Magazine article Tikkun

Justice in Jerusalem: No More Spinning Our Wheels

Magazine article Tikkun

Justice in Jerusalem: No More Spinning Our Wheels

Article excerpt

I'M GONNA BE REAL WITH YOU - I WAS EXCITED THAT J STREET ORGANIZERS invited me to the group's founding conference. Excited to be part of the conversation of progressive, peace-seeking Jewish Americans that had found a new, stronger voice in Washington. Excited to push conference attendees toward language and policies of real justice and human rights for Palestinians, not just a "peace process" that perpetuates Israeli supremacy. And ex cited be pushed back; to challenge others; to debate how best to change American foreign policy, how to build multi ethnic coalitions, and how the hell we can resolve this con flict before we've all lost what humanity we have left.

So when J Street capitulated to a right-wing smear cam paign and disinvited a fellow poet and me because we had poems questioning the moral purity of Israel, I was disap pointed . But not surprised. The more I learned about J Street, the more I realized that their leaders were more con servatile than their own energized members, who had been wooed with promises of "hope" and "change." Sound fami! iar?

Now, I voted for Obama, but I also didn't expect him to usher in any transformative era unless independent social movements maintained strong vocal pressure. So when J Street kicked us out, Kevin Covai (the other poet, who has a long, illustrious record of being censored for his solidarity with Palestine) and I wrote a public response and decided to continue our event as planned, and to open it to the community. The event was organized in three days, and the place was packed: artists activists, youth, elders, Jews, Palestinians, and a number of J Street conference attendees who left the official gathering to join the planned-then-banned dialogue.

The event itself was brilliant. Laila Al-Arian, the amazing Palestinian journalist and organiser whose father became a political prisoner after September 11, moderated and brought a much-needed perspective to the space. I did my set, followed by Kevin Covai. During the Q.&A, an Israeli army veteran offered his support and encouraged solidarity with the refuseniks who won't serve in the occupation. A Palestinian woman urged us to writs more about Palestinians as diverse, complex individuals rather than a uniform "Palestine." Medea Benjamin of Code Pink made a call to action for the Gaza Freedom March this December. For all these calls, there was response. There was respectful, lively debate. "Culture as a Tool for Social Change" was the title of the original event. Yes! This is what we do!

The most prescient moment for me was with a young Jewish student in town for J Street. He'd been in sessions all day, talking about the Middle East in a very policywonkish way. Hearing our poems, he told us, was the first time he'd ever cried in a conversation about Israel/Palestine. "I'm not sure what that means," he said. "But I think it's a good thing."

Since our voices had been removed from the conference, he asked us what message we wanted him to take back to those activists gathered down the block. Now that was a great question. I told him what my own plan is: To support J Street when they're right and criticize them when they're wrong. To build ties with other critical supporters, because we are stronger as a bloc, and leaders will always try to marginalize dissent. And to build coalitions with other organizations and communities whom we need if we are going to move toward peace and reconciliation.

As for the actual J Street conference, I followed some of it online, and it was interesting to see their next public controversy unfold. …

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