Rabbi Brant Rosen leads a congregation in Evanston, Illinois and is co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace. He is the author of the new book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity and blogs at Shalom Rav. He stresses that the views, both in his book and in this interview, are his own and do not represent his congregation. We spoke on Monday December 4 in Washington, DC where he was promoting his book. An abridged version of this interview was published by Inter Press Service.
How has your personal view of Israel changed in the past four years?
I think I’ve shifted from a liberal Zionist approach—viewing the conflict as two peoples who have two legitimate claims to the land and the only way out of the morass is two states for two people. I believed in the importance of a Jewish state and identified with Israel as a Jew; that was my narrative growing up. I have deep familial relationships in Israel, visited there many times, considered moving there…it was a gradual thing, but the breaking point was Operation Cast Lead in 2008 (Cast Lead was the code name given to Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza). I came to realize this was not a conflict between two equal parties but an essential injustice that began with the birth of the state of Israel and continued since that time. It is a case of one very powerful party bending the other to its will.
Once I spoke out about Israel’s outrages in Cast Lead, the dominoes really started to fall for me. At first I didn’t know where that brought me, and wasn’t sure where I stood. As a congregational rabbi I was in a difficult place and people looked to me for guidance. About a year after that, I really reassessed my relationship as a Jew to Israel, to the entire issue, not just Gaza, about Zionism in general. In the blog pieces I wrote for the book I wrote very extensively about my thoughts and my activity during this time. Brian Walt and I started Jewish Fast for Gaza, and we found a number of rabbis who stood with us to launch the initiative to end the blockade of the Strip and search for a just peace. I become more involved in Palestine Solidarity work, reaching out to Palestinians, some of whom were friends and others who were activists in this area, moving beyond my fear of them as “other.” So many of them reached out to me when I spoke out on Gaza, and I wanted to learn from them what their experience of this issue was. (more…)