Conversation with Two Rabbis

February 27, 2014 by  


By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The ongoing suffering of the Palestine people weighs heavily on the conscience of humanitarians around the globe. On occasions all too rare, courageous individuals will act seemingly against their own interests and champion the Palestinian cause braving if need be the opprobrium of their peers.

Los Angeles area Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) sponsored an open dialogue between two progressive area rabbis. Titled: Progressive Politics from the Pulpit: An Open Conversation with Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Rabbi Brant Rosen, the event was held in the Westwood area of Los Angeles this past weekend. 

Rabbi Beerman will be remembered by readers of The Muslim Observer for his interfaith work, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11. He, Dr. Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California,and Reverend George Regas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena appeared in religious and secular venues to show solidarity and as a counterpoise to Islamophobia.

The presentation asked whether there was a place for rabbis who identify themselves with progressive or radical causes. Further, is there a place for rabbis who identify with pacifism or stand in solidarity with the Palestinians?

Rabbi Rosen began by stating his support for BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions). While he had no intent to disturb his congregation, such was the natural consequence of his principled stand. He said he does Palestinian Solidarity work and recently marched in a pro Palestine rally in Chicago.

“It raised dust”.

Rabbi Beerman spoke of finding crude graffiti on the wall of the Workmen’s Circle Building in Los Angeles. The original graffiti called attention to the plight of the Palestinian people – an irony since the Workmen’s Circle was keenly aware of their plight and worked to raise awareness in the public square.

He continued by saying that when justice is flouted, Jews must become active.

He remarked that Jewish leaders never mention the ongoing humiliation forced on the Palestinians. He noted that President Barack Obama in his 2009 Cairo speech mentioned the ways in which Palestinians were subject to humiliations large and small.

Then Rabbi Rosen mentioned the usual presence of an American flag and an Israeli flag in the sanctuaries of Jewish synagogues. He said he regarded this as paganism – a sanctuary is not the place for jingoism or political statements.

Israel is a powerful force that exerts its power against the Palestinian people. Jewish tradition calls on one to call out the powerful and defend the oppressed. “We are the persecutor”.

Israeli defenders cry that Israel is such a small country surrounded by enemies and that there is so much antisemitism in the world. Of course, the rabbi continued, there is all sorts of prejudice all over the world, but the answer is solidarity not a fortress mentality.

When the microphone passed to Rabbi Beerman, he said “The Palestinians are oppressed, and I stand on the side of the oppressed”.

Rabbi Beerman said that he participated in the Fast for Gaza initiated in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. Rabbi Rosen, an organizer of the Fast, also participated.

Rabbi Rosen said that he fully supported the BDS policy. It could not be ignored since it was a call from Palestinian civil society. BDS opposes a structure not a people. A solution must be imposed on Israel, he continued, because they will not do it themselves.BDS will push Israel in a way our government cannot or will not do.

Rabbi Beerman expressed reservations about BDS, citing the number of deaths of children in Iraq when the United States imposed sanctions after the First Iraq War. Rabbi Rosen asked him if would approve  withholding the 3 billion dollar aid package the United States sends to Israel. Rabbi Beerman answered that he would and that such action should have been done a long  time go.

“Its about time” said one audience member.

A lively question and answer period followed. Throughout the event the audience paid rapt attention to the speakers and showed obvious disappointment when the conversation ended.

Estee Chandler, the president of Jewish Voice for Peace, introduced the event and conducted the question and answer period. Ms Chandler may be contacted at the following address: losangeles@jewishvoiceforpeace.org.

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