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Monday, September 12, 2016

Thursday, the rabbi tries to defend himself (and fails miserably)

Greetings from Paris Charles De Gaulle where once again it is a travel day.

It was a crazy weekend, so I didn't get to post this, but on Thursday someone shared with me a long email received from Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Austin, Texas, trying to defend the itinerary for his 'even-handed' Israel trip that included a visit to the tomb of the father of terrorism.

The email is way too long to post in its entirety, but I want to post part of it and comment. The full email is embedded below.
In our tradition, we have intractable enemies. While we blot out Haman's name on Purim, we do so as we articulate it. We must find allies and must not retreat into absolute positions. To be present somewhere is not to pay homage -- rather it is to say we are still here, reclaiming the memories of those who Arafat and his followers murdered, and educating others about the continuing dangers of his legacy. This tomb is a propaganda tool that is used to shore up mindless support for our dehumanization. In turn, not to discuss this stymies dialogue, which leads to our peril. Let us not fall into this trap. To think otherwise empowers our real enemies and continues to drive us apart, intensifying our systemic, historical traumas.
Yes, the tomb is a propaganda tool, so why would you visit it? If you want to visit a place to prove the point that 'we are still here,' visit Auschwitz. Remind your congregants what happened when Jews had no place to flee, when there was no State of Israel, and when the British - in competition with France for the second biggest anti-Semites in Europe after the Germans - barred the doors to keep Arafat's uncle (the Mufti al-Husseini) happy. That's saying 'we're still here' - not visiting the tomb of a terrorist that you admit is a propaganda tool.

What dialogue is the rabbi afraid of 'stymieing' if he does not go to Arafat's tomb?  Dialogue with the 'Palestinians'? Has the rabbi elected himself Prime Minister of Israel? Why is it that no Israeli government minister and no non-Arab Knesset member would dream of visiting Arafat's tomb except in an IDF tank? Maybe it's because nearly all Israelis - even the Left - understand that paying homage to Arafat, even if it would be 'identifying with the other,' would do precisely nothing to advance the 'peace process'?
Day after day, I speak to people who are concerned about the slackening of support, and the growing difficulty of advocacy for Israel in our charged, polarized political climate. We see the dangerous way that the repugnant BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement has made incursions on our college campuses and I applaud and support those on these front lines, directly beating back these efforts that seek to delegitimize Israel and dehumanize our Israeli brothers and sisters.
I'm glad to hear that. But if that's the case, why do you feel the need to cooperate with many of the groups that fund the BDS movement?
I believe that we must do something too. We must learn the language of those with whom we disagree -- especially those with whom we most profoundly disagree. We must see the narratives, symbols, and myths -- and question them. We must develop a more sophisticated, critical understanding of the world around us, as opposed to reducing our justified fears to an "us versus them" mentality. We must learn to think for ourselves and not accept whatever we may read that encourages embitterment and distance. We must learn to have more informed, examined opinions and hear competing voices so we may be more fully confident and present in our own story.
The problem is that the average Jew in America - and even many in Israel - have no idea what 'our own story' is. The very suggestion that the 'Palestinians' have an ancient connection to the land of Israel, or that their connection is anywhere near as longstanding as ours, is simply farcical. You've read Tanach. Do you believe it? Where were the 'Palestinians' during the time of the Tanach? Do you think it's acceptable for them to pretend that the Temples just didn't exist? You know they did. Are we obligated to listen to every narrative regardless of how ridiculous it is? Are we required to accord credibility to every narrative?

By the way, have you ever read Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial?
I am sorry that a proposed stop in an internal draft document has caused such furor. While it was a point of conversation within a larger itinerary, I certainly do not seek public controversy and upon reflection, I see it as a misstep in what I was seeking to accomplish.
What I think the rabbi might have missed is that the stop was just one point - the most outrageous one and the easiest one around which to rally opposition - in a very problematic itinerary. Here's the full email:
Blumofe Email

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At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a very problematic itinerary"

Having seen Zombie's photo essays on UpYourAlley and HowBerkeleyCanYouBe, when I read that itinerary, I did wonder what the inclusivity-obsessed rabbi meant by ... "uplifting music" in the description the Gay Pride parade.


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