Case in point: Chico

Jewish community members express diverse perspectives on their people’s homeland

Sam Edelman

Sam Edelman

Courtesy Of Chico State

Related discussion:
Irv Schiffman, a recently retired professor of political science at Chico State, will present a talk titled “Israel-Palestinian Peace Prospects After Annapolis” on Friday (Dec. 21) at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel (14th and Hemlock streets in Chico).

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, once said that for every two Jews there are three opinions. Indeed, when it comes to their homeland, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee wields influence and Jewish Voice for Peace mounts AIPAC opposition, yet other groups and perspectives run the gamut between extremes.

The CN&R asked members of the local Jewish community to share their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not surprisingly, we received a variety of responses, in form and in content.

Silona Reyman
president, Chico Havurah
There are multiple opinions in the Jewish community. One of the objections many of us have to AIPAC is it speaks like it is the voice of American Jews. My concern is the polarization that goes on that disregards the complexities and the suffering that has gone on for both peoples. AIPAC has an Israel-right-or-wrong stance that doesn’t work anymore.

Because AIPAC is so influential, there’s a self-censoring that goes on. If you speak out against Israeli policies, you may get called “not Jewish enough” or “anti-Semitic,” when that’s not the case.

We have two peoples with a lot of pain, and if we’re going to get peace, there needs to be a concerted effort from each side to listen to each other and be willing to talk to people you might consider the enemy.

Sam Edelman
dean, College of Arts and Sciences, American Jewish University
Dr. Edelman, formerly a Jewish studies professor at Chico State University, splits time between Chico and Los Angeles.

With regard to Walt and Mearsheimer’s original document [expanded into the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy] … maybe they’re not anti-Semetic, but their work is clearly problematic.

Every group in the United States has the right to petition their government. What Walt-Mearsheimer has tried to do is put a cold blanket on the Jewish community’s right to petition the government. The idea that the Jewish community’s support for Israel should be singled out for an onerous attack is unconscionable.

The “Israel Lobby” [i.e. AIPAC] hasn’t been as effective as Walt-Mearsheimer claimed…. It’s a troubling article, naïve and incomplete regarding political action.

There is no one voice in the Jewish community regarding anything. The vast majority of people involved in the Jewish community support Israel. From our perspective, Israel is the Jewish national home, and any support of Israel done on behalf of Israel shows the importance of interactions between Israel and the United States. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East with a long-term positive vision of the United States.

Saying that, there are some in the Jewish community who have decided to take on the issue of Palestinians. They should be honored for that—it is important that Israel recognize the human rights of Palestinians.

But the same people should understand the goal of most of those Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is the destruction of Israel. There isn’t the self-same concern from the vast majority of Palestinians about Israelis. Jihad [holy war] and Shahid [martyrdom] are extolled every day in the Palestinian press, on TV and in mosques to encourage young people to become suicide bombers.

Every day, Israelis have to put up with a phenomenal security apparatus to protect their children and homes—that shouldn’t have to happen. Every day, Palestinians have to go through checkpoints—that shouldn’t have to happen. But without that security apparatus, more Palestinians and Jews would die….

Generally, Palestinians, especially those who support Hamas and Jihad … do not want to see a Jewish state in their midst. Everyone in the Jewish community has to understand that, or they have a distorted view of the world. Jewish peace groups, while their hearts may be in the right place, have to balance their desire for rights for Palestinians with the security of Jews in the region.

PRO-TESTERS<br>Across the street from the Sacramento hotel hosting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee luncheon Sunday (Dec. 16), demonstrators—many Jewish—call for more peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Julie Hilton Danan
rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel
As a rabbi who supports Israel and lived in Israel for several years, I think that I can do the most good by participating in grassroots groups that work for dialogue and understanding.

In my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, I co-founded an active Palestinian-Jewish dialogue group together with a Palestinian Muslim Imam. Our eldest daughter, Liora, founded an Israel-Arab dialogue group at Rice University, and our middle daughter, Shira, was a fellow for Abraham’s Vision and now works for that organization, which brings together Palestinian and Jewish American students to study conflict-resolution in the Balkans.

Since moving to Chico over four years ago, my work has focused on interfaith dialog. I was the first chairperson of the Celebration of Abraham, bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims. Last year I served as president of the Chico Area Interfaith Council, and one of my first activities was to organize a weekend of dialogue featuring Jewish and Palestinian dialogue leaders from the Bay Area.

I have been drawn to groups like One Voice, which brings together thousands of Palestinians, Israelis and overseas supporters who oppose extremism and support peace. I support the Interfaith Encounter Association, which brings together Jews, Christians and Muslims for grassroots interfaith dialogue in Israel. I have also supported “Brit Tzedek v’Shalom,” the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, whose mission is to mobilize American Jews to support Israel by supporting a negotiated two-state solution.

Andrew Flescher
religious studies professor, Chico State
Asked for his input, Professor Flescher e-mailed a link to his Sept. 8, 2005 article in Inside Chico State magazine (excerpted below). “I still feel exactly the same,” he wrote Tuesday, later adding a postscript: “One thing I believe with all my heart—but didn’t say in that article—is that in order to have an accurate view of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, one really does have to go and see for oneself—and not just to Israel but to Palestine, too.”

Israel’s security problem primarily resides with Arab Muslims living outside the territories who are committed, heart, soul, and body, to a homogenous Middle East. Israel’s moral problem is closer to home: Israel must go out of its way to start restoring human rights and self-determination to Palestinians….

To be sure, Palestinians have not only had to deal with a diaspora themselves over the last 57 years, but, by their own testimony, have also been treated like third-class citizens by their own Arab brethren, particularly the Jordanians and the Egyptians, who have done next to nothing to ameliorate their plight…. I am convinced that if there is ever to be a lasting, fair peace in this region, the entire world must kick in to aid and assist Palestinians…. They are waiting for the world to put some pressure on Israel and the other Arab states.

Palestinians, in my view, represent a great hope among the Arab lands in the Middle East because Palestinians are relatively secular. Israelis, even though they are clearly overzealous with respect to their handling of the “security issue,” are correct to claim, as they so often do, that Palestinians are being armed by powers on the outside, not because those powers are sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, but because any acknowledgement of a Jewish state at the end of the day is an unacceptable solution.

These Arabs are as intractable and dangerous as the Jewish settlers who claim they are unwilling to leave their homes under any circumstances. Thus, in spite of the fact that I still think most Jewish Israelis and Palestinians want, along with the rest of the world, peace in their hearts, there are certainly many others who do not feel the same way.