I’ve been thinking about a bunch of news stories from Israel: the arrest of a woman for carrying a torah scroll by the Western Wall; the bill being pushed in the Knesset that would delegitimize non-Orthodox conversions; recent efforts to demonize the New Israel Fund and various Israeli NGOs; racist pamphlets by settlers at illegal outposts aimed at the Druze soldiers who had come to evict them. But this isn’t a screed against the right. Not too long ago, the then-dean of the Israeli Conservative Rabbinical School, a brilliant feminist scholar and pioneering rabbi herself, not only ruled against the ordination of gay and lesbian Jews, but claimed that homosexuality was a choice, and that heterosexual marriage was endangered by the movement for gay and lesbian rights, and there was not a lot of public outcry (at least, not that got much press here).
And I’m wondering if all of those stories might be really one story. Maybe what we should be worried about is not who gets access to the Wall, or who is the gatekeeper for conversions (even though both of those are serious issues), but whether Israel has developed a culture in which the way you respond to those you disagree with is by totally delegitimizing them, and by using what power you can to deny them even the right to their own story.
And that makes me wonder to what extent the long, and in some circles still extant, tradition of insisting that there is no such thing as a “Palestinian people,” that they have no legitimate national aspiration and no legitimate complaint against Israel – in short, the continued delegitimization of the Palestinians – has played into this dynamic. It seems to me that if you spend enough time insisting that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people, and the very claim that there is, is a threat” it’s hard to keep from moving to “there is no such thing as non-Haredi Judaism…” or “no such thing as healthy gay and lesbians…”.
To be sure, in part I'm upset because I just find it unseemly that there is so much concern within the American Jewish community about who has access to the Wall and so little about the gross inequality in the Israeli government’s treatment of Arab and Jewish citizens. But more, I’m convinced that the only society in which my group will be treated with dignity is a society in which every group is treated with dignity. And I’m worried that what I’m hearing on the news is the squawking of Pastor Neimuller’s chickens coming home to roost.