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Progressive Jews Rejoicing in the Pope's Plan to Recognize Palestine

05/14/2015 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

Jewish liberals and progressives reacted with enthusiasm to the announcement May 13th that the Vatican will recognize the Palestinian State.

Truth is, we have rejoiced in the many steps that Pope Francis has taken to take seriously the biblical injunction to pursue justice and to protect our global environment. Now he has entered a highly contested arena with the courage he has shown on other issues.

At a time when Israel has formed its most reactionary government ever, based on an electoral victory won by Prime Minister Netanyahu after he promised the electorate that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he is in office (his term could last for five years before another election is required), it has become clear to much of the world and to many Jews that the "two state solution" is in danger of becoming little more than a fantasy. The Pope's action shows a path to non-violently resuscitate the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Not unusual for the N.Y. Times, their story covering this development quoted only those Jews who opposed the Pope's efforts. The most space was given to Yossi Klein Halevi, a former follower of extremist right-wing rabbi Kahane (but identified only by his current affiliation with the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem), who repeated the mantra that creating a Palestinian state could be a security risk to Israel (in defiance of the position taken by most of Israel's past security service chiefs).

We at Tikkun, the most prominent voice of Jewish progressives who are also pro-Judaism, as well as of spiritual progressives of every faith including the faith of secular-humanists, want Israel to be strong and secure, and know that the best way to provide for Israel's security is to achieve a lasting peace with Palestinians based on the creation of a politically and economically viable Palestinian state.

We hope that the Vatican's action will spur countries around the world to take similar actions to recognize the Palestinian state and provide it with the financial resources it needs to build its civil society.

Sadly, we recognize, however, that it will only be through external pressure that Israelis will be able to move their right-wing government to consider seriously the steps they would need to take to reverse their current direction and provide Palestinians with the rights that we Jews correctly struggled to achieve for ourselves in creating the State of Israel. The creation of Israel was accompanied by a Nakba (disaster) for the Palestinian people--800,000 people who fled their homes, at least 100,000 of them forced out by Israeli military units, untold others fleeing from fear of the extremist right-wing Jewish terrorists seeking ethnic cleansing and attacking even those Palestinians who sought to live in peace with the newly emerging Jewish state. Led by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir (both of whom later became prime ministers in Israel), the Jewish terrorists succeeded in convincing many Palestinians that their lives were in danger if they did not flee, which in turn led some of their leaders to urge them to do so, most of them believing (mistakenly) that they would be allowed to return to their homes once the fighting ceased, as international law requires. In the subsequent 67 years most of these refugees have lived in horrific conditions among Arab regimes that did little to alleviate their poverty or conditions of daily life.

As spiritually sensitive Jews, we at Tikkun believe that we have an obligation to care equally for the fate of all people on the planet, and a special responsibility to implement the Torah's command to "love the stranger/the Other" particularly (though not only) toward those whom our own people have wronged by not allowing them to return to their homes. We do not see this history one-sidedly: we know that Palestinians refused to allow Jews to come to their land pre-1948 when it was the Jews who were homeless and destitute, hundreds of thousands of whom were in "displaced persons camps" in Europe with no place to go and still in mourning for the millions who had just been murdered by the fascists. We understand that both sides have some responsibility for co-creating the conflict and perpetuating it to this day. But we are also convinced that if Israel were to act in a spirit of humility, repentance, and genuine generosity, it could create a Palestinian state that gave the Palestinian people the ability to shape their own lives with dignity and respect, and that their response would be genuine appreciation and an abandonment of the maximalist fantasies of Hamas fundamentalists who still dream of eliminating Israel altogether. Unfortunately, at the present moment the only thing likely to move the majority of Israelis toward a more generous approach to the Palestinian people is a powerful movement from around the world that not only preaches but lives a life of nonviolence and generosity.

The chances of that pressure emerging are increased now that the Pope has taken the moral leadership to recognize Palestine. It is precisely because Pope Francis is a true man of peace, social justice, and nonviolence that he has the moral stature to challenge Israeli intransigence and call the Jewish people back to the liberation message of our prophets.

Mazel tov--congratulations--to this inspired Pope as he continues his blessed work!

President Obama could finally earn his Nobel Peace Prize were he to follow the Pope's leadership on this issue. We understand that President Obama is unlikely to take any steps at this moment that might make more likely attempts by Congress to undermine his path to achieving an agreement by Iran to not develop nuclear weapon. We urge our President to use the occasion of the visit of the Pope to the U.S. in the Fall of 2015 to announce that he will follow the path of the Vatican, recognize Palestine, and pledge to support efforts in the UN Security Council to grant Palestine full membership in the United Nations with all the rights pertaining to a sovereign state."

What you, dear reader, can do to help this process along is to join the NSP-- Network of Spiritual Progressives (atheists and secular humanists as well as religious people from every major religion are part of this network) at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join. Then help us promote the Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp which is a manifestation of our strategy to convince people in the Western countries that "homeland security" can best be achieved through generosity rather than domination. It is only when Israelis see the rest of the world living in accord with that vision that they are likely to succumb to the (also needed) international pressure to grant Palestinians their human rights.

--Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: a Quarterly Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, co-chair with Vandana Shiva of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 11 books including 2 national best-sellers (Jewish Renewal: A path to Healing and Transformation and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right) and also a book with Cornel West called Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin. You can read his latest book Embracing Israel/Palestine at www.tikkun.org/eip or buy it at amazon.com.