Commentary: Firm Against the Current
But into the lion’s den we went.
It was lambs not lions that we had expected to meet when we entered the Quaker meeting house. We were there to see Josh, a young member of the Christian Peacemakers group who had ventured far from Oregon to protect Palestinians on the West Bank. I knew better than to expect a lovefest for Israel that night. But Josh was speaking before Quakers, of whom I had an image of being peaceful, tolerant and open-minded. Just like Corvallis, our liberal Northwest Oregon college town where everyone prides themselves on being peaceful, tolerant and open-minded.
Three of us from Beit Am, the Corvallis Jewish Community Center, decided that the Jewish community needed to be present at the event. Myself, my wife Rachel and our friend Amy; one guy and two Hadassah women determined to make sure that both sides of the conflict were heard.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I perched myself on the hard metal chair in the crowded hall. Sprinkled amid the middle-aged couples were gaunt, balding white men with scraggly beards and the bitter, weathered look of ex-hippies. The sort of people who never got over the failure of communism, the election of George W. Bush or the existence of a Jewish state that dared to conflict with their notion of a perfect world.
Josh was no hippie. He was in his midtwenties, with a shy manner and a boyish face. He had spent months in Damascus learning Arabic before going to the West Bank to “witness.”
His stories and photos portrayed the usual tale of innocent villagers struggling against brutal soldiers and settlers. Because Josh said he was a peacemaker, I waited for him to describe the suicide bombers and rockets. I waited for him to say how Christian Peacemakers would protect Israeli children, too. Instead he read a letter that explained that Christian Peacemaker “violence reduction techniques” would not work against the Hamas rockets landing on Sderot. I almost laughed.
Instead, I raised my hand and asked why he had studied Arabic in Damascus, but hadn’t learned Hebrew. How could Israelis trust him as an impartial arbiter if he could not be bothered to learn their language? He shrugged and replied that he had to start somewhere. When I urged him to understand Israeli fears by visiting Masada, he shook his head. He had never heard of Masada.
Muttering rose from around the room. The Vanguard of the Proletariat was angry at our impertinence. Then came the video clip. We watched teenage settlers with long payot confront Palestinians and their Western chaperones on the West Bank.
“We killed Jesus. We’re proud of it,” shouted the young settlers. After the meeting was over, I asked Josh why, of all the videos he could have shown in a Christian church, did he pick the one that depicted Jews as boasting that they were Jesus-killers? What kind of peacemaker would resurrect the ancient blood libel? He didn’t understand.
Yet Josh didn’t bother me. Nor did the hard-faced men of the Hard Left. I didn’t expect any better. What disturbed that night were the rows of respectable, middle-aged men and women who praised and applauded the Christian Peacemaker. As I watched their complacent faces, I realized that these good people had already made up their minds about Israel. What I had witnessed was not a public discussion. It was a public affirmation of what they already believed.
Nothing we could say would change their minds. But for our own self-respect, we had tried. We had not been passive spectators cowering before the Israel-haters. Perhaps we didn’t change any minds. But we were not afraid. H