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“American Jewry, Israel and Palestine 46 Years After The 1967 War” – Remarks of Rob Prince, St. Barnabas Church, Denver, Sunday, November 3, 2013

November 3, 2013
Lithuana - Prienai, from where my paternal grandfather's line comes, is just s. of Kaunas. They, the Prenskys (people from Prienai) moved to Grodno at the bottom of the map, today in western Belarus. 10 miles west, in eastern Poland is Bialystok from where my maternal grandmother, Sarah Wishinsky, hails. Priania, Vilnius, Grodno, Bialystok...The Baltic Sea is to the west, Latvia to the North, Poland to the southwest, Belarus to the South.

Lithuana – Prienai, from where my paternal grandfather’s line comes, is just s. of Kaunas. They, the Prenskys (people from Prienai) moved to Grodno at the bottom of the map, today in western Belarus. 10 miles west, in eastern Poland is Bialystok from where my maternal grandmother, Sarah Wishinsky, hails. Priania, Vilnius, Grodno, Bialystok…The Baltic Sea is to the west, Latvia to the North, Poland to the southwest, Belarus to the South.

(Note: What follows are notes from the talk. I usually wander from my notes a bit – but not very far – and usually come back to the main themes. RJP)

American Jewry, Israel and Palestine – always an `alive’ topic…

While I am glad to speak to you on this issue, I want to raise a point from the outset for you to consider: There is a tendency to emphasize Jewish voices – either for or critical of Israel – keeps the dialogue restricted – Plenty of Palestinians in Denver who know the issue well and whose voices need to be heard. We all need to break out of a box that has for too long stifled – if not smothered – the Palestinian narrative as told by Palestinians themselves.

Want to urge you from the outset – to invite a Palestinian speaker to address you…you need to hear from Palestinians in their own voice…

Still, I applaud you for trying to deal with, come to an understanding of this issue in your church. I have spoken on it – for better or worse, to friendly and hostile audiences for nearly 40 years now. And I find that once one leaves the more emotionally connected audiences that believe it or not, it is not so difficult to speak about it all, that it is not `impossible’ to resolve, even if it is difficult. People actually hear what I have to say. How novel!

Want to give you three reference points: Will briefly address three issues – those I was asked to address:

a. the 1967 War

b. my family history

c. developments in American Jewish Community.

a. Concerning the war – it shifted the balance of power in the region in Israel’s favor.

– Israel emerges as a regional power; Arab Nationalism – that of Nasser, suffers a serious blow from which it has not recovered.

– US-Israel ties – which existed previously but weren’t that strong – become firmer. US sees Israel as a strategic partner. Israel understands that US support insures its political program

– Humiliating defeat for Arab Nationalism, – emergence of an independent Palestinian national movement. Arabs won’t help Palestinians, Palestinians have to help themselves. – Fateh, the PLO – emerges – Karameh conflict.

– UN Resolutions 242, 338 – framework to resolve the conflict – still in force, still the framework for a peace settlement. Have supported it all these years  – continue to

b. My family history – more I think of it, rather typical

Eastern European Jewish family from `The Pale’ – come from Vilnius (Vilna), Grodno, Bialystok

family names: Prensky, Magaziner, Wyshesky, Jackson

Prensky=someone from Pren; Pren = Prianai in south central Lithuania along a bend in the Nieman River.

Largest part of extended family wiped out in WW I – much fighting along what is now Polish-Belarus border. Rest wiped out in the first days of June, 1941 – Einsatzgruppen gassing trucks, Ponar  just outside Vilna – 80,000 Lithuanian Jews before the war (60,000 in Vilnius alone) – less than 500 afterwards. Silence from July, 1941. Viciousness of Lithuanian fascists…Jews caught in the web of history. Again.

Both grandfathers came to USA about the same time – one in 1903, the other 1904.- poor construction workers. Both died relatively young, the first from drinking bootleg alcohol on the job to keep warm – killed him three days later. he was 44 – left a wife and 14 kids; the other died of tuberculosis at 56 – said he spent some time here in Denver in a tb hospital . Grandmothers lived longer.

Big families – in the main grew up in the inter-war period, just before, after WWII…

My generation – during, just after WW2.

Family did well – nothing extraordinary – some entered the upper middle class – most of my uncles however died trying in their 40ies. Teachers, Doctors, Businessmen (and women)

Much intermarriage – interdiction = `don’t marry Catholics’…most married Catholics or other non-Jews; assimilationist trend very strong. Many marriages lasted.

35-40 year marriages – 1,2 kids rarely more.

Towards Israel-Palestine …

– Parents generation – strongly Zionist. My father, mother – some uncles and aunts.

– Father’s Zionism – kill Nazis. Wouldn’t visit Germany. Upset when I did.

1900 - Sarah and Julius Magaziner, Bialystok, Poland (my maternal grand parents)

1900 – Sarah and Julius Magaziner, Bialystok, Poland (my maternal grand parents)

– My generation – mostly Zionist – influenced heavily by their perceptions of the 1967 War. a few exceptions, like myself. why? the 1967 War from the vantage point of Tunis

– classic: – generally liberal Democrats “liberal on everything but..”

– Tend to be blind to the suffering of the Palestinian people by Israel – in the Occupied Territories, in Israel – support Israel in its wars (Lebanon 1982, settler colonization of West Bank, siege of Gaza)

– Younger generation – my daughters, Jewish students – tend to see the situation more clearly – but most far less political. Generally avoided politics, but where their values were concerned `care for Israel’ – but not blindly, understand that the Palestinians are an oppressed and occupied people., badly treated – don’t believe Israeli and/or AIPAC propaganda. Less ideologically in general.

– Explain

a. situation of Jews in USA – generally good – some anti-Semitism, especially from rightwing Christian groups (some of whom support Israel), some in the Black Community (believe the Jews control everything), (some – but actually less than one might think – in Islamic circles; there it comes from the more Wahhabist, Salafist elements).

b. quiet crisis in American Judaism – fewer and fewer Jews belong to synagogues – tendency towards secularism. Less Zionist influence. Alternate sources – the internet, travel.

c. some recent events – 2006 Israeli attempted invasion of Lebanon, 2008 Gaza bombing.

d. many young Jews, visiting Israel, also visit the West Bank (and Gaza) – the Rachel Corrie story

c. New Splits in the American Jewish Community

J-Street, Jewish Voice For Peace, Tikkun versus Allied Jewish Federation/AIPAC/Jewish National Fund

new institutions…emerging either openly critical of Zionist project or less extreme in their Zionism.

Institutional challenge – still in its incipient phase, but J-Street, Tikkun, Jewish Voice For Peace are not going away and I believe they will grow – bolder, not afraid to criticize , people like myself less isolated.

Still it is AIPAC, ADL – old and very well financed institutions that hold sway in the halls of power.

Persistence and general humanity of the Palestinian Community itself – in Palestine, in USA – global sympathy for the situation of the Palestinian people, it has only deepened with time]

Using the Holocaust – sufferings of Jews to defend Zionist policies against Palestinians impresses less and less.

Tony Judt, Peter Beinhart, Max Blumenthal, Norman Finkelstein and a litany of Israeli writers.

– meanwhile the right-wing Zionist positions in Israel and Occupied Territories continue to harden.

– Congress heavily influenced by AIPAC; US-Israeli-strategic partnership

– Obama Administration and Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking – Not much talk, less action.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Les Canges permalink
    November 4, 2013 6:35 am

    Hey Rob, thanks for this. My parents and uncles also grew up in Vilna. I always wondered if Vilna and Vilnius were the same. Mother was born in Vilna and father was born in Riga, Latvia.

  2. November 4, 2013 7:30 am

    Les, there is a video “The Partisans of Vilna”. It is quite good, fair, painful history…

  3. Tom Rauch permalink
    November 5, 2013 6:55 pm

    Thanks for the outline of your thoughtful talk at St. Barnabas, Rob, and for all your other blogs and reports. They provide much information and insight about many countries and issues.

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