Fran Peavey's response to Michael Phillips' piece. Aug. 2005


My former friend and colleague Michael Phillips has requested that I state my position on Israel, and specifically, why I do not feel that I am anti-Semitic as he has accused me of being. I have only made one public statement about my position on Israel/Palestinian struggle. I wrote a poem which was published in my second book By Life's Grace, called "an American love note to Israel".

I sincerely miss Michael in my life. He is a brilliant thinker and caring human being. I have worked with him on many projects and he has worked on my projects. He is fun to work with. I only wish that the Israel/Palestine issue was not the axis on which he places friendship. I have frequently had political differences with my family and close friends. The friendship was able to survive despite those differences. One of the problems is that has chosen to use a label anti-Semitism to characterize my ideas about the Israel/Palestinian issue. This is a very expensive war; it cost me a dear friend

That I am critical of Israel does not mean that I am anti-Semitic. I am critical of friends

Now as to the main matter of which causes a rift in a relationship. Michael was furious when I signed a letter circulated by Michael Lerner, supporting the refusniks in Israel. I believe that it would have been anti-Semitic of me not to have signed that letter. I have supported people refusing to go into the military in many countries including Iran, Serbia, and the United States to name a few. Since the Vietnam War, I have always supported draft resisters and people refusing to support the military of their country.

But the primary reason that I'm critical of Israel and Palestine (but to a lesser degree) is because of the brutality. I grieve when any Israeli was killed, and I also grieve when a Palestinian is killed. But I cannot help notice the scale of the killing. Many more Palestinians are killed than Israelis so it is a matter of scale. I think this is the primary reason that many peace activists are supporting Palestine. So many more economic resources and weapons are available to the Israelis than the Palestinians. It is a David and Goliath thing. And so the weapons with which the Palestinians fight with are often guns and rocks and small bombs attached to the body of a young Palestinian. This is surely no match for the Israeli tanks and bombs. Suicide bombing is particularly troubling. Not only because Israelis are killed. That is horrible. But suicide bombings are also disturbing because of the desperateness that the Palestinians must feel, in order to give up their young people that way. Or further, that young people to have so few options in life that the best option seems to be to tie a bomb around one's waste and go kill other people whose lives are a treasure to them and their people. My heart breaks every time a bomb explodes in a bus or a market. This seems to me no way to stop the spiraling down of violence.

Michael have been critical of the fact is that I attended the United Nations Conference On ending Racism, discrimination, and all forms of prejudice. At this conference there were presentations about anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of racism and prejudice. The Palestinians made several powerful presentations, and had one march and in general were more vocal and better organized than the Israelis. But in general we didn't really pay much attention to the struggle between the Palestinians and Israelis; it was not the most important issue on the agenda. I was there with a group of young people from all different sides of the war in Yugoslavia, who are there to learn how to work against all forms of oppression in their society and to learn to work together after their terribly brutal war. They were in South Africa studying reconciliation and since the conference was at the same time we just included it in the itinerary.

I have been publicly critical of Palestine for taking up the armed struggle. I felt that they lost support in the world. Then when Israel started destroying homes and villages and olive trees by the way.

I have had the opportunity in my life to listen to many Israelis and Palestinians tell about their dreams for their land and their families as well as their quest for personal freedom. I have been in Israel and Palestine and found them to be culturally interesting and challenging places. Love is not too strong a word for me to use for the feelings that I felt in those places. The moral choices that each group must make regularly are both enlivening and crazy-making for me. I found when I left Israel and Palestine I was exhausted. Culture-weary might be an appropriate expression.

While in Israel\Palestine I had many experiences which affect my feelings about this place, and those people. I was with members of the Jewish Peace Now group in a peace march on the streets of Ramallah when an Israeli Defense Force came down on us swinging sticks ad threatening us with guns. I ran as did another Israelis into a Palestinian shop. I hid under the table until the IDF troops left the area. I also went into Lebanon during the early days of the war in an Israeli Defense Force press vehicle. A bomb went off, not 50 yards from where I was. I tell these stories because it illustrates, I believe, that I learned some small amount of the fear that it must be to live in that place for both populations--the Israelis, and the Palestinians. I do not hold Israel to a higher standard than any other state. I hold governments responsible for not brutalizing people, for not stealing common funds and putting the money to their private use. By saying "not brutalize" people I mean they should not treat anyone with torture, should not require military training which includes hurtful or immoral acts, and they should not do these acts if they are on the soil of others. I feel I am equally critical of the Palestinians for taking up an armed struggle although I know they were not the first. As the violence escalated

Being in Israel/Palestine was the best example that I know of two mutually exclusive truth's being true. The Israelis are absolutely right that they should have a state. The Palestinians are absolutely right in that they should have a state. Both states are right in their goals, and absolutely wrong in the violence they use to attain those goals.

As I read history, theocracies (where government is based on religion) are dangerous. Israel aims to be a theocracy; a land for the Jewish people. The treatment of Palestinians is too similar to apartheid for me to ignore.

I have now met with a number of people who have had the same experience of being branded on the web for being anti-Semitic because they had criticized Israel in a class or in a public manner. This strategy alienates friends of Israel and I think is unwise

Michael definition of anti-Semitism rests on holding Israel to a higher standard than other countries. I believe I have demonstrated that I do not hold Israel to a higher standard but to the same standard I hold for other countries: valuing life and eschewing violence. I do not believe this makes me anti-Semitic. I believe it comes from my deep love of life and desire to protect the lives and culture of the people living in the Middle East and elsewhere.