Pharaoh Netanyahu

        Gil Caldwell wrote a letter on the election of Netanyahu, focusing on a remark in a Times‘ editorial about the racist ugliness of his campaign. Unfortunately though not surprisingly, The Times just ran a front page piece by Jodi Rudoren of Israeli leaders (ones who backed the slaughters in Gaza…)  prating that Obama, who now names the Israeli con “game” about a two state solution, has “gone too far” in reassessing (despite massive U.S. military aid) its relationship with the Israeli government.

      In addition the Republicans are suddenly joining Netanyhu in attacking “the Syria-Lausanne (the US/Europeans negotiators)-Iran axis.” The Republicans always wanted to bomb that “other” who is President, now creepily labelled, once again, as “Hitler” – is there no execrable depth to which the Sheldon Adelson/AIPAC/Republican (and some Democratic) racists, primarily about Palestinians, but extending to anyone who disagrees with them – will not sink?  See here and here.


     By eating the Occupied territories in a second ethnic cleansing (the first was the Nakba in 1948), the attempt to create an Israeli state – a state of settlers fleeing Nazism – has now foundered (the leadership has now become the “Europeans,” the enemy of  those who once fought and fled Nazis).  Having sabotaged the two state solution and cordoned Palestinians in a large open-air concentration camp – something I saw in the West Bank in my October 2012 trip with Dorothy Cotton and Vincent Harding, see here, here and here – the Israeli leadership has now steadily seized an illegally Occupied Territory   in which long-standing citizens are made “resident aliens,” dispossessed from their homes, usually as a step toward being “transferred.”


     There will either be the existing Israeli apartheid state, linked to the threat of regional and nuclear war – what Netanyahu and the Republican expansionists seek in Iran, something threatening wider and even more chaotic (the vile ISIS, Shia militias which oppress or do ethnic cleansing and the US bombing of Tikrit – already chaotic) regional war, with Israel, a small country ruled by crazed racists with nuclear weapons – or there will be one democratic state with equal rights for each citizen.  The latter is plainly morally desirable.


      There is also some chance, as Rabbi Michael Lerner says, that a Palestinian demand for equal rights inside one democratic regime will drive Israel to concede a second state, “let my people go.”


     “One person, one vote” has a deep resonance in the United States, led by a willingness to stand up and suffer violence in the civil rights movement.


    Lerner says beautifully for Passover that Pharaoh Netanyahu and his racist coalition need to be stopped (see below).  Moses has become a Palestinian or an Israeli like Amira Hass or Anarchists against the Wall.


   The haunting spiritual “Go Down Moses,” long sung by slaves and in the civil rights movement, is often incorporated at Passover (it’s second verse, unfortunately, repeats the tale of Jahweh’s barbarous slaughter of the first sons of Egyptians, part of an exterminating mentality, murderous of children, even in what is otherwise resistance to oppression, which Jews and others should work to overcome).  See here.


   Gil Caldwell invokes the shining rabbi Abraham Heschel who, about Selma, said: “It was as if my knees were praying when I marched.”


   Let us join with Boycott and Divestment and every mass, nonviolent movement of Palestinian resistance.


   Reverend Caldwell adds that as white Americans were taken by racism (a form of divide and rule used by the elite to impoverish them or send them off to fight imperial wars), so most Israelis, suffering impoverishment – apartments beyond reach – and fear of death are hurt by the reactionary policies of the  Israeli elite and need a two-state solution or, better, a one state democracy with equal rights (as in anti-apartheid South Africa).


    Here is what reverend Caldwell wrote to me after Netanyahu spoke frankly to the racists who elected him (as with Germans once upon a time, the stirring of a large racist movement has taken long work by Israel, facilitated by the United States and of course, though sometimes critical of it – see below – campaigned for in the New York Times as in the grotesque Rudoren article or the publication of an op-ed by John Bolton urging bombing of Iran, that is, naked American aggression, a neocon specialty.  Try Bolton’s argument on the “need” of Russia to grab the Crimea – something that would never appear in the Times – and you see the grisly policy at work here…


      For ugly, Gil uses the synonym demonic – for the reasons given above sadly, that is an apt word:

        I think of you as the Scholar Activist and I am the Non-Scholar Activist. We have not met personally, but we have “met” through the life and spirit of our friend-in-common, the late Vincent Harding. You have introduced in the way you have published my writings, a form that I find fascinating. In a Jazz music like way, you respond to my writings through interventions of your own through commentary, additional insights and resources that have produced a Gilbert Caldwell/Alan Gilbert distinctive epistle. 
       I hope you will do this with the following.

       The lead editorial in today’s (3/18) New York Times is titled; “An Israeli Election Turns Ugly”. This sentence in the editorial jumped out at me with such force that I am compelled to respond. “Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis.”

       Years ago, a friend, in moments when there was an expression of prejudice, bias or hatred, she would respond by saying, “God don’t like ugly”. There is an ugliness about the actions of Prime Minister Nantayahu and of the actions of the Republican leadership that brought him to Washington to speak that is at best frightening, at worst, demonic.

        The ugliness of a Republican Party in the USA that is so fearful of our nation “walking its talk” of “out of many one”, “we the people” etc. that it has turned to the suppression of the voting of black people (and students) and is doing all it can to restrict immigration from Mexico. Some would say that this is being done because of the fear of the coming “majority of the minorities” in the USA, and therefore the “browning of America”. How strange it is that those who revere the Constitution, celebrate the Statue of Liberty, and boast of “American Exceptionalism” seem to want to be the gatekeepers that create a democracy that is selective. [Yes; nonetheless, this nativism of settlers, coupled with genocide toward indigenous people and blacks, has long characterized the American Right].   Composed only of people “who grew up like we did” and “love America as we do”. (Words of a former Mayor of New York).

     The ugliness of Prime Minister Netanyahu who seeks  with the Republican Party to engage in setting foreign policy that excludes President Obama. And,in Israel to suppress/ignore/minimize the votes of Israeli Arabs. When we were growing up, our grandmother, told us, “Children are to be seen but not heard”. Blacks and Browns and students in the USA, in the minds and policies of the Republican Party, “are to be seen and not heard”. And Benjamin Netanyahu wants the same for Israeli Arabs [the Palestinians in Israel and in Occupied Palestine}.

     The ugliness of those who historically and presently know what it is to be rendered the “other”, the “less than”, “second class”, etc. who when they are “in charge” have no qualms about doing to others what has been done to them. There is a symmetry between the governing of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel that historians will record that present day journalists may ignore. How is that those who are the leaders of nations that were birthed and born with visions of equality, freedom and justice for all, can apparently so easily became carbon copies of those whom they once claimed to resent and resist[!!]?

       The ugliness of politics in both the USA and Israel.  Apparently, there are some Republicans who brought Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Congress to model what they want their presidential candidate to be and look like [the bizarre Straussian neocon Bill Kristol wishes for Pharaoh to be the next Republican candidate for President…]; One who demeans and dismisses President Barack Obama, who pretends to favor one policy only to reverse that policy because it is politically expedient (once “yes” to a Palestinian state, only to say “no” to it,  amidst a close election), a believer in a “cosmetic democracy”, but in actuality maintains a democracy that treats some persons as being “more equal than others”. (In both Israel and the USA, the “3/5ths a man” designation of blacks during slavery), is in practice and those who are so designated represent the colors of the human rainbow today.

     There was a justice and spiritual beauty in the presence of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as he marched with Martin Luther King in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. I  thought of his words spoken about that experience; “It was as though my knees were praying as I marched”, as I read the news about the Israeli election.

      During the Civil Rights Movement, among the songs we sang, one had these words; “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘roun”. Despite the ugliness of the leadership of President Benjamin Netananyu and the Republicans who used him and he them, to elevate some while suppressing others in both Israel and the USA, my hope is that millions of Israeli’s and Americans will realize how they have been used and abused. Used and abused to suppress the human rights of those with limited power.

     We cannot in the 21st century allow “Ugly” leaders and their policies to “turn us around”, whether they are in the USA or Israel, from becoming a “Beloved Community” of justice, equality and peace. 

Gilbert H. Caldwell

A retired United Methodist Minister

Asbury Park,  NJ” 


“Israel Faces Moses’s Demand to Pharaoh

The racist dishonesty of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has challenged Judaism’s humanistic principles, as many young Jews will now flip the Passover script, putting the Palestinians in the position of Moses demanding “Let my people go” – or give them the vote in one state, writes Rabbi Michael Lerner.

By Rabbi Michael Lerner

What makes this year’s Passover Seders unlike any others is that a majority of American Jews have been forced to face the fact that Palestinians today are asking Jews what Moses asked Pharaoh: “Let my people go.”

The Israeli elections, and subsequent support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s open racism and obstinate refusal to help create a Palestinian state, is not playing well with many younger Jews, and they will be challenging their elders to rethink their blind support for Israeli policies.

Charlton Heston (as Moses) confronting Yul Brynner (as the Pharaoh) in “The Ten Commandments.”

Increasingly, young Jews are on the Moses side, and see Netanyahu as the contemporary Pharaoh. So at the Seder more and more Jews will be asking Israel to “let the Palestinian people go.”

The easiest way ​for Israel ​to ​allow Palestinians their freedom is to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel and based on the 1967 borders of Israel with slight border changes to allow Israel to incorporate the settlements in Gush Etzion and Jewish parts of Jerusalem that were built on conquered Arab land in 1967.

The terms for that agreement were well worked out by “The Geneva Accord” developed by former Yitzhak Rabin aide (and Ehud Barak’s Minister of Justice) Yossi Beilin, and would include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, massive reparations to the Palestinian people to help fund such a state (paid in part by the international community), and joint police and military cooperation, supplemented by international help, to deal with the inevitable acts of terror from both Israeli and Palestinian terrorists who would want to block any such agreement.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has now sought to back away from his unequivocal election commitment in mid-March that he would never allow Palestinians to have a separate state, it is clear to most American Jews that he was telling the truth to his own community when he made that commitment.

Only a fully unambiguous embrace of a detailed plan for ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and major unilateral acts on Israel’s part to begin to implement the creation of a Palestinian state, would be believed by any Palestinians at this point. And who can blame them?

But Netanyahu, like Pharaoh, has a hardened heart. Like Pharaoh’s dealings with Moses, he is likely to make statements seeking to appease the people he holds in bondage on the West Bank and Gaza, but when it comes to actions, he will give little but token steps that are not close to the freedom the Palestinian people rightly ask for themselves.

In a tragic reversal, we who had been oppressed now oppress, as though the psychological dynamic of the victim identifying with the oppressor is now playing out in a way that brings dishonor to the revolutionary vision of freedom that the Jewish people brought to the world and have celebrated for at least 2,000 years as central to Judaism.

Not that we had no warning — our Torah explicitly repeats over and over versions of the following theme: “When you come into land, do not oppress the stranger/other, remember that you were the stranger/other in the Land of Egypt.”

Given this reality, many Jews, and a disproportionately larger number of young Jews, will be asking a provocative question at their Seder tables: “If Israel won’t let the Palestinian people have their own state, then don’t we have to insist that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza be given the vote?

“After 45 years of Occupation and subordination to the Israeli government, Israel can no longer claim to be a democratic society while denying the vote to those Palestinians who live under Occupation.

“If West Bank Palestinians and Gazans are not allowed the same rights as Jews living next door to them in West Bank settlements, how can we pretend that Israel is not acting as an oppressor and forsaking any claim to be a democracy?”

The call for “One Person, One Vote” has a strong resonance with the American people and with most people on the planet. It may even resonate with many Israelis who have memories of what it was like to live in societies that did not give Jews equal rights. But for other Israelis, that demand might be the one thing that would open them up to the need for the immediate creation of a separate Palestinian state.

Fearful that giving Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the same rights already given to Palestinians living within the pre-’67 borders of Israel might give Palestinians real power to influence the outcome of elections, they might respond in the same panic that led Netanyahu to scare Israelis that they had better get out to vote because Israeli Palestinians were already going to the polls in large numbers.

The Palestinian Authority might find that adopting the demand for “​One Person, One Vote”​ might be the most powerful way to get the two states they’ve unsuccessfully sought up till now.

In my view, two states are preferable to trying a forced marriage between two peoples that have so much mutual suspicion – they need a clean divorce, not a shotgun wedding! But since Israel won’t give that divorce any other way, the demand for a fair marriage is better than Palestinians remaining a de facto slave to Israeli​ fears and Israeli power.

Passover Seders are all about asking important questions — this year, many American Jews are likely to be  asking how Jews can celebrate our own freedom without insisting that Israel “Let their people go” or at least give them the vote!

Many younger Jews are good at sniffing out hypocrisy, and they may be causing a heated debate at any Seder that avoids this question.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership in which also brings you a subscription to Tikkun Magazine). [This story previously appeared at]