Palestine: Learning from the rabbi

Wrestling in the Daylight: a rabbi’s path to Palestinian solidarity, by Brant Rosen, reviewed by Richard Kuper
December 2012

Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, Illinois, had been wrestling with his conscience for almost three decades, troubled by the ethnic nationalism at the heart of his liberal, Zionist philosophy.

On 28 December 2008, as the war on Gaza began, he felt he could no longer excuse the inexcusable: ‘We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human rights abuses anywhere in the world but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,’ he wrote. ‘It’s a fascinating double standard, and one I understand all too well. I understand it, because I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it.’

Wrestling in the Daylight collects his blog posts, and responses they evoked, from the above-quoted ‘Outrage in Gaza: No More Apologies’ to the end of 2010.

I started the book with misgivings. I do not come to the conflict from a religious perspective but as a Palestine solidarity activist and a secular, indeed militantly atheist, Jew. What then could the rabbi have to teach me? As it turned out, a lot.

This is a profoundly humanistic work. You watch Brant Rosen reflecting and reappraising as he is forced to redefine ‘his love for his people’, to reconcile it with Israel’s unforgivable treatment of the Palestinians. You feel his anguish as he wrestles ‘in the daylight’ with the profound contradictions of liberal Zionism. You read the responses of those who cannot follow him and his thoughtful engagement with both their arguments and their passionate feelings and beliefs. And you see his commitment to do something about it – of which this book is one part.

This collection is a dialogue within the Jewish community. But it also is far more than that. The stress is on the word dialogue. Everyone will learn from it: both how to organise the confrontation of deeply conflicting approaches in an atmosphere of courtesy and mutual respect, and why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so ideologically intractable. Everyone who cares about Palestine should read this book.


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