The Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip is "wrong and stupid," an expert on the relationship of Jews to Israel said in a speech at the Harvard Hillel last night.
Leonard Fein, who has written several books on Israel and American Jewry, said that the occupation "violates both Jewish ethics and interests" and will inevitably lead to further violence in the Middle East. He made the remarks in response to an audience question, after his speech which called for a return to the original vison that led to the founding of Israel.
While Israel has changed in both size and purpose during the 40 years of its existence, the idealism that helped to form Israel in 1948 must not be lost in the political realities of the Middle East today, Fein said.
"The Jerusalem that we knew 40 years ago was very different from the Jerusalem we have come to know today," Fein said. "The Jerusalem of the past was more faith than place. We knew that that was being built over there was a dream, 'the heavenly Jerusalem'," he said.
"During the late 1960s, we began to realize the earthly Jerusalem," Fein said. "The first time I went through Jerusalem, I was expecting this 'heavenly' place but ended up touring the red-light district," he said.
Fein emphasized the difficulties Israel has had in combining the religious principles so important to its citizens with the realities of Israeli politics.
"Once 1967 came, we realized how much Jerusalem had become a religion," Fein said, remembering a meeting where three rabbis in a Holiday Inn in Tewksbury, Mass, decided to "excommunicate" any Jew who voiced an opinion against the state of Israel.
But Fein said he hoped Israel would not divide Jews, but rather would be a force for uniting the worldwide Jewish community.
Fein reflected that when he was in Israel in the 1960s, only one news correspondant was assigned to the region and only six books had been written about Israeli politics. Today, he said, two or three thousand correspondents cover Israel daily and enough books have been written on Israeli politics to fill several shelves.
With this newfound importance, Fein said, Israel has the potential to be the unifying factor that has so long cluded the Jewish community. He said that Israeli officials must take care not to let issues like the Gaza strip work against that unity.
In the last 20 years, Fein said, the Jewish community has sought some sort of "cement" to bind its members together, whether it be through higher education, socialism, or God.
But Fein said that all three of these issues have in fact worked to prevent rather than promote Jewish unity. "Socialism and higher education did not bring the proper redemption, and the most disappointing failure was God," Fein said. "Today, the status of God is divisive rather than unifying," he said.