Jews of Conscience defend human rights activist
On October 2006, Dr. Hassan Fouda, a human rights activist based in Connecticut, circulated a petition written by distinguished Israeli Jews including former Israeli cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni, to demand that the Israeli government ceases its oppression of the Palestinians. A rabbi from New London, Connecticut named Carl Aster (Congregation Beth El) attacked Dr. Fouda calling him ?the most hate-filled individual I have ever met? and offered a prayer for his demise. Several prominent Jews from Israel and the USA wrote to the rabbi to chastise him over his hateful remarks and to support Dr. Fouda as man of peace. Some of their letters are reproduced below
(1) Letter from Jeff Halper: Dr Halper is an Israeli Professor of anthropology is the founder of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (www.ICAHD.org). Dr. Halper was nominated for the Nobel peace price in 2006
Subject: Re: My reply to Rabbi Carl Astor's attack
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2006 23:37:34 +0200 (IST)
As an Israeli Jew, I deeply regret that "the most hate-filled individual I have ever met" is an Arab-American man of peace, Hassan Fouda, who has been engaged for years in peace-building with Israelis, Palestinians, American Jews and others of moral backbone. He is, ironically, on the board of an ISRAELI peace organization -- the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which I direct in Jerusalem -- and thus probably has better credentials as a man of peace than you. Double irony, he probably has a better knowledge and understanding of what is actually transpiring here than you do, having taken the time (and funds) to come here several times to investigate the situation and meet with Israeli-Jewish peace-makers.
I also regret that your response typifies that of American rabbis, who are supposed to be the moral leaders of the community. Have you all gone so morally blind as not to recognize a cruel oppression of another people by our own? I would say that a commitment to justice, to human and civil rights, are the very defining characteristics of modern Judaism, not supporting morally indefensible positions of a foreign country that has the audacity to portray Occupation as "Jewish."
I would like to remind you (because it seems regretfully necessary) of the centrality to justice and human rights in modern Judaism by introducing you to a true Jewish hero of
whom you and your rabbinical colleagues have never heard: Rene Cassin, the French-Jewish author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a 1968 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The attached article, "A Prophetic Judaism Of Human Rights: Rene Cassin And Resistance To The Israeli Occupation," will appear in an anthology published but the Jewish Peace Fellowship. You would do well to read it with reflection and humility before apologizing to Hassan and eagerly joining his study-tour to learn more about our tragic conflict -- and Israel's responsibility.
I look forward to having coffee with you in Jerusalem -- and I'll bring along my friends in Rabbis for Human Rights if it will make you feel more comfortable. Thankfully there are other rabbis who do not share your (current) views.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
P.O. Box 2030
91020 Jerusalem, Israel
(2). Letter from Dr. Norton Mezvinsky, Distinguished University Professor, Central Connecticut State University
From: Mezvinsky, Norton (History)
Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 5:15 PM
To: Rabbi Carl Astor
From: Norton Mezvinsky
Hassan Fouda has sent me copies of his email exchanges with you. Hassan's answer to your response is right on mark. Your attack upon him is indeed an attack upon the initiators of the petition and others who signed the petition. Included on this list are a number of distinguished Israeli Jews. Your attack, moreover, is indirectly an
attack upon the many thousands of Israeli Jews and numerous other good people, including rabbis, who publicly have criticized oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli government and Defense Forces in both Gaza and the West Bank. The extremity of your attack is especially shocking since you are a rabbi. For you to disagree with the petition is one thing. For you to use the words you used and to utter such an invalid and unwarranted ad-hominem attack make you a disgrace to the rabbinate. I say this firstly as a human being and secondly as a proud Jew. I shall use the email exchanges between Hassan Fouda and you as primary sources of one aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in my university course that deals with that subject. It will be enlightening for my students.
CCSU Professor of History
Distinguished CSU University Professor
(3). Letter from Dr. Mark Braverman. Dr. Braverman is a clinical psychologist based in Washington, DC area. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of “Partners for Peace: www.partnersforpeace.org” He also serves on the Board of “Washington Interfaith Alliance for
Middle east Peace. ”
From: "Mark Braverman"
CC: "'Hassan Fouda'"
Subject: RE: Your email to Hassan Fouda
Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2006 22:10:59 -0500
Dear Rabbi Astor,
I am the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew. My grandfather, a direct descendant of the Lubavicher Rebbe, was born in the Old City of Jerusalem. He emigrated to the USA early in the last century. I was born in 1948 -- Zionism was mother's milk, together with love for and connection with my family, almost all of whom live in Israel . I was raised as a Conservative Jew -- I was a product of Solomon Schechter Day School , President of Philadelphia Region USY and National Vice President, and a camper and then counselor at Camp Ramah. I first went to Israel with Ramah in the early 60's. I lived on Kibbutz Sasa after college. I last visited the region this past summer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I am a proud Jew. I love Israel. And I am heartsick about her.
I understand your anger, and I understand your fear. I actually want to thank you for expressing it, instead of burying it within, which is what most American Jews do. Traveling throughout New England this past month with three women – two Palestinians and an Israeli -- speaking to many groups about the Israel-Palestine situation, I heard this fear and this anger often from Jews in our audiences. I heard it in the college student planning to make Aliyah, who, in tears, protested that we must have it wrong about Israel – how could we smash her dream? I heard it from the many Jews who demanded, indeed pleaded for a “balanced” picture, who wanted “equal time” for consideration of the violence from Palestinians that presumably creates the basis for Israeli retaliation in its various forms. But Rabbi, the situation is not balanced. Palestine is being destroyed. Israel has all the power. The Palestinian people – good, patient people - are being ground into the dirt -- their leaders killed or imprisoned, their young people impoverished and robbed of a future, and any possibility for nonviolent protest all but made impossible by a brutal military occupation that restricts movement and carries out illegal, summary executions. We are doing wrong. We have blood on our hands.
I was shocked and angered by your attack on Hassan Fouda – a man I know and respect. But although I would not have acted as you did, I write to tell you that I was in your place a short 9 months ago. When I would hear talk of the Nakba, when I heard the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” applied to Israel , I was angry and afraid. I too
looked for a “balanced” discourse: where was the acknowledgment that the 1948 was a war of self-defense, a war to prevent yet another extermination? Didn’t they attack us? Didn’t they reject Partition and by so doing bring the Catastrophe upon themselves? Is not the occupation, although lamentably abusive of human rights, necessary for
creating defensible borders and a level of security for Israel ’s civilians? I now see that responsibility for denial and the distortion lies equally, if not more, with us. The 1948 “War of Independence” was part of a larger plan to displace the Palestinians. Policies post-1967 are a clear continuation of this plan. Oslo and Camp David were not
carried out in good faith on Israel ’s part. Israel is not a partner for peace. This reality, the real narrative, is now clearly documented by books appearing, in Israel , by academic researchers and a growing chorus of Israeli journalists and writers. The truth is surfacing, slowly, inexorably.
I, like many, chose for most of my adult life to ignore this truth. Then I saw it with my eyes. Rabbi, you must go and see. Go and see the Separation Wall – not the sanitized Israeli section, but the real story of the Wall, snaking through the West Bank on stolen land, separating Palestinians from Palestinians, and tell me then if you think its purpose is security. Visit the checkpoints and feel the shame and disgust which are the only emotions one can feel for the baseless humiliation and oppression being perpetrated in our name. Go and see the villages being destroyed and the land taken to build a system of Bantustans and erect towns for American Jews who believe we have the right to do this. Take up Jeff Halper’s generous offer to meet with him in Jerusalem . Meet the women of Machsom Watch and the men and women of New Profile who are struggling to preserve a shred of moral conscience in Israel, who are truly frightened for what is happening to their society. I assure you – these are not haters of Israel , these are lovers of Israel . I add to this list people who circulate and sign petitions in order to raise awareness of what is going on and to demand accountability from Israel , the West, and all people of conscience. These, Rabbi, are our present-day Shomrei Yisrael.
But if you choose to argue or to avoid the moral issues, then consider simply the pragmatic issue of security. The “violence” brought upon Israel (and do you really consider that acts of popular resistance that cause casualties in the hundreds over a period of decades a threat to Israel ’s survival?) is a direct result of the Occupation. We began
the cycle of hatred, and we are breeding more violence and hatred daily. Look to the cause. Consider the path we are on and what it really means for Jewish survival. Go and see. Go and see.
(4). Letter from Dr. Sam Goldberger, retired history Professor, CT Community Colleges
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2006 22:44:08 -0500 (EST)
Dear Rabbi Astor,
As a member of We Refuse To Be Enemies, I have read both your message to Hassan Fouda, which he has shared with other members, and your message concerning the "situation" in Gaza. As a Jew I must admit to being saddened and a bit depressed about what you have written, because I have been reading and hearing so much that
is similar from my fellow American Jews in the years since the beginning of the latest intifada.
I am continually reading and hearing about Palestinian or Arab "aggression", and I am acquainted with a nefarious group in academia that calls itself by the almost blasphemous name of the David Project. There is a very real denial in all this of the reality that the State of Israel has assumed from the day of its official proclamation the
role of Goliath vis-a-vis the Arab people of Palestine, who are often armed literally or figuratively with nothing more than stones. As early as 1922 the Russian writer Vladimir/Zev Jabotinsky was writing in an emigre journal in Paris in his essay "The Iron Wall" that the only way to deal with the Arabs was with overwhelming force, and he cited
specifically the precedent of how the European settlers of North America had dealt with the Native Americans. Although the Labor Zionists differed with Jabotinsky's Revisionists with regard to the role of private enterprise, they mostly did not differ with this approach to the Arabs. By 1936 the leaders of the Jewish Agency for Palestine had begun building the military and paramilitary forces that would be so effective in the Arab-Israeli War of 1947-1949.
Born in 1942 into a Hungarian immigrant family in Bridgeport, CT, I grew up at a time when our inner-city Orthodox synagogue, Cong. Ahavath Achim, had not yet adopted the quasi-messianic variety of Zionism that became so widespread among the Orthodox in America after 1967. My religious education was steeped in the ethical teachings of musar and in historical lessons that included the life and writings of such scholars as RAMBAM, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (or Musa ibn Mamun, if you will), who was born in Andalusia and lived most of his life in Egypt. I left home for college just before our synagogue moved from Bridgeport to suburban Fairfield, and I ceased being halachically observant before the Orthodox turn to the ideology of Zionism, so I feel these days like a fossil of what Judaism used to be. I am aware, however, that even now many haredim do not recognize the authority of the chief rabbis of Israel because these officials are selected through a political process that excludes candidates who do not follow the state ideology; and I know that the Satmer hasidic sect, with 100,000 followers, regards the state ideology of Israel as a religious heresy.
It seems to me that a state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons, with an army that employs weapons made of depleted uranium and showers civilian populations with cluster bombs, - a state that has used such oppressive occupation policies for nearly 40 years, has no right to call itself the Jewish State. Furthermore, a state that treats a large
part of its own citizens unequally, that refuses to allow civil marriage or divorce, can hardly call itself "democratic" in 2006/5667.
When I read your claims about participating in events organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, etc., I thought to myself about my college classmate Joe Lieberman, who excuses everything else he has done by endlessly reminding one and all that he participated in a 1960s Freedom ride. Joe Lieberman was striving hard already as an undergraduate to
align himself with the rich and powerful in America, and throughout his political career he has supported the politics of race and class that have made our society as polarized as it is today between the very rich and the great majority who are insecure and/or poor. The same process has occurred in Israel since the mid-1980s, and yet American Jews seem totally indifferent, not only to the discrimination against Arabs, but also to the impoverishment and insecurity of a good many of Israel's Jews.
Your Judaism is not mine, Rabbi Astor, and I would not care to belong to your congregation.
Shalom, Sam Goldberger
(5). Letter from Marlene Newesri, An American Jew and a human rights activist based in New York city
Subject: A history lesson, and a lesson in dissent
Date: Thu, 02 Nov 2006 14:17:39 -0500
Dear Rabbi Astor:
One of the most inspiring stories I've ever read is about a group of young university students in Germany during the very early 1940's who called themselves "The White Rose," which certainly serves as one of the greatest lessons to be learned as to ethical and moral principles no matter what the cost.
The alleged horrible crime they committed against the Nazi German government and against the German people were to publish leaflets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime, and asking the people to rise up.
Unfortunately, these courageous young people were caught and had to stand trial. Two of them were a brother and a sister named Hans and Sophie Scholl, and another was a young man named Christoph Probst. All three were handed a death sentence and were executed that very same day by sending them to the guillotine, but only after they were verbally attacked by a German Nazi judge who treated them as sheer evil. Their accusers could not possibly understand how these fine German youths who came from decent German families could have their minds so warped and twisted and turn out to be traitors.
The last words echoed by Hans Scholl just before he was beheaded was "Long Live Freedom."!
The signatories to the petition which so offends you, which I will be signing (one of many) are also honorable people, yet the difference is that they nor I will be executed for our dissent and for our unwillingness to remain silent or indifferent as crimes against humanity are carried out by the Israeli governement. The most we can suffer is to be called "self-hating Jews," and "traitors," of which I will be proud as I will consider myself as those who were once considered "self-hating Germans."
I would expect better from you Rabbi Astor, who shamefully delivered a hateful diatribe to Mr. Hassan Fouda, instead of criticizing or denouncing what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people, or even bothering to take the time to look into it.
Yes, we do live in another era now, however, and most regretably, history has not changed..only the roles.
Long Live Freedom!
New York City
(6). Letter from Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a well known Israeli human rights activists
From: "Angela Godfrey-Goldstein"
CC: "'Hassan Fouda'"
Subject: Your letter to Hassan Fouda
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2006 10:14:48 +0200
Dear Rabbi Astor:
I am shocked, dismayed and disappointed yet again to see American Jews really are not hearing the crucial messages, and are busy killing the messengers. This is blindly bringing down the temple yet again on all of us. Judaism, you know well, is about morality, ethics and spiritual values. What is happening in modern-day Israel is the opposite (not least all our leaders are under police or military investigation and prosecution - the corruption is endemic, almost across the board). We can argue the reasons, we can use as much compassion as possible to understand how a traumatized people are visiting trauma on other peoples, but the fact of the matter is that Israel has lost its moral compass. And when some Israelis are pleading to be heard expressing the need for a return to morality and a cessation of blind militarism (perhaps you have noticed we now have a certified fascist in our Cabinet -- yet another signal if you wish to read it), it reminds me of the radio hams in the Warsaw Ghetto sending out messages that the world ignored, disastrously.
American Jews can change this nightmare that Israel has become, and I speak as an Israeli of 25 years standing who is seriously considering leaving, like so many other decent Israelis these days, many of whom have indeed left (between half a million to one million). Instead, even its spiritual leaders, such as yourself, choose to ignore reality
and go for knee-jerk responses such as accusations of anti-semitism and hatred. How much worse does it have to get before you start to question? When will you start to query Israel 's image of whiter than white innocence? There are those now who regularly compare us to Nazis. And they substantiate their claims, in this breeding ground of
hatred that we have fomented by our military occupation and deliberate failure to offer real peace, or an alternative vision that will underpin Israel ’s own survival as a sustainable state (fulfilling international law, for example, instead of ever defying it).
I believe the ignorance, enmity, closed minds and warmongering of many in American Jewry (and the Christian Zionist fundamentalists) is tragic. The conflict can be solved, but requires brave leadership. Not the sort of blind parroting of phrases you utter, which really are neither constructive nor healing in any way.
Please rethink your entire vision of this ongoing occupation and its solution (not least by coming to see what it is that is under discussion - when were you last in Gaza, for example, that you criticize those who ask for the nightmare there to be stopped?). Already various holocaust survivors say all this reminds them of the camps and ghettoes when they had never dreamed to have such reminders in their lifetimes. And if you do not wish to consider that, at least have some care for the 140,000 holocaust survivors in Israel living under the poverty line. And then ask yourself about the millions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation also forced by Israel to live under the poverty line with absolutely no human rights at all. If you deny Israeli responsibility, then at least care for their plight by ending it instead of attacking those who try.
I hope to hear from you. I suspect, sadly, you will continue to accuse instead of acting in the spirit of tikkun olam...
Action Advocacy Officer, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Jerusalem
firstname.lastname@example.org; www.icahd.org ?www.angelaicahd.blogspot.com
(7). Letter from Lucy Rosenblatt. Ms. Rosenblatt is a human rights advocate based in Hartford, Connecticut and a Jewish member of We Refuse To be Enemies: Moslem, Jews and Christians in Coalition for Peace email@example.com
Sent: Tue 10/31/2006 4:42 PM
To: Carl N. Astor
Cc: Hassan Fouda; Elizabeth ((Teacher Education)) Aaronsohn
Subject: Peace Petition
Dear Rabbi Astor
I am Jewish and a member of We Refuse To Be Enemies. I know that my parents and grandparents, were they living, would be very proud of my activism to promote peace amongst all people. I am proud to be able to stand with Israeli Jews of conscience against the policies of the Israeli government in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon,just as I stand with fellow citizens here against the policies of our government in Iraq and elsewhere.
You do not have to agree with me. I was taught that debate and dissent were in the finest Jewish tradition.
But I am extremely disturbed by your personal attack on my friend Hassan Fouda and by extension, myself, our organization and the Jewish Israeli signers of the petition. We have worked together for several years promoting understanding between our cultures. That understanding is a crucial ingredient for the survival of Israel, if
not for the whole human race.
(8). Letter from Tema Okun, a Jewish human rights activist based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
CC: Hassan Fouda
Subject: re: your letter
From: Tema Okun
Date: Wed, 1 Nov 2006 10:14:05 -0500
Dear Rabbi Astor,
First, let me tell you that I am Jewish. I am writing to you out of an intense sense of concern and distress for Judaism and the Jewish community, one I am sure that you share, in a general sense if not in the specifics. My guess, and my fear, is that what I have to say here will make you more defensive, rather than less. I hope this is not the case, for it is not my intention to add to any sense of hostility or anger or rage or defensiveness.
I am deeply perplexed as to why you would characterize my colleague and friend Hassan Fouda as hate-filled or why you would characterize the petition he circulated
What I continue to wonder about respected members of the Jewish community, a very intelligent and well-informed community, is why you become so angry when people share the horrific truth about what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza rather than be angry at the horrific truth. In other words, are you angry at Dr. Fouda because he is saying out loud what must not be said? If you are, why are you not equally angry at the facts that he is sharing?
I fear for our community very much, as we continue to shut our ears and hearts to the incredible harm we are imposing on a community of people because of the actions of their leadership. I have spent time in the West Bank and I have met Palestinians. My experience is that they, like us, want simply to live their lives in peace -- send their children to school, work their farms, go to their jobs, enjoy their families, lead normal lives. To continue to pretend, as the Jewish community in this country seems to want to do, that these are all hate-filled people, that they deserve the incredibly repressive conditions visited on them by the Israeli military, conditions about which most Jews I know are ignorant and hostile to even acknowleding, is to do to others what we would not accept for ourselves. I take Hillel's instruction very literally and am dismayed to see how we seem collectively to disregard it when we feel threatened or are fearful.
At this point, most people who unconditionally support Israel begin to point to the violence and hatred that Israel receives. This is not an either/or situation, where a
Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers or deaths from suicide bombings justify treatment of whole communities of people in ways that, were we on the receiving end, would be correctly represented as inhumane.
No one deserves the kind of suffering that the people of Gaza are experiencing. No one. That you, and so many others who are as wise and thoughtful as you, believe that whatever Israel is doing in our name is ok, is to me a greater threat to Judaism than the signing of this petition. What, I wonder, does it mean to survive as a Jewish community, if in the act of survival we become the very monster that we most fear?
With love and concern,