Though you pray at length,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood.
–The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 1.
Just less than a year after Israel launched its deadly Hanukkah Massacre against the densely populated open-air prison that is Gaza, leading lights of Ann Arbor’s Jewish community once again felt compelled to show themselves as bloody-handed prophets of the “royal courts” by mounting another effort to disparage truly prophetic voices in their midst.
I’m referring here to Art Aisner’s front-page story in this month’s issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News: “False witnesses.” You may find evidence in Aisner’s story that members of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) are flawed and frail human beings–as are we all–but you will search in vain in Aisner’s 3400-word piece to find any conclusive evidence that JWPF’s witness is false.
For instance, Aisner claims: “the core of the group remains committed to a belief that not just Israelis, but all Jews who support a Jewish national home, are responsible for inflicting tragedy upon tragedy on Palestinians.” Assuming Aisner is correct, it is unclear how that marks JWPF members as false witnesses. Would Aisner make the same claim about Rabbi Abraham Heschel?
In The Prophets, Heschel wrote: “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. … In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common” (emphasis added). Who can deny that if the American Jewish community was not actively complicit in Palestinian suffering and did not enable and engage in Zionist cruelty and falsehood that the daily crimes perpetrated by and on behalf of the Jewish State would soon cease?
In 1971, Richard Nixon’s “Plumbers” broke into the offices of the psychiatrist of Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg “to get a ‘mother lode’ of information about Mr. Ellsberg’s mental state, to discredit him.” I imagine that Aisner wishes he had that type of ‘access’ because a significant part of his article smacks of “Plumber” journalism. For example, there’s this: “Herskovitz acknowledges regularly attending sessions with a therapist over the years, but insists he isn’t crazy.”
Like Ellsberg and Herskovitz, tens of millions of Americans have sought out the aid of a psychotherapist; undoubtedly, many have done so for extended periods of time. So, what kind of person is Aisner that he resorts to innuendo to reinforce the “cruelty and falsehoods” of someone like Stephen Pastner whose “caricature depictions of the protesters … honestly [sic] question some members’ sanity?”
To his credit though Aisner lets Herskovitz take a crack at this “cheap diversion of the public’s attention.” The purpose of this, Herskovitz notes, is to send the message: “Pay no attention to the Israeli atrocities, but focus on Henry so nobody wants to take up the issue.”
Aisner also resorts to innuendo when it comes to Herskovitz’s name and attendance at Beth Israel Congregation (BIC). Aisner writes: “Although he claims to have attended services at the synagogue he now pickets, an initial search revealed no member by that name. Perhaps it is because for much of his time in Ann Arbor the Pittsburg [sic] native was known by his given [sic] name, Henry Henry.” Perhaps, it’s because of Aisner’s sleight-of-hand of slipping from attending services to membership, as if they were same. Further, the surname Herskovitz received when he was born was “Herskovitz.” It shouldn’t have been too hard for Aisner to sleuth this out but it must have better suited his purposes to raise rather than dispel doubts.
The discerning reader is also left to wonder why Aisner searched BIC records for “Henry Herskovitz” but, apparently, not for “Henry Henry.” It’s seems reasonable to conclude that, if it were true, Aisner would dutifully report that there was no “Henry Henry” in the records, either. So, did Aisner find (and fail to report) what he didn’t want to find–a record that Herskovitz attended BIC’s services when his name was Henry Henry?
As part of his effort to call into question Herskovitz’s “true motives,” Aisner also quotes BIC member Dan Cutler: ” ‘I’ve heard a pretty wide range of opinions about the Middle East [in the congregation] including no lack of people very critical of the Israeli government’ … But the picketers don’t care about actual opinions among real people in the congregation, he contends.” This reminded me of the bit from the first Blues Brothers movie when Elwood asks the proprietress of an establishment he hopes will book his band, “What kind of music do you usually have here?” The woman proudly replies: “Oh, we got both kinds. We got country and western.” BIC is just as diverse: They have Zionists who are critical of Israel and Zionists who are not-so-much critical of Israel. Vive la différence!
If Rabbi Rob Dobrusin is to be believed, it is precisely because of the “actual opinions among real people in the congregation” that BIC is a fitting site for a protest. As Dobrusin writes in the Ann Arbor News in 2007: “there is one general statement which I can make on behalf of the Congregation – Beth Israel Congregation affirms without any hesitation or equivocation the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish State … No matter how long the protests continue, this will never change.” Anyone else hear echoes of George Wallace: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”?
In Aisner’s piece, Stephen Pastner also complains: “The thing that twinges me is that it’s the impropriety of doing it in front of a place of worship”. Would Pastner hesitate to protest outside a local church that advocated stripping Americans Jews of their US citizenship? How about one that supported the dissolution of Israel? I doubt Pastner would bleat much about the “impropriety” of protest then.
Arguably, institutions and individuals who claim to deal in values and ethics deserve to be held to a higher standard of conduct. Nor are such protests inconsistent with religious tradition. The Old Testament tells us that Jeremiah stood “in the gate of the LORD’S house” and rebuked Israel. As Abraham Heschel explains:
The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded … To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense: “This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4). Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion. “Behold you trust in deceptive words to no avail,” he calls (Jer. 7:8). Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds.
BIC’s support of Jewish supremacism in Palestine is indeed an evil act and an unholy deed. In 2006, as Israel devastated Lebanon, killing hundreds and wounding thousands, BIC waved the flag (Israeli, that is) and prayed “for those who defend Israel.” BIC attendees have assaulted JWPF members because of their criticism of Israel (in his search of official records Aisner somehow missed this). BIC spreads falsehoods about the vigils. They send their children to Israel and pose them with armed Israeli soldiers. And Rabbi Dobrusin has offered a halachic justification of torture from the bima. Yet, none of this “twinges” Stephen Pastner or interests Art Aisner.
Speaking of records, Aisner went so far as to get records of Sol Metz’s divorce, as if this information was somehow relevant to Metz’s position on Israel. He brings it up, in part at least, to tag Metz as a hypocrite for protesting the pro-Israel activities of the Jewish Federation but Aisner, apparently, has to invent some of his “facts” in order to accomplish that.
Aisner has Metz going “to the local Jewish Federation for help with clothing and other needs for his family” after the divorce. But in an e-mail sent to Aisner after the publication of his story, Metz makes it clear that “I did not go anywhere for help with clothing during that or any other time. Rosemary [his ex-wife] did go with my opposition.” Commenting on Aisner’s assertion that Metz is “aware of the hypocrisy, but remains unfazed by it,” Metz wrote, “I guess that your lie [about seeking help from the Jewish Federation] was an attempt to set up this whopper.”
Marcia Federbush’s divorce of twenty years ago is also grist for Aisner’s mill as is a very abbreviated account of Katherine [sic] Wilkerson’s criminal trial and firing from Packard Community Clinic (PCC). Aisner writes: “Wilkerson was acquitted by a jury in 2007, but she was fired a year later over a contract dispute.”
In fact, Dr. Wilkerson was fired about two months after her acquittal because she refused to consent to a gag rule. In a letter to PCC Executive Director Kim Kratz from the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Michael Steinberg characterizes the gag rule as “extremely broad” and said it “poses serious civil liberties implications for the free expression rights of employees” and “could prevent an [employee] from participating in virtually any political demonstration outside of work that has nothing to do with work.”
The ACLU urged the PCC to remove the offending contract provision and stated that any employees no longer working at the clinic because of refusing to agree to the gag rule should be “given the opportunity to return to work upon signing a revised agreement.” Wilkerson was never given this opportunity.
Steinberg also writes, “I understand that individuals were threatening to withhold contributions or patient referrals because of the controversial speech of one of your doctors, Catherine Wilkerson, about Israel and Palestine.” Now, what kind of people would cut off funding and patients for a non-profit community medical clinic that was founded to serve needy, vulnerable people? What kind of cowards would quietly submit to such blackmail? These are not questions Aisner is interested in.
Aisner is interested in the Greens though–when it fits his agenda, that is. Although Aimee Smith and Michelle Kinnucan were duly elected, he characterizes their ascension “to leadership positions in the local Green Party” as an example of JWPF’s ability “to disrupt a few Ann Arbor institutions where you’d least expect.” It shouldn’t have been too unexpected or much of a disruption though since the Green Party of the United States went on record in 2005 (before the alleged Smith-Kinnucan coup) as calling “for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.”
Aisner implies that under Smith and Kinnucan “issues like the environment, instant run-off voting, and domestic social justice” were sidelined as the “the party quickly became laser focused on Palestinian rights.” It’s funny then that during this time the local party did such things as supporting the United ENDA campaign and maintaining a presence at Ann Arbor’s annual environmental Green Fair.
You can also read Smith’s 2006 interview with Ann Arbor’s own (but not-so-homeless) “Homeless Dave.” There, she speaks articulately about Palestine but also about things such as depleted uranium, food localism, Bahro’s concept of “exterminism,” and the “Green Revolution.” All in all, not a very laser-like focus on Palestine, I’m afraid.
On the local Greens, Aisner also quotes Peter Schermerhorn of the sour grapes brigade: “It was very difficult for the Greens to get any traction locally since we were blamed for losing the 2000 election for Gore and we were building it back … But it’s gone, and it’s been gone ever since they [Smith and Kinnucan] were put in charge.” Schermerhorn fails to mention that the Huron Valley Greens were moribund and not even meeting regularly when Smith, Kinnucan, and others revived the local organization in late 2005. Schermerhorn seemed to acknowledge this in an Ann Arbor News article by Aisner’s former colleague, Tom Gantert. In the July 1, 2006 piece, Schermerhorn is quoted as saying: “Some joined recently … Some have been members for years. They’ve definitely perked up the energy level and, to some degree, redirected it.”
It bears mentioning that Aisner’s article also has a photo of Smith (who is not a Muslim, as Aisner ever so helpfully points out, and has never claimed to be one, as Aisner does not point out) wearing hijab while, according to the caption, scolding “the [Celebrate Israel Day] crowd, ‘Stop pretending you’re from Arabia. Be proud of your European roots.’ ” To get his apparent point across that Smith is a hypocrite for wearing the hijab while taking Jews to task for pretending to be a Semitic people, Aisner depends upon the inability or unwillingness of his readers to distinguish between solidarity and theft/appropriation.
On the subject of Jewish theft/appropriation it will suffice for present purposes to quote Columbia University associate professor Joseph Massad, citing Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel by Israeli scholar Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi:
The naming of the new Jew (Beit-Hallahmi refers to the new Jew as the “anti-Jew”) Sabra is consistent with Zionism’s interest in nature and geography. Not only is the new Jew a hard fruit to pick, but he also grows in the desert, the product of a new geography. His mother is nature and the land of Israel. His name is part and parcel of the geographic, historical and cultural appropriation of Palestine by Zionism. That the very name of the new Jew is Arabic is no more of an inconsistency than the future Israeli cultural theft and appropriation of falafil and hummus (traditional Palestinian and Levantine Arab dishes) as Israeli Jewish dishes or dabkah (traditional Palestinian and Levantine Arab line dancing) as Israeli Jewish folk dancing.
I have by no means addressed every omission, distortion, factual error, or hare-brained notion expressed by JWPF opponents in Aisner’s piece but before I end I want to take on one of David Shtulman’s inanities. Herr Shtulman whines: “There’s a sense of entitlement they have that everything they want to do is okay, and I don’t think the Jewish community needs to accept it.”
As the article makes clear, the relevant “everything they want to do” is to speak out against the organized Jewish community’s support for Israel. And it must aggravate poor Shtulman and his ilk that there is an “entitlement” to that, it’s called the First Amendment and Zionists haven’t succeeded in killing it off yet. Until they do, the bloody-handed prophets of the “royal courts” will undoubtedly continue to wail and gnash their teeth as long as someone has the courage and integrity to criticize Israel’s evil acts and unholy deeds and those who are complicit in them. Labels: Beth Israel, Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, Zionism