Caught in a bind

American Jewish liberals should realize the dilemma of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

daivd forman  (photo credit: Rabbis for Human Rights)
daivd forman
(photo credit: Rabbis for Human Rights)
The liberal Jewish community in the United States finds itself in a difficult bind. The only trouble is that it does not know it. Liberal Jews in the States are so wedded to their ideological positions that the sweeping historical events that have recently overtaken the Middle East seem to have had little effect on their mindset. I have been on a lecture tour throughout America. Because of my affiliation with Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), my natural audiences have been liberal Jews. One would think that we would have a common language, but I find that we are miles apart - not in our conclusions, but in the process we undergo to reach them. When I spoke at a Jewish religious think-tank that serves as a powerful lobby for liberal interests, I was asked a question about funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in light of the rise of Hamas. It was not that the group was genuinely interested in my opinion, but rather seeking validation for what it had already decided - to lobby the Bush administration to continue to support humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and to pressure Israel to release the taxes collected on behalf of the PA. While I agree with this end position, what bothered me was that the process they underwent on the way to this conclusion seemed devoid of any serious scrutiny. They were blinded by an almost immutable purity of thought: Of course, Jews should provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The world that we live in is not black and white. The gray areas are far more dominant. As I fashioned my response, I could see a discomfort descend over my audience. They were disturbed that a fellow-ideological traveler would raise any objections to what seemed like a slam-dunk. For them, continuing to supply humanitarian aid is a question of Jewish integrity, not to mention Jewish morality. The difference is that, for me, supporting humanitarian causes is not just a matter of moral integrity, but also of moral practicality. Rabbis for Human Rights was founded because it felt that the Israeli government was carrying out excessive measures against the Palestinians that were antithetical to the richness of the Jewish literary and historical tradition. Since the government and religious establishment were speaking in our name, we felt a responsibility to present an alternative understanding of Judaism that spoke of concern for the "other." However, RHR's activism has always been predicated on moral steadfastness and moral pragmatism; that is, a decision that may seem moral today, may have immoral consequences tomorrow. Just as we in RHR accept collective responsibility for our government's actions, even if we did not directly carry them out, so too must the Palestinians assume collective responsibility and the concomitant consequences for their actions - and their votes. After all, if we are not all guilty, we are all responsible. Palestinians who voted Hamas into power are both guilty and responsible. They voted for Hamas not only because they felt that social services would be better provided and because Fatah was so corrupt. They also voted for a party whose political platform calls for the destruction of Israel. HAMAS IS not interested in a Palestinian state. They advocate an Islamic nation - one that cannot be separated from the rest of the Moslem countries that have taken a dangerous and frightening turn toward a religious fundamentalism that could engulf the entire region (if not the world) in a horrible conflagration, especially with Iran knocking on the nuclear door. While I do not believe there is an immediate threat to the state of Israel, a few years down the line there may very well be. Should not Israel be prepared for such a scenario? Indeed, it is not alarmist to consider that Egypt and Jordan could fall prey to a Hamas-like takeover. Should that be the case, then Israel could very well be faced with a war of survival. Therefore, when speaking today from what seems like a position of moral authority may, in actuality, be morally irresponsible, feeding the hand of those who would destroy us. Since Hamas, along with the rest of the Islamic world, is dedicated to wiping Israel off the map, perhaps then, as a moral mandate, Israel should starve the Palestinians. After all, there is no higher moral value than survival. And yet, I still believe, as a matter of Jewish moral rightness, we must release monies that belong to the Palestinians, finding the mechanisms, be it through the World Bank or the United Nations, by which they will not fall into the hands of Hamas or corrupt Fatah officials. Yet, the possibility at some future date of withholding monies and basically placing a stranglehold on a people that is dedicated to end the Jewish national entity must be considered. We in the liberal camp can no longer go along our merry way with a philosophical blindness. My hosts were relieved to hear that I recommended that they should pressure both the Bush administration and Israel to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. But, what I am hoping that they understood was that before such a fateful decision is made, they recognize that it may indeed be fateful - and that an exhausting discussion must precede any such decision. In a world of Islamic fanaticism, knee-jerk liberalism is no longer acceptable. The writer, a reform rabbi, is the author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel.