Last fall (11/15 ) I recommended in these pages that since the negotiations for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine were failing, it was time to consider the one-state solution, a proposal that has a history among Jewish intellectuals. The one-state Israel-Palestine, with a new constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all, would make Palestinians equal citizens. And both sides would have to learn to forgive and live in peace.
This inspired an orchestrated avalanche (about 90 letters) of condemnation. The writers had been instructed to accuse me of not knowing that all Arabs want to kill all Jews. And since I was a Catholic priest, they held me responsible for the Holocaust.
The letters brought back childhood memories. My father’s best friend from World War I and the Trenton American Legion was Lester Block, whose Navy sweater from 1917 I am wearing as I write this. For my brother David and me, he was our Uncle Lester. When he visited, he would pick us up and swing us around; he brought us matzos for the holidays; and his wife fed us kosher hot dogs in their home. When I was 10, I joined the Jewish Cub Scout troop across the street from Blessed Sacrament Church, and in our early teens we went to a summer riding camp with Jewish boys. Once when we were planning our family vacation, a New England inn asked for letters of recommendation; our last name suggested we might be Jews. We went somewhere else. In short, I grew up identifying with Jewish people, and as a priest I see Christianity’s roots in the Hebrew Scriptures.
As a student and journalist I have marveled that Jews, with 3 percent of the American population (Catholics are over 20 percent), have led the nation’s intellectual discourse, particularly on social justice issues. The Catholic intellectual tradition in this country, for many reasons, just does not compare.
In the 1980s and ’90s I traveled in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq to get a better sense of the Middle East. In Jordan I encountered a politician at a briefing who said he wanted to drive Israel into the sea and a young man in a Palestinian refugee camp who suddenly pleaded with me to take him to America.
Today I support J Street, the new Jewish lobby that loves both Israel and peace, and read widely, including reports from Israeli newspapers. But with sadness I also see Arab homes bulldozed to make way for Israelis, between 1,100 and 1,400 citizens of Gaza killed in the invasion of 2008, the Wall, highways on which Arabs may not drive, Palestinians humiliated at checkpoints and beaten by mobs of settlers, the Christian population evaporating, illegal Jewish settlements dominating the water supply and the West Bank. Conservative voices in Israel call for bans on Jews renting property to Arabs and on dating between Arab boys and Jewish girls and want a loyalty oath for citizenship. Is this democracy?
Most Israelis say they want peace, and the conditions that would create it are clear, but as Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, “The Israelis don’t really want peace; they prefer real estate.” Those who mention this are branded anti-Semites; Jews in both Israel and America who cannot morally support Israeli policies are labeled “Not real Jews.”
In Dt 4:5-8 Moses addresses the Israelites about to enter the promised land. The Lord has said that this land must be distinguished by the justice of its laws. When other nations see Israel’s just laws they will say, “Surely this great nation is a wide and discerning people. For what other nation has a god so near it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?”
Is that Israel today?