That’s What She Said

A friend of mine is writing an article for a magazine and wanted to interview some of Penn’s (more liberal) Jews, and I liked her questions so much I wanted to throw them up here. It’s a bit lengthy, but come on, it’s not like you have anything better to do.

Q1) Do you consider yourself religious? – I consider myself conservative, a little bit observant, but not necessarily religious. “Religious Jew” has such a stereotype attached to it.

Q2) What defines a ‘liberal’ Jew if such a definition exists? – You can be liberal religiously or liberal culturally, I guess. I assume you’re going for the liberal culturally aspect. In the US, and I think in Israel (although liberal Israelis would probably be considered radical here), being liberal means having some level of questioning of the legitimacy of Israel in its present form. I don’t think you’ll really find someone Jewish who actively believes Israel shouldn’t exist at all, in any form, but being liberal means you question something about it – whether than be the nature of the state, their actions, it’s geographical placement, something more than just Israeli politics (because anyone in their right mind should question that system).

Q3) What is your opinion on Zionism? – I read a great quote in a book once, about how Zionism has two different meanings. The meaning for Jews is itself twofold. Zionism is first and foremost the movement started by Theodor Herzl (a secular Austrian Jew) in 1897, which was a secular search for a Jewish homeland. The Zionist conference itself proposed Uganda, at the time a British (I think) colony, but there was a large contingent of very religious Jews in Eastern Europe who demanded it be founded in the Holy Land. Zionism as a movement is defined by its socialist characteristic. Israel was founded on the backs of kibbutzniks (people who lived and worked kibbutzes, essentially successful socialist community experiments), and its origins are arguably completely secular, although religion definitely had an influence. The other side of (Jewish) Zionism is the way it is seen today. To be Zionist means to support Israel, or believe in it, or to want to make aliyah (move to Israel), something along those lines. There’s obviously not one set definition. However, for most Jews, Zionism is not a negative movement. It is at its core the (secular) search for a Jewish homeland, whether or not in Palestine is a different matter. Now, to most of the Arab world, and specifically Palestine, Zionism is code for all the bad stuff; occupation, settlements, genocide (if you want to go that far), apartheid, whatever. Granted, this is a fair view point, since Palestinians lost their land at the hands of ‘Zionists’, who were essentially the first settlers. However Zionism is not meant as a negative movement or to have negative effects. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say Herzl and the first Zionists had every intention of living and coexisting peacefully with their Arab neighbors in Palestine. Shit hit the fan when the Holocaust came and Israel became founded as an expressly Jewish state, rather than just a state with religious equality and tolerance and principles of sanctuary. So in a nutshell, Zionism means something totally different depending who you are, and as a word should be completely omitted from intelligent/educated debate because of the amount of anger it will incite, on both sides.

Q4) What do you think of the Israeli lobby at Penn?- I wouldn’t call it a lobby, but the pro-Israel contingent is definitely very strong. They are also sensitive / easily offended, which seems silly, because they have so much more support than any Palestinian groups do.However, I think it is to be expected considering the high Jewish, and particularly high Orthodox, percentage at Penn. Luckily MOST Penn kids are intelligent and open-minded enough to engage in relatively civil debate.

Q5) What are your thoughts on Israel’s actions towards Gaza? – Personally, I understand both sides, and it’s really a struggle. Obviously Hamas shouldn’t be shooting rockets into Israel, but obviously Israel shouldn’t wage a war of attrition against the people of Gaza. I think the accusations of the criminality of Israel’s particular attacks on schools, etc, are bullshit. Any group like Hamas – including (and this has been well-publicized) Haganah during the 30s and 40s – hides weapons wherever they can, and that usually means community buildings like schools or religious institutions. But then again, obviously Israel shouldn’t be bombing out schools when there are children inside. I’m pretty sure their technology is good enough to bomb them at night, or something. I also think using White Phosphorous should put them on trial at the ICC. I think “atrocities” are a particularly good definition of what happened, and as much as I/others would like to, I don’t actually think you can place the entire blame on Israel. Like it or not, they were provoked, or believe they were, and while the punishment may not have fit the crime, there was a crime, and it should be punished, whether or not the means fit the end is a different question.

Q6) Do you think your views are well represented by the international media?- Interesting question. What is international media? Media in Jordan, satellite TV channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Quds and others, during the time of the invasion of Gaza, showed nothing but death, destruction, smoke, fire, all the usual suspects. Any time you turned on the TV a bloody child would be staring back at you. It’s all anyone talked about. What’s your opinion on Gaza? I must have heard that question a hundred times. (Now try answering it in Arabic, as an American Jew, to a Jordanian/Palestinian.) When I came back to the states, I was appalled at how few people knew what was going on. Obviously, people were like oh yeah, Israel invaded Gaza, they had to stop the rockets. But never once did I see images anywhere near approaching the gore of the ones I saw in Jordan. It seemed to me that people just didn’t care. It was like going from a place where everyone was angry and passionate to a world of apathy and ignorance. I think this case proves that there is no ‘international media,’ per se. Yes, the New York Times covers international issues but their Gaza coverage was so focused on political aspects of the problem and very little on the humanity issue, whereas ‘international’ news networks such as Al-Jazeera were SO focused on the human element and very little, if at all, on the politics. Hence if I look hard enough, I’m sure my views are represented by SOMEBODY in the ‘international’ media circuit.

Q7) Do you have Muslim or Arab friends? – Yes! Of course. I lived in Jordan. I would be totally friendless otherwise.

Q8) What are your views on Islam?- As a religion? I haven’t read the Qur’an so I can’t answer completely, but from what I know first-hand of Islam as a religion I really like it. But that’s like asking me what I think of Christianity, or Hinduism, or Native American religion. All religions are quite nice, but I like mine well enough. Islamic culture, traditions, holidays, everything is cool by me (in moderation, of course – hence why I’m not so religious myself). Asking this question is so loaded though, so I’ll go there. I detest fundamentalism in any form; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever. Fundamentalism is a narrow-minded world view that is the antithesis to everything modern thoughts stands for.

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