and even though I do not usually send such emails, I felt compelled to write a message to Dr. Picciotto and Jewish Voice for Peace.

It saddens me so much that extremists on both sides are working so hard to polarize us and create such horrific death and destruction. I live in Beirut and I lived through the Lebanese civil war and prior Israeli invasions. This time around, I lived the war as a mother of 2 small children, and that made my experience very different.

I listened to my children yelling 'The Israelis are coming! Quick run!!' as they played in the living room and ran to jump on the couch. A few days ago my four-year-old daughter, who I've raised on the principles of love and tolerance, came to me and said: 'Mommy, Daddy said that he doesn't want the Israelis to die.' She was confused and surprised. When I replied that we did not want anyone to die, she responded 'But I thought they wanted to kill us!'

It hurts to hear statements like that coming from my own child.

Thank you for your good work. I appreciate that you are working against some powerful forces. I hope that does not discourage you. Please know that your work is appreciated by many people like myself."

Hibah O., Beirut


"What a relief to read Mr. Picciotto's article, 'It's Time for Jewish Dissenters to Challenge Israeli Policies' on Common Dreams. I believe that Jewish dissent against Israel’s immoral actions in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories is crucial to ending the spiraling disaster for those who are paying the highest price for Israel’s actions – mainly civilians… I salute Jewish dissenters of good conscience and courage who denounce the cruelty and injustices being carried out in the name of Jews by the Israeli government.

I am not Jewish, but my maternal grandfather who emigrated from Poland to Canada in 1927 was himself a Jewish man. He married my Catholic French Canadian grandmother who never converted to Judaism - my mother and her 2 siblings were raised Catholic. All of my grandfather’s family were murdered in the Holocaust - these were my people, and their deaths haunt me still. Because of this, I am deeply sensitive to human suffering; especially when inflicted on the weak by the strong."

Carolle C., Montreal


"I was very touched by your article named 'Our Silence is Complicity' and wanted to let you know that your feelings are shared by too many of us, alas not enough to stop this horror. By us I mean human beings all over the world and in particular some colleagues of yours and mine in Turkey. You can see the website http://matematik.bt-stk.org.tr/ for the letter we have sent to more than 30 Israeli colleagues in several universities in Israel and that I have given by hand to the head of the Israel delegation on August 20th after the general assembly of the International Mathematical Union in Spain.

So, as you very well say, I really believe we must all cooperate in reaching the Israeli community who under very difficult conditions try to protest against this very dangerous injustice. They must know they are not alone."

Professor of Mathematics, Turkey


"A Lebanese friend of mine sent me your Daily Star article... I loved it... Thank you so much for writing such an enlightened view on the horrible and latest events in Lebanon. I am Lebanese myself."

Mia S., Washington, DC


"I have read Mr. Picciotto's piece in the Daily Star, a Lebanese English-language paper. I wish there were more insightful people like him -- voices of moderation and reason. I really do hope he gets to return to Lebanon one day."

Zina M.


"I felt the urge to congratulate you on such a courageous article. I have forwarded it to most of my friends. I too hope for peace between Lebanon and Israel and would do my utmost to promote such ideas."

Joseph Z.


"Bravo, bravo, bravo! I am an agnostic and am pleasantly surprised to learn that there are many of us -- Jewish, Agnostics, Christians, etc., etc. -- who are appalled by the close and unquestioning alliance that Washington has with Israel. I am overjoyed to discover Jewish Voice for Peace and endorse your courage to risk humiliation to expound a peaceful point of view."

Ann S.-F., Pacific Grove, CA


"In response to an article by Henri Picciotto in today's Counterpunch:

The True Jew is always on the side of the slave and never, ever sides with the slave-master, even (better, especially) when the slave-master happens to be a relative, a friend or a co-religionist. It is for this reason that the True Jew supports justice for the Palestinian people, being that their homeland, Palestine, is under occupation by Jewish settlers, and to be under occupation is to be enslaved."

Jack, a True Jew


"I am a Lebanese citizen who wants to thank you for displaying the right picture of Lebanon and its people to the world. I want to put my hand in yours for a peace call when everyone else doesn't want to listen.

We are Lebanese artists, poets, patriots, survivors, open-minded, loving, welcoming...

As a Lebanese you don't need an invitation to come home!

The recent events shouldn't hold you back, we hold nothing against Jews for it's a religion like Christianity and Islam!

I salute your efforts and you make me proud, as I am sure all of us Lebanese!"

A Lebanese citizen


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