As she prepares to leave for Gaza on the Audacity of Hope, Alice Walker has written eloquently of Gandhi and King; of Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/21/alice.walker.gaza/)...and of the power of standing with non-violent dignity for justice.
That is the stance of Jesus Christ - to turn the other cheek and, in doing so, to change the heart of those swinging the hand…or wielding the trunchion or gun. It is, however, a stance, a method, that only works if one's oppressor has a moral core that can be appealed to, a heart that can be opened.
Gandhi triumphed, because his oppressors - the British - were shamed by their own Magna Charta and an in-grained sense of fairness. Martin triumphed, because he forced us to realize how great the gap had grown between our professed ideals - the American Creed - and the reality of our daily lives. Hitler and Stalin, however, had no such moral core to appeal to and gunned down with ease those who opposed them.
And, Jesus, too, was killed by a Roman Empire that feared only the sword; by a Judaism, the heart of which had so calcified, that it could not be cracked open; and, yes, by the similarly calcified Christianity of today.
In the current situation, as another Gaza Flotilla sets sail to break the siege of Gaza, big questions loom about the nature of today's Judaism and of state power in Israel and America. Increasingly, I have doubts and fears about the latter, but, having served in our government for nearly three decades, I know that, in the private corridors of power, appeals to what is good and just often win the day. I hope that there are still those in Washington and Jerusalem willing to make such appeals.
Concerning the nature of Judaism, one always has to ask whether it represents a set of exclusivist tribal ethics or the universal moral code of prophets who speak to all humankind, prophets who, in the words of Micah, call us all "to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Thanks to courageous Israeli Jews I know personally – folks like Michal, Eitan, Jeff, and Avraham – and a young American Jew sailing with Alice on the Audacity of Hope, Gabriel Matthew Schivone (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-moment-before-boarding-the-next-flotilla-1.369336), I find assurance that the soul of the prophets still beats strongly in Judaism and can be moved by a universal appeal to justice.
In the meantime, I must express my outrage that our United State Department of State, for which I once worked, would "warn" those who would make such an appeal to cease and desist, in effect washing its hands of the blood of unarmed American citizens who might once again be killed or wounded on the high seas by Israeli "commandos" (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/white-house-gaza-flotilla-activists-may-be-breaking-u-s-law-1.369486).
In doing so, I would recall also what Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in expressing her "deep concern" over the deaths arising from the IDF attack this time last year on the earlier Gaza Flotilla. Those "deaths of civilians working to deliver humanitarian aid," she wrote in her letter to President Obama, "could not have happened absent the counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Episcopal Church strongly supports American leadership toward ending the blockade. There are far better ways to protect Israel's security and promote moderate political leadership in Gaza than a blockade that intensifies human suffering and perpetuates regional insecurity."
This year, as another tragedy looms, I would hope that my church and other churches would speak out before the fact to commend those who would witness with their bodies on behalf of justice and non-violence and warn Jerusalem and Washington of the self-isolating moral consequences of further bloodshed.
Finally, I applaud our own Barbara Lee (D- Berkeley/Oakland) and Sam Farr (D-Salinas) and the four other members of Congress who have just written Secretary Clinton urging her to "work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board" the U.S. boat to Gaza, and urge you to contact the other members of our Bay Area delegation to Congress, including Minority Leader Pelosi and our own Representative George Miller (D-Martinez), to urge them to take a similar stand in this moment of moral and political accounting.
A version of this appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald, June 30, 2011