To the Members of the Eugene Human Rights Commission and Concerned Citizens of Eugene, Oregon

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On July 20, 2010 the Eugene Human Rights Commission (EHRC) approved a request by the al-Nakba Project to write a letter of condemnation of Israel’s lethal attack upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, 2010.  The letter was to be sent to the City Council as well as Congressional leaders. The Jewish Federation of Lane County and Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), accusing the al-Nakba Project of being a “virulently anti-Israel” group, strongly objected to the statement. When I heard about this controversy I looked at the arguments that members of the the Jewish Federation  made to convince the EHRC not to issue the statement and decided to write to the EHRC myself.

I write to you as an American Jew with ultra-Orthodox relatives living in Israel; and as a former member of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), America’s largest pro-Israel lobby. I also write to you as one who, for most of his life, was a blind defender of the Israeli government’s behavior toward the Palestinian people.

Until a few years ago I shared with many of my fellow Jews around the world the fear, the anger and the mythic stories of the heroic establishment of a Jewish state only a few years after the genocide of six million of our people. But then I embarked upon an intensive and daily study of the history of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. My primary sources were all Israeli, including the Israeli Ministries of Defense, Internal Security and Foreign Affairs. What I discovered precipitated a change in consciousness and a profound compassion for all people, not favoring one group at the expense of the other. I realized that I was as much Palestinian as Israeli, as much Muslim or Christian as Jew.

I have followed the controversy over your decision to draft a statement of reprimand toward Israel for its illegal and lethal attack upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla less than one year ago. And I have read the comments of many of Eugene’s Jewish residents, especially those who oppose any action on your part. I see my former self in the words of these frightened citizens. I know some have admonished you for issuing a statement when you “are totally ill-equipped to deal with international issues.” Others have accused you of being biased, cautioning you to “keep silent . . . or send a letter of honor to Israel, lest you be tagged with the label of anti-Semitism.”

These Jewish citizens will tell you that their strong and defensive emotions arise out of a belief that Israel is being delegitimized, that Israel faces an existential threat from a hostile world that has never accepted Jews in its midst. I am painfully aware of the fear and anger in their words and I do not doubt that they believe that what they are saying is accurate. However, it is because of that awareness that I respectfully ask that you exercise your responsibility as people of conscience by following through on your earlier decision to write the statement.

Speaking from my own experience and from my awakening to the reality that my rationalization of any Israeli behavior had contributed to the suffering of millions, the truth is that none who beseech you to turn a blind eye to these issues, none who make veiled threats that you will be labeled anti-Semites has ever honestly studied the history of the Israel-Palestine struggle. Encountering the documented history, as described in Israel’s own archives and in the statements of Israel’s leaders from David Ben-Gurion to the present, is the real fear, to a far greater extent than any concern for the state of Israel. For such an encounter would bring each individual face to face with his or her lifelong denial that their fellow Jews could act so inhumanely toward those who compassionately intercede on behalf of a beleaguered people; that Israel could use premeditated lethal force, as it did against the Mavi Marmara, and as it has done for more than sixty years against the Palestinian people.

We are all, individually and collectively, interconnected through our attitudes, our thoughts and our actions. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people could not take place without the moral and financial support of Jews and Christians around the world, especially from communities throughout the United States, from places like Eugene, Oregon. The Occupation could not take place without the support of American taxpayers who make the acquisition of powerful weaponry possible for the Israeli military. Without this combined support, Israel could not maintain a blockade against one-and-a-half million people in Gaza, nor would it be able to collectively starve Gazans to the point that eighty percent rely upon food donations from charitable organizations for their subsistence-level existence. That Israel brutally prevented the Freedom Flotilla from bringing humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza and has suffered no sanctions by the international community; that Israel unnecessarily invaded Gaza less than two years earlier in an horrific display of contempt for human life and has been able to avoid censure despite the universally consistent reports of numerous human rights organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report, is all a consequence of the ability of organized and powerful interest groups, such as AIPAC, to intimidate politicians at every level of government. And all of that can be understood as a consequence of our unexamined beliefs and our apathy toward the humiliation and subjugation of others who, though they may live far away, are impacted in very concrete ways.

I implore you not to give in to the forces of Us against Them. It takes a great deal of courage to stand for fairness and humanity, knowing that powerful groups will reflexively accuse you of hating Israel simply because you express concern for the lives of all people rather than some people. By taking a stand for human rights and decency, for equality and justice you will be contributing to a more benign legacy for all of humanity. Every thought and every action that takes into account the well-being of the other leaves its mark upon the collective consciousness of humanity, reverberating throughout time. Both the Talmud and the Koran say: “Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” By speaking out on behalf of those who risked and even sacrificed their lives so that others might have a better future, you will be sending a powerful message of compassion straight to the collective heart of mankind. Publish your statement of reprimand and rescue the world!

Sincerely, Richard Forer, author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

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