Jeremiah Haber – a Jewish voice for our times

JVL Introduction

Self-description: “Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of Charles H. Manekin, an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US.”

For a long time now he has provided a series of crucially important, thoughtful and reflective blog posts on issues central to Zionism, morality and Jewish identity.

He hasn’t blogged for a while. Here he explains why not and gives a brief update on his current thinking.

And here are links to a few of his blogposts – you will find more on the right-hand side of his blog page.

This article was originally published by The Magnes Zionist on Tue 29 Oct 2019. Read the original here.

Should I Revive This Moribund Blog?

Some of my readers may notice that I have not written much in the last two years. In fact, I haven’t written anything.

About a year and a half ago, I started writing a post with the above title. I didn’t write anything after the title. Apparently, the answer was, “No.”

Who reads blogs anymore? I used to spend a couple of hours on each post, and then I thought, “Why not just post a status update on Facebook?” I did that until over a year ago, when I deleted my Facebook accounts. I don’t tweet (well, once or twice every five years.) whatsapp is for family; I don’t know how snapchat and instagram work.

The real reasons that I stopped posting: a) I said almost all I had to say several times; b) the situation had become even more bleak since then for Palestine; c) the world got politically worse;  d) it’s not about me, and who cares what I think?

Still if I add to my guilt the guilt of not writing anything, then I feel worse and worse. So here’s a quick update of my thinking:

1. Zionism, as a movement to create a Jewish nation state, in the way it was created, cannot be morally justified. No people has a right to life, liberty, and self-determination at the expense of another people’s right to life, liberty, and self-determination, especially when the latter people constituted the majority of the territory claimed by the former. A propos morality, I believe that the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders had a moral obligation to oppose Zionist resettlement of Jewish refugees, whose purpose was not to live in peace in a Palestian state, but to conquer the land for the Jews. Statist Zionism has succeeded for one very obvious reason: the Zionists were strong and the Palestinians were weak. That’s a “tale as old as time…” To see religious significance in the founding of the state of Israel, in the way that religious Zionists do, is blasphemous. My God doesn’t destroy an innocent people to make way for me. And you know what — neither does the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, or even Joshua.

2. The particular state of Israel founded in 1948, and whose ethos continues to the present day, is thus, in my mind, without moral justification. A necessary condition for its moral justification is regime change, i. e., the replacement of an ethnic-exclusivist state by a binational or bicultural state of all its citizens. Necessary, but not sufficient — the Zionists, and, indeed, Israel and its supporters, have a collective responsibility to better the lives, liberty, freedom, and self-determination of the Palestinians — a responsibility that will continue for decades into the future.

3. I can hope for such things, but they won’t occur in my lifetime, at least. So what interests me now is how can people try to remain moral, or more moral, living in a political framework that is inherently immoral. What should they do? The easiest and most consistent answer is simply to move somewhere else. But that answer is unavailable to me for several reasons. First, as an economically well-off white male, I will enjoy privilege wherever I go. Second, and more to the point, my children and their families live in Israel. Third, Israel is my home. So staying in Israel, like staying in any inherently immoral regime where the prospects of significant change are remote, has challenges that people who care about these things need to face.

4. The best I can do — and it is nowhere good enough — is to donate time and money to causes that will make Israel/Palestine a more just society, to speak up and explain my position to others who support the Jewish state, to help alleviate specific suffering and inequality,to support individuals and groups who promote change, etc.

5. None of the above relieves me of my feeling of perpetrator guilt. For me, the single most pressing challenge to Jews and Judaism today is the treatment of the Palestinians, past, present, and future, and I know of only a handful of people who would agree with me. What Jewish thinker is writing about it? We read about Jewish spirituality (especially in Israel) on the right, of tikun olam/social justice on the left, etc., but what deeply Jewish personality is at all bothered about this? And don’t get me started on the rabbis….

6. So what gives me hope? Several things: first, sumud, Palestinian endurance, the refusal, indeed, inability, of the Palestinians to give up, get over it,  and move on. Second, the passing of time, and the passing of the hackneyed Zionist narrative, and, indeed, the weakening of support for a Jewish ethnic state  among thinking individuals who take liberty and equality seriously. Third, the aging and passing of my generation, the boomer generation , which was innoculated against common-sense morality by Zionist indoctrination, and ignorance of a Palestinian counter-narrative more consistent with the facts.

7. I recently attended the opening evening of the J Street Convention, and the loudest cheers among the young people were for folks like Bernie Sanders, Ayman Odeh, and for notions of Israel-Palestinian civil equality and partnership. These are young Jews who may not wish to join the BDS movement, but see nothing wrong with it as a movement of Palestinian resistance. Yes, some of them  consider themselves Zionist, but they are willing to trade-in traditional Zionism for a weaker version, i.e., an Israel that fosters Jewish national and cultural aspirations but not at the expense of Palestinian national and cultural aspirations. Let’s hope that they bend the arc of justice more than my generation has.

8. To call anti-Zionism or criticism of the Israeli regime “anti-Semitic” is not only false, but is also a hateful and hurtful slur, which should be condemned as such.  It often masks deep bigotry and ethnic prejudice. Wishing to see all Israelis dead is not anti-Semitic although it is an expression of anti-Israel bigotry, which, like all bigotry, should be condemned.

Comments (4)

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    A wise man. He agrees with me. Does he agree to our publicising it far & wide? I can think of many places it would be useful.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Says it all. Says it well.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I am delighted Jerry Haber has started writing again. Especially as I feel personally validated! I too saw the opening evening of the J Street convention – though it was via a replay on my laptop, not by my personal presence. And I too immediately spotted – or thought I had – who got the loudest applause and cheers from the audience.

    Jerry Haber’s paragraph 7 was what I saw too: “I recently attended the opening evening of the J Street Convention, and the loudest cheers among the young people were for folks like Bernie Sanders, Ayman Odeh, and for notions of Israel-Palestinian civil equality and partnership.”

    And I too drew similar conclusions: ‘These are young Jews who may not wish to join the BDS movement, but see nothing wrong with it as a movement of Palestinian resistance. Yes, some of them consider themselves Zionist, but they are willing to trade-in traditional Zionism for a weaker version, i.e., an Israel that fosters Jewish national and cultural aspirations but not at the expense of Palestinian national and cultural aspirations. Let’s hope that they bend the arc of justice more than my generation has.”

    Never a Zionist (so I don’t have to give it up!), I am delighted to welcome all these young liberal Jews who are standing up to be counted – against oppression, against the occupation. Their politics may not be mine, but they know who are the people to support and that’s a brilliant start.

  • philiph35 says:

    I found the last paragraph the most inspirational:

    “To call anti-Zionism or criticism of the Israeli regime “anti-Semitic” is not only false, but is also a hateful and hurtful slur, which should be condemned as such. It often masks deep bigotry and ethnic prejudice. Wishing to see all Israelis dead is not anti-Semitic although it is an expression of anti-Israel bigotry, which, like all bigotry, should be condemned.”

    Too much effort has focused on denying the identity of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. If equal or comparable attention had been paid to stressing that there was such a thing as unacceptable anti-Zionist bigotry, perhaps people would have got less alarmed and excited.

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