Thursday, May 03, 2007

Palestine, Israel, and the "Opinion Elite"

I spent a few hours on my birthday (back in April) reading through some excellent Holocaust memorial websites. In fact, I had to suddenly stop reading when victimized by a "Surprise Birthday party." The emotional yank from one extreme (reading about and viewing photos of dead Auschwitz victims) to the opposite (a crowd of friends and family celebrating my 50th year) almost shorted out my system. More recently yet, I viewed a portion of (and taped the rest for later) one woman's story of surviving the camps. Her matter-of-fact recounting of that experience, from getting off the train and watching her mother be marched off to the ovens to finding -- of all things -- a Nazi guard who seemed intent on saving her life, was overwhelming. "Never again" indeed. Or, as I tend to think more often, "Why?"

But today I got yet another in a long string of emails from The Israel Project, and as usual was frustrated by it. Their poll of an "Opinion Elite" in America boasted a tremendous wave of support for Israel over and against Muslim cultures:

Support for Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians is also at a five-year high, with 65 percent supporting Israel, while support for the Palestinians remains at 10 percent. This is the largest spread recorded between support for Israel and support for the Palestinians in recent years. Additionally, fully 84 percent of U.S. opinion elite consider Israel one of the United States' strongest allies, an increase of 7 percent since October 2005.

What the heck? I guess I'm supposed to go with the winner, eh? After all, this is the "Opinion Elite" of America talking, the people who really matter, the Voices We Should All Be Listening To. Uh... well, kinda makes me wonder what results a poll in Hitler's Germany would have pulled from the "Opinion Elite" of that nation concerning "the Jewish Problem":

Support in Poland for Germany's conflict with the Jews is at a five year high, with 85 percent supporting Germany, while virtually no one (who has not been arrested) supports the Jews. Poland's opinion elite, esp. since the Jewish elements within it were removed, considers Germany one of Poland's strongest allies...

Okay, okay... maybe that's a little over the top. A few notes, however, on the "opinion elite":

As a Christian who considers himself pro-Jewish but very unhappy with Zionists (both the Jewish and Christian Fundamentalist varieties), I would point out others whom I personally would label "opinion elite." Catholic Relief Services, for instance, also sent me an email today:

“The humanitarian crisis [in Palestine] is unacceptable,” said Tom Garofalo, CRS Country Representative for Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. “Nearly half of Palestinians don’t have reliable access to food, one in four Palestinian workers is unemployed, and others are working but not being paid because of economic sanctions and basic services like health and education have been severely compromised.”

Garofalo will be in the U.S. from May 7 through May 18 to educate church and political leaders about the humanitarian crisis and help engage them in the peace process.

The United Nations reports two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – two million people – now live on less than $2 a day and rely on humanitarian assistance to support their families. More than 500 checkpoints and obstacles in the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware, impede freedom of movement. The Separation Barrier, when finished, will enclose 274,000 Palestinians and block 400,000 others from their fields, jobs, schools and hospitals.

No one is suggesting we do away with Israel, or (as Bob Dylan wrote) is Israel "supposed to lie down and die / When my door gets kicked in." But what we are suggesting is that Israel's behavior toward Palestine is gravely unjust, inhumane, and (speaking pragmatically) stupid. The Jew I worship both taught and exemplified a different approach to conflict. As he told his own disciple, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Sowing suffering and death among one's neighbors is a sure way to become their forever enemy. And though we in America find Jewish suffering -- because of its concentrated horror (and our own historic complicity in that horror) -- more disturbing than the suffering of Palestinians, this is due to blindness, not intelligence or spirituality.

Israel is the west's excuse for the Holocaust. Israel offers meaning for the terrible evil visited upon 6 million Jews. But that meaning is a lie. The evils of fascism, the death of those six million children, women, and men, have no meaning we can so easily decifer. And in my non-elite opinion, it is a blasphemy to suggest differently. Isn't the very heart of evil all about a lack of meaning?

One death. Six million deaths. The only difference between them is the repetition. Though I do believe Christ's death, that one death which represents all of our deaths both physically and spiritually, has meaning, I do not believe it excuses anyone. Rather, it demands of us a response. Likewise, the death of one Jew, one Palestinian, by another's hand demands of us a response. That response should not be rooted in ideology or "us vs. them," but rather in the twin realities of individual loneliness and human community.

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