Monday, June 15, 2009

Holocaust Museum murder raises larger questions.

I've been trying to think what's held me back from blogging much this week. Of course I've been busy, but who isn't?

Finally I came to the conclusion that there was so much I wanted to write about, so many extraordinary events, a kind of paralysis came over me-- I could never catch up.

May 31: Doctor George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors to perform late-term abortions, was shot at his church in Wichita Kansas by anti-abortionist Scott Roeder.

June 1: a 23 year old Army private was shot outside a recruitment center in Arkansas by a convert to Islam.

And on June 10: "Big John" Stephen Johns, a security guard at U.S. holocaust Memorial Museum was shot to death by an 88-year -old white supremacist.

I want to call these killings crazy, but of course they are not: they are the natural outcome of policies of hate.

It's the murder at the Holocaust Museum that is most on my mind.

Right now one of our Arise members, Ellen Graves, is at the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza with hundreds of other international activists, trying to break the blockade of food and medical supplies so desperately needed in Gaza. I've been posting her emails at the Arise for Social Justice blog.

It's not difficult for progressives to support the struggle of the Palestinian people. In spite of the perspective that Western media have put on the conflict, still, information is available, and most of us think that Israel's response to the rockets fires at it by Hamas is way out of proportion to the damage done to Israel. The 1907 Hague Convention defines proportionality in this way: "a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante."

What is harder for progressives to remember, I believe, is that Israel was founded for a particular reason: to keep the Jewish people safe from from annihilation. Six million Jews dying in work and extermination camps is the most horrific example of antisemitism, but antisemitism and the murder of Jews did not begin or end with World War Two. This evil is fading from people's minds but I was born only two years after the end of World War Two and trying to understand the roots of the Holocaust is what started me on a lifelong quest for social justice.

I'm no academic and most of my political life has revolved around domestic issues like homelessness and poverty. I've also carried some essentially innocent belief that those who have experienced oppression will not oppress others, and this belief has to be built afresh each time it comes face to face with reality. Thus I remember my disappointment to learn that, during the height of South African apartheid, Israel was willing to sell armament to the South African government. Then of course I learned about Palestine. And I also learned that even the slightest criticism of Israel's policy toward Palestine is likely to bring out accusations of antisemitism.

So what is a non-Jewish social justice to believe? To do?

I take my cue from progressive Jewish activists in the U.S. and Israel. I check in regularly with Jewish Voice for Peace and I'm on their mailing list and others. I also check out Rabbis for Human Rights.

What I fear is that U.S. activists are forgetting about antisemitism. The murder at the Holocaust Museum ought to be a wake-up call.

1 comment:

peacesojourner said...

Hello my sister - thank you for this post.
When I was growing up the elders used to say "two wrongs don't make a right"
I find it very difficult to understand how the persecuted (of any culture/religion/gender/etc) can persecute another person in the name of their particular 'cause'.
Why does a person who claims to revere life justify killing a doctor who performs abortions? and so on and so on.
I believe it should be called what it is - a hate crime
If a person were to see things through the others eyes it may be perceived differently.
I share your dilemma on this topic and I am not sure that I will ever understand it.

'Hate is like acid. It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as well as destroy the object on which it is poured.' - Ann Landers