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Monday, July 23, 2012

An Israeli liberal, Two Stater, Zionist, goes to CUFI summit to figure out why evangelicals support Israel

Day 1

I wanted to be a spy, a gonzo style journalist infiltrating the system from within, learning about the coming apocalypse, and how all the Jews would die when the rapture happened.  I wanted to be that person who cracks the system from within and reveals the awful truths about radical right wing evangelical Christians who support Israel for its own destruction.  I wanted to be that guy who finds out the so called truth, without revealing my identity.  But that’s not who I am.  As I have been defining myself to the largest crowd of staunch Republicans I had ever interacted with, I am a moderate Israeli Jew who just wants the option of peace to still be on the table so when I have kids, I won’t have to send them to the army too. 

The reality about CUFI and a conference of such magnitude is that they have learned from the attacks against them. They no longer voice their doomsday prophecies, they don’t talk about eschatology.  They voice a single issue message of professed loved to Israel.  They utilize their vast Christian infrastructure to promote that love to thousands of churches. The reasons and interpretations for their so-called love are as diverse as their churches are. But one thing was sure, they can’t afford to make that mistake of being wackos; after all they are the largest pro-Israel organization in the US, counting over 1.1 million members. The only speaker who said that Jews will go to hell because they don’t accept Christ got kicked out of the convention, and we all got a formal apology and I got a personal one from the only other Jew around.  That Jew also just happens to be the Executive Director of Christian Unite for Israel.  They base the religious support on a passage in the bible, from genesis in which god says to Abraham “I will bless those that bless you, and curse those that curse you.”  I don’t think there was one speaker who hadn’t mentioned that passage at least once.   The biblical justification is present in the conference, but it is almost harmless.  Two months of studying Chrisitian theology, and my dreams of gonzo reporting went down the drain.  I assumed positions for an intellectual battle, and was quite thrilled because I didn’t stand a chance in a theological one.

So if they weren’t crazy Christians, I could speak freely and open my mind to seek out an alliance, after all they were Israel supporters and so was I.  I went to the first break out session titled “The Arab-Israeli Conflict and the 5 No’s.”  It was David Brog, the Jewish executive Director of CUFI, teaching young impressionable students who knew nothing about Israel, the history of the Arab refusal in 40 minutes.  “Israel has offered Palestinians an independent state 5 times.  Each time they reject a proposal it ends in disaster for both Israel and Arab.”  The narrative he created was clear - suggesting peace is disastrous for Israel, and the Palestinians are not interested in a peaceful resolution.  The natural conclusion I reached was that he was rejecting a two state solution, so I decided to confront him with a question about what a viable solution would be that would allow Israel to stay both Democratic and Jewish under one state.  I stood up politely and asked my question, to which he roared that he had never even implied that he was against a two state solution, and said that it was up to Israel to decide. Concealing my agitation and out roar became unbearable as he gleefully went on to the next question from the audience.  I reluctantly raised my arm again, obviously revealing my unease.  He gave me the floor once again, pointing out that I obviously had something to say.  “What about the moderate forces” I asked, “don’t you think there’s room for promoting dialogue in order to maintain the option of a two state solution by supporting Palestinian economic growth.  I only ask because I am an Israeli, and I want to live in peace in my country.”  It was out; I had revealed to the ED of the organization both my liberal nature, and my origin in one single question.  He looked at me suspiciously as a politician under an unexpected attack in front of a delicate crowd that needed to be steered toward the right answer, and it was too early to be imposing the true complexities of the issue in front of them.  “Are you here on a scholarship?” he asked me, “if so, we shouldn’t have paid for you.”  He continued to answer my question that there were no moderate forces in the west bank right now and that it will require a generation or two before it could happen.  Frustrated, I resolved to lay low and approach him after it ended.  When I approached him, he politely told me that he was glad that I was here, but still shouldn’t have paid for me.  I explained my views and he brushed them off as na├»ve.  I had taken a stand and people had noticed. 

The problem with his narrative was there were no moderate forces, there was no Palestine, and there was no occupation.  But their Israel was also definitely not the Israel I grew up in.  There was no dialogue about the character of Israel, or historic processes, there was no diversity or poverty in their Israel, there was no geography or borders in their Israel. at some point I wasn’t sure if they were talking about the same place I had lived my whole life, the country I had served for three years and the country that I call home.  Their Israel was a mystified pseudo-reality that they needed to love because their pastor told them so.  Their Israel was a myth that has been disseminated by neo-cons who believe there cannot be peace and work within the “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm. Their Israel was a fable that linked Abraham, Moses and Jesus with Ben Gurion, Begin and Rabin directly, without recognizing a giant leap both in the chronology of history and of faith.  Their Israel was an easy story to sell in a post “Citizens United” World, in which the American society can be bought quite easily with the right face, idea and a shit ton of money.  Their Israel united all denominations of Christianity from Pentecostals to LDS (Mormons), it united the so called Judeo-Christian civilization, it united Republicans and Democrats, and they were united under the lifted banners of war.  They were in a war against an enemy who didn’t recognize their narrative, so why should they recognize ours, or theirs, or whoever’s narrative they claimed to hold.  They were selling a product that the Israeli explaining/advocacy/propaganda office, aka Hasbara, was failing at – Israel has a right to exist.  Period. 

And it’s true, Israel has a right to exist.  But the whole period thing, no why, no conditions, no criticism. That’s the part I couldn’t live with, and the one I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about. 

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