What the GA Delegates in Jerusalem Won't See

Gideon Levy in Haaretz, 11/16/03, 11/17/2003

If I were a delegate to the United Jewish Communities General Assembly [the largest assemblage of US Jewish communal organizers, fundraisers, fund allocators, etc], which opens its deliberations today in Jerusalem, I would be deeply insulted - insulted by the fact that the organizers of this important assembly continue to treat me like a fool, who only has to be shown one side of Israel - the brightly lit and pretty side - and has to be kept away from its dark backyard, as if it were on fire.

I would be insulted by the fact that the organizers think that I will continue to believe that Israel is only biotechnology, kibbutzim, immigrant absorption, Yad Vashem and the Supreme Court; that the Israel Defense Forces is truly just a defensive army; that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East," despite years of brutal occupation; and that any criticism of the government's policies is heresy.

I would be insulted by the fact that 55 years after its establishment, the State of Israel continues to treat the Jews of the United States a walking charity boxes, that cheap propaganda is all it takes to make them reach into their pockets, and that it does not have the courage to show its real face - both the beauty and the ugliness - to its brethren in the Diaspora. If the most senior representatives of U.S. Jewry agree to this division of labor - propaganda in return for handouts and automatic support - then the Jews of America shouldn't be surprised that some Israelis hold them in contempt.

Beginning today, some 4,000 delegates will listen to speeches by the country's leaders, and, like always, they will speak about the absolute, exclusive justice of Israel, the only victim in the region. And then, on Tuesday, they will split up into 55 separate study sessions. They'll be shown how Argentine Jews are being absorbed; they'll see researchers at the Weizmann Institute, pilots from the air force, the best of Israeli high-tech, and even a school at which animals are being used in the framework of therapy for violent children. They'll see a day in the life of an immigrant, learn about women's equality in Israel, attend an Ethiopian celebration, visit a jewelry center in Lotan, and even meet a Druze woman who became a photographer.

And don't worry, the organizers haven't ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are visits to Gush Etzion, Har Homa, a model mixed (Jewish-Arab) city, the navy and the fire department, victims of terror and, finally, there is a trip that "follows Israeli-Palestinian cooperation," including a meeting with Jewish and Palestinian women who are fighting breast cancer together.

The leadership of the largest Jewish community in the world will be here for a week and will not be exposed to the source of Israel's real problems. What aggravates the entire world will be hidden from their eyes. They won't see a refugee camp, a city under curfew, a checkpoint or an ambulance that is blocked from passing through. They won't see soldiers abusing residents who simply want to get home. They'll only hear about the roots of terror from the experts at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center; and the occupation - the existential experience of Israel since 1967 - won't even be mentioned. The delegate won't see anything of what Israel is doing in the territories, only what the Arabs are doing to Israel.

When they visit Hadassah Hospital, they'll surely be told of the wonder of Israeli medicine, and not about how proper medical services are being denied to tens of thousands of Palestinians, or how thousands of children in the territories are doomed to undernourishment.

When they drive along the Trans-Israel Highway, will their guide explain that the houses they see on the side of the road, beyond the large wall, are the buildings of Qalqilyah, an imprisoned city? When they visit Har Homa, Gush Etzion and Gilo, will it be explained to them what has happened to the thousands of residents of Bethlehem and the villages in the area whose lands were expropriated to make way for these settlements and their security? When they hear the lectures about the roots of terror, will they hear about what the separation fence is doing to tens of thousands of Palestinians? Will they learn what "exposing" (flattening dunam after dunam of orchards, houses and anything else that could hide a sniper along a road used by settlers and the army) means? Will they learn what it means to have a village under lock and key day and night, or what pinpoint prevention really looks like? Will they be told that a Palestinian needs a pass to visit a parent in the next village, or to reach fields beyond the fence? Will the justices of the Supreme Court lecture them on the hundreds of prisoners being held in Israeli jails without trial for months and years? And will any of the delegates ask about these matters?

How can one visit Israel and skip all this? How can such a trip be taken seriously? Such an important Jewish conference should also deal courageously with the worn out conventions of the relations between the Diaspora and Israel - about the huge gap between Israel's definition a a refuge for Jews and the fact that it is now the most dangerous place for Jews. Will questions about Israel being a light unto the nations and Netzarim an expression of Zionism be discussed? Is a fortified, fenced-in state the fulfillment of the Zionist vision? And will they discuss whether a government that only uses violence deserves to be condemned by the Jewish world, or receive its unquestioning, blind support instead? Will the conference discussions raise the idea that of all people, the Jews who care most about Israel are the ones who should be pressuring the U.S. administration to apply pressure to Jerusalem? It's doubtful.

And what about the Geneva Accords, which managed to stir interest around the world. Why isn't that document on the agenda of the assembly?

The U.S. Jews deserve a more courageous and more realistic assembly; and we, in Israel, deserve much more demanding and critical brethren.