A Policy in the Making*   

The publication of the “manifesto” and the two articles by Sheila Katz and their circulation in the RC Communities has had the desired effect in that discussion of Jewish oppression and of a correct policy for countering it has developed in many areas. The discussion has been most intense among Jewish RCers, as would be expected, but there has been a substantial amount of involvement on the part of Gentile RCers as well. The material in this issue of the newsletter reflects only a small part of the questioning, discussion, and beginnings of education that have taken place.

ALL RCERS SHOULD BE INVOLVED

Should Gentile RCers, and Gentiles in general, be involved in the discussion and evolution of a correct policy for Jewish liberation, both inside and outside of RC? This is one issue that we can deal with firmly at this point. There has been opposition to this, resentment at times, but I think the answer must be an emphatic “yes!”

It is true that Gentile RCers will often bring a good deal of ignorance and even unaware anti-Semitism into the discussion, but their involvement and participation is essential just in order to reveal these ignorances and these patterns. Participation will lead to the confusions being challenged and eliminated.

Such involvement in discussion is also crucial for this discussion to be effective, just as the involvement of Gentiles in active support for Jewish liberation is essential. It is essential, first to counter and contradict one of the specific characteristics of Jewish oppression itself—the isolation of Jews from their natural allies. It is essential in the second place in order that the aware and unaware anti-Semitism among the Gentile population (and among Gentile RCers) be rooted out thoroughly by challenge, exposure, discharge and re-evaluation.

It is understandable that there have been voices challenging and resenting the writing of the first draft of the “manifesto” by a Gentile. Some have correctly compared it with whites discussing with blacks what to do about black liberation or men advising women on women’s liberation. There is a danger of unawareness and patronizing in all these and it must be watched for and challenged.

There is a third essential factor here, however. The internalizing of Jewish oppression is so intense and with such deep roots that there are likely to be areas in the evolution of a correct policy that are very difficult for Jews themselves to think about, where the “outside the pattern” viewpoint of concerned and thoughtful Gentile RCers may very well be helpful. The assistance is well worth the risk.

This article itself, in which I continue to offer summary viewpoints about the development of an effective Jewish liberation policy on all fronts, is intended to be an example of this. Just as the draft of the manifesto has been criticized vigorously by almost all Jewish RCers who have participated in the discussion, what I am saying in this present article will undoubtedly be subjected to very critical analysis and dissent. Part of what I am saying presently may be revealed as incorrect as a result. I intend to continue to speak out, however, and I intend to vigorously defend any of the positions which still seem to me rational after criticism. I will refuse to yield on any of them on any basis such as “thinking about this should be left to Jews.”

I think it is crucial that all Gentile RCers put their best thinking to these issues. I invite them to. I hope all Jewish readers of this newsletter will invite Gentile RCers to participate, not in all discussions, because it is essential for safety and freedom that many discussions of these issues take place only in the presence of Jews, but in occasional discussions where the opinions of the Jewish caucuses and gather-ins are presented to the whole RC Community. These should be thought about and questioned by the Gentile members of the Community and only accepted by the whole Community when there is a general consensus on their correctness.

In summary, I think, for general reasons and because of the special isolating nature of Jewish oppression, that the evolving of a correct policy for Jewish liberation requires the participation of non-Jews.

THE POSITIVE VALUES OF BEING JEWISH

The most common and, I think, most important criticism of the “manifesto” was that it was too negative about the nature of being Jewish. Many felt that it treated being Jewish as if it were all oppression and patterns, and neglected to affirm and appreciate the treasures of Jewish culture and Jewish life. I think this is a correct criticism. The ethical, moral, familial, and prohuman values of the Jewish cultures and traditions need to be appreciated fully and explained in detail to Jews and non-Jews alike. The commitment to righteousness and the tradition of living as an example of appreciation of, and caring for, all humans is of long standing and is a valuable model to all peoples. The positive sides of being Jewish need to be celebrated, explained, and demonstrated.

I think it is crucial, however, that the element of isolation not be accepted in this area any more than in any other. These treasures of Jewishness should be held out for all to participate in and all to emulate as a contribution of Jews and Jewish culture to the general community, both of RC and the society at large. To say this can contradict some of the internalized distress of isolation and will “feel” to some Jewish RCers as if I am challenging the “right to exist as Jews” but I think that with some discharge, my position will be seen to be the correct one. The fears installed by isolation can very easily appear as fears of being included, fears of not being separate, fears of losing one’s identity, as any chronic pattern tends to appear as its opposite. In my opinion separateness and isolation must be challenged here as well as everywhere else. The richness of the Jewish cultures, the good things about Judaism and the importance of Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people would, correctIy, be viewed as contributions to the whole world’s culture.

AT LEAST THREE SEPARATE, THOUGH RELATED, ISSUES

I think that many contributions to the discussion have made it clear that in formulating a correct policy we must deal with at least three broad areas. It seems plain that, in reality, being Jewish is a phenomenon distinct from, though connected to, Judaism as a religion, and the existence of Israel as the national homeland for all Jewish people. Many leaders of the Jewish religious establishments might insist that the first two are one; the present leaders of Israel might insist all three are one phenomenon; but I think it is plain that in Jewish lives and thinking, as well as in interaction with the whole society, that they are three separate phenomena.

Large numbers of RC Jews identify themselves as being Jewish, and either possess to begin with, or recover after discharge, a strong sense of Jewish identity, who have little sense of participation in Judaism as a religion. Judaism as a religion does accept converts who may call themselves Jews but whose cultural background and thinking is quite distinct from that of “birthright” Jews. This is a real phenomenon even though such converts at present are few in number. By far the greatest number of Jews in the world are not Israelis but are technically full-fledged (though often oppressed and discriminated against) citizens of the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries where they live, even though they support the existence of Israel as a homeland and feel strong ties of sympathy and culture with it.

Once we separate these phenomena for analysis it needs to be said that they are, of course, closely connected and interrelated and each must be examined in context with the other two.

BEING “JEWISH”

The “draft manifesto” said that “the essence of being Jewish is being oppressed.” Both agreement and disagreement have been expressed on this point. It seems to me that most of the disagreement has been a reaction to the lack of a positive affirmation of the values of Jewish culture, which was discussed above. I think the crucial element in the statement is correct about the present status of Jews. In the future, when oppression has ended, being Jewish should and will be a matter of choice. Under present conditions this choice is lacking. Jews who attempted to “assimilate” in the past, to give up their identities as Jews in order to merge with the culture of the majority of the people where they were living, were pressured to do so by oppression, discrimination, and fear and were in most instances prevented from doing so by the same oppression, discrimination, and fear. It seems to me that in a future, rational society Jews must have a free choice to continue with a developing Jewish culture or adopt another culture or (much more likely) make a rich Jewish contribution to a general culture to which all no-longer-oppressed peoples will make significant contributions. It seems to me that the good things of the Jewish cultures must, on any rational basis, be open for sharing by any other people who wish to participate in them, and that resistance to this as a policy for the future can spring only from external and internal patterns of isolation rooted in oppression and the resulting distress.

JUDAISM

Judaism is, of course, one of the great world religions. It is the straight line development of the early Hebrew religion from which also stem Islam and Christianity. (These three “Religions of the Book” have much of the Old Testament in common.) Many of its merits are common to Christianity and Islam, and it has a number of outstanding unique values, among which I would place first the emphasis on learning and the search for rational solutions. Judaism deserves respect and appreciation in the first place (as does any religion when viewed properly) as a channel of human beings’ intuitive desire to associate themselves together and commit themselves toward the upward trend in the universe, toward being “good.” It deserves special appreciation for its development of a vast written literature, for its traditions of learning, and for its role as an uniter and comforter and strengthener of a great people enduring long-term, and often devastating, oppression.

Again, here, I think that a rational attitude toward Judaism both by its adherents and by other people is to appreciate it, to make its treasures available to all, and to refuse to let it act in an isolating manner. I think it is wrong to treat it as something only its present adherents can understand and appreciate, but instead urge that its precepts and tenets be widely circulated for acceptance. This may seem to imply that synagogue congregations should become proselytizing bodies seeking to recruit Gentiles to the religion of Judaism. In a sense I think that this is exactly what should happen to counter the old patterns of isolation and withdrawal. It seems plain, however, that being Jewish, though related to the practice of Judaism as a religion, is in the present conditions of the world a cultural phenomenon. It must be dealt with outside of the confines of Judaism as a religion as well as inside.

ISRAEL

One basic position in the “manifesto” has gone unquestioned so far in the discussion but is, of course, at controversy in the wide world. This is that the existence of Israel as a national homeland for the Jews must be defended by all people everywhere regardless of any injustice involved in its founding or any wrongness in its present policies. This is presently rejected by all or nearly all of the Arab states’ governments and political leaders. I think it can and will be accepted by the Arab peoples with persistent explanation and the use of the tools of RC.

Any role of Israel as an excuse for western domination of the Arab world cannot be accepted. Any policies of Israel supporting such a role must be changed. They must be changed by the people of Israel. Only thus can the presently intense Israeli-Arab hostility begin to be overcome.

We must urge the Israeli people to repudiate any such present policies of the Israeli government and leaders. We must reject the present policies of the governments of all the Arab states for the destruction of Israel. We must reject the conflict-perpetuating policies in the Middle East of the American government, of the Soviet government and of their French, British, etc. junior partners.

This is a sharp break with the “allying oneself with the oppressors in order to survive” policy. It may even seem to be an isolating direction, but it is not. The Israeli people, the Arab people, the Jewish population in other countries, and the progressive peoples of all countries will eventually rally to and support such a correct policy. The formulation, communication and winning of adherents to such a policy may be difficult. To begin with it may be hard for it to even be heard. It will eventually be heard and supported, however, since the basic interests of the Israeli, Arab and Jewish peoples are the same and are the same as the interests of oppressed peoples everywhere.

A great deal of painful emotion, despair, anger, and fear, both within individuals and embalmed in the Israeli, Arab and Jewish cultures will arise to resist this proposal. There is one overwhelming argument in its favor, i.e., no other policy will work. To continue with other policies is not only to perpetuate conflict but it is to threaten and weaken Israel’s continued existence as a national homeland.

THE EMERGENCE OF ISRAEL IS A NATIONAL LIBERATION MOVEMENT

The proposal that Israel’s policies become truly progressive in every way, become supportive of the liberation of the Palestinians and other Arab people as well as of the Jews, is a correct one. Support for Israel’s existence, however, must not be conditional on her having progressive policies. The struggle to establish and maintain Israel is a national struggle, not a class struggle. All classes of Jews, capitalists, middle-class, and workers are united and must unite on this central issue. All ethnic groups, the Sephardim, the Ashkenazi, the Western European, and the American Jews have a common stake in the maintenance of Israel as a nation, serving as a national homeland for all Jews. 

Non-Jews must not require more progressive policies from Israel as a condition of support than we require of any other of the emerging nations, many of whose policies are far more reactionary or conservative than those of Israel. The tendency to do so is an expression of the anti-Semitism which has been inculcated in all Western and Arab cultures for centuries and must be sharply exposed and resisted. This is an area of unthinkingness for many of the “left” movements of the world, which have often called the very reactionary Arab and other Third World regimes “progressive” in part because they were national movements (for which they merited support but which did not make them progressive), but mostly because they were “against Israel.” This is folly. This is acceptance of anti-Semitism on an international scale. This can only perpetuate weakness and division among all peoples seeking liberation.

More progressive policies for Israel should be insisted upon by all Jews, Israelis, and supporters, but only within the framework of unconditional support for Israel’s existence.

We non-Jews have a special responsibility and opportunity for initiating proposals for Arab cooperation with Israel among our Arab friends and for clarifying the policies of our own governments in that direction.

PROGRESSIVES EVERYWHERE MUST SUPPORT JEWISH AND ISRAELI PROGRESSIVES

The widespread failure of non-Jewish progressives to recognize and support the existence of Israel as a national liberation struggle has left its Jewish and Israeli progressives in an intolerable position. These have supported progressive issues and the liberation struggles of other people wholeheartedly. Many of them, natives of the “newly liberated” Arab countries, were leaders in the first stages of the liberation struggles of these countries. Now they often face isolation and attack from other Third World leaders and progressives, in what amounts to completely thoughtless rejection of the justice of Jewish national liberation, a rejection that can only be an expression of long-standing anti-Semitism, unfaced, unchallenged, and not thought through.

ANTI-SEMITISM, A THREAT TO ALL PEOPLE

The particularly poisonous form of racism and oppression that is called anti-Semitism has been developed over the centuries as a weapon of oppressive societies against all peoples, all progressive movements, all liberation struggles. Jews were scattered in many countries, without a national homeland and with a culture (and cultural patterns) that made it comparatively easy to set them apart from their neighbors and single them out. To turn the resentment of oppressed peoples away from their oppressors and against the Jews became a standard and effective tactic of oppressors everywhere. 

Religious slanders were circulated against them. (Many Christian churches had a long history of anti-Semitism.) Myths and superstitions were widely published. The “fear of anyone different” was used to push anti-Semitic buttons.

We non-Jews in RC are unwilling heirs to this heritage of antiSemitism. It must be counseled away at least as assiduously as we counsel ourselves out of white racism. Gentile RCers should not request Jewish counselors to listen to this.

(We have a new, more effective technique, developed for white racism, that can be adopted here. This technique is, briefly: to have the client make good contact with an incident of himself or herself being oppressed [i.e., being the victim of one-way, socially-enforced mistreatment because of membership in a particular group]; then an incident of standing up against antiSemitism, refusing to collude with it or remain silent in the face of it; and then (and only then) reaching an incident of “going along with” anti-Semitism or remaining silent in the face of an expression of it. The safety afforded by the first two steps seems to bypass the occluding guilt and allow the human heartbreak at such monstrous ideas to discharge voluminously.)

We non-Jews in RC must certainly act at once against any stereotyping or other unaware anti-Semitic behavior, without waiting for completion of our discharge.

In a very few caucuses, Jewish RCers have apparently been pulled to the kind of “other-end-of-the-pattern” mistake which most liberation movements tend to fall into temporarily. We have seen, temporarily and in a few places, tendencies to “hatemales” feminism, or “give-Whitey-a-taste-of-his-own-behavior” proposals for black liberation, even in RC.

Among Jewish RCers, the few expressions of this have taken the form of resenting Christian festivals, calling for RC to reject any expression of Christian culture, etc. These are understandable, but, I think, mistaken. Christianity is not anti-Semitism, though it has often been mis-used as a cloak for it. We in RC should, in my opinion, not reject celebration of Christmas, but should celebrate all religious festivals which are traditional among any Co-Counselors including, of course, the festivals of Judaism. This is the direction of unity, of mutual understanding.

Self-pity among any people newly aware of their oppression is understandable and can bring discharge in a session, but it is mistaken in its estimate of reality and mistaken as a program for liberation. We more and more are coming to realize how oppressed all people have been and this leads to much more effective unity than any games of “We’ve been more oppressed than you,” or continuation of old resentments.

WHAT CAN WE DO ON POLICY?

It seems to me that important first steps to prepare for effective change in Jewish and Israeli liberation policies are currently being taken in the discussion at workshop caucuses, support groups and gather-ins, in the pages of this newsletter and with the Jewish Liberation Workshops.

Later developments cannot be predicted exactly. The future always has some surprises.

I think it is useful, however, to speculate on probable developments and the directions that we can take in anticipation. One is to communicate our policy proposals widely in the RC Communities and in any Gentile groups where we can be listened to well at this time. We can circulate the proposals throughout all reaches of the Jewish communities in the West (and to whatever extent opportunity presents, within the Eastern European areas), and to all the progressive peoples’ forces in all countries. Particularly we need to find ways to make these proposals known (not necessarily with an RC label) within Israel, within the Jewish organizations in the United States, and within the Arab countries.

We must be careful not to unthinkingly adopt the policies of Jews on the “left.” We must avoid and urge them to avoid, any modern version of the past Jewish “left” mistake of becoming the champion of other peoples’ causes (this time perhaps the cause of the Arabs in general or the Palestinians in particular), while avoiding the hard work necessary to change the policies of the Israeli nation and its supporters in the Jewish populations elsewhere.

A correct policy on Jewish liberation must be fought for in the establishment circles of Israel as well as in the circles that are more likely to be receptive to it. It must be advanced and fought for within all the reaches of the Jewish establishment groups in the United States. It must be proposed to middle-class Jews as well as to working-class Jews. What will be decisive is that every Jew who agrees with this policy should insistently and thoughtfully seek to have it adopted by all Jews and not give up until this is effectively achieved.

Once we have agreement on the main outlines of a correct policy, I propose that we make strenuous efforts to secure conferences between the Arabs who may be open to such a policy and Jews who are promulgating it. In particular, I propose that we organize conferences between Arab and Jewish RCers.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS ARE CREATING OPPORTUNITIES

Events are moving so rapidly in the Middle East at present as to outstrip our necessarily slow discussions. The central importance of the Palestinians’ struggle is becoming clear. The Palestinians, both within and without the present borders of Israel, can be won to a correct policy if one is offered from the Jewish and Israeli side, because they are in touch with the reality of the oppressive nature of the ruling forces on both sides of the present conflict. Perhaps concrete support for an Arab Palestine nation adjacent to Israel with full rights for the Arab and Jewish minorities in both nations would be a realistic proposal.

The Jewish Liberation Workshop in September should go a long way towards clarifying our policy. There will be many more such workshops. This one is necessarily small but it will be a most important start.

Harvey Jackins


*First printed in Ruah Hadashah No. 1—July, 1976


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00