An Open Letter on the current crisis in the Middle East.
From: Barb Caruso, President of the Board, and Ann Fuehrer, Facilitator, of OCPJ
Dear Members and Friends,
Over the last several days Ann and Barb have been meeting and talking about how the current murder in the Middle East comes to us in Oxford and to the work of OCPJ. Guided by much reading and many conversations we have examined the Organization’s mission statement and history as we plan OCPJ related actions. We are sharing some of our thinking below, followed by an action plan for engagement with the city, education of the community, support of Hillel and the students it serves, and ways to engage others in the area touched by these events. We welcome your response, guidance, and suggestions for future activism. We stress that this is our initial thinking.
It has been a week since the attack by Hamas terrorists on the Israeli / Jewish people. It was and is a horror. Yes, there is a larger political context, and we don’t live there subject to the close-up trauma, or the complicated history, but we know brutality when we see it. We also recognize the virulent antisemitism that continues to be at work in the world and in our country and note that among the many responses and gatherings pertaining to these recent events some have called for the death of Jews and have celebrated genocidal history.
And now we are witnessing the ravaging of Palestinian people whose homes are leveled and who are forced to run or be killed by a government’s bombs. Our President says the U.S. will act with “moral clarity,” but apart from Hamas’ horrendous attack, there seems to be little “clarity” in the rush of events, mixed motives, and shared trauma of war. The Iliad poet says war and its deaths are the “great leveler” among people of different status and identity. All become the same people in death. My (Barb) mother would say “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
It is tempting to call the perpetrators of the massacre “evil” and the defenders’ revenge or retaliation righteous, but in fact we are talking about real people who do these terrible things. Our species. We have to face up to that. Choices have and are being made and acted on. Is there not another way to go forward? Can’t we pick the stick up at the other, not retribution and war, end?
It seems to us none of this historic and contemporary conflict has been inevitable but reflects a dearth of ethical imagination and a patriarchal viewpoint that elevates values of control, possessiveness and righteousness, that equates might and right, that sees things as a zero-sum game, that uses tools of oppression and appropriation of the power to define, stigmatize and name one party “animals” and the other “filth” thus dehumanizing both. This is not a world, a home, we want anyone to live in. And as African American poet and theorist Audre Lorde says: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
We believe OCPJ has and should advocate for and use different tools as we discern and act on our mission. Since our focus is “local” we begin with “Listening” to our communities and “acting in solidarity” with our neighbors. What we hear is that in Oxford the global is local. The threat is everywhere. And we “hear” Oxford has a history of responding to this threat.
One such response was 2017 solidarity with the national 1995 Not in Our Town Movement. The community of Oxford and Miami University took a joint stand against hatred and bigotry with the kickoff of the Not In Our Town initiative. It was in response to local incidents of intimidation as well as those that had occurred nationally. The Not In Our Town mission is to guide, support and inspire people and communities to work together to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe and inclusive communities for all. The national Not In Our Town movement was launched in 1995 as Billings, Montana residents stood up for their neighbors after a series of hate crimes targeting Jewish and Native American residents of the town.
As we “listen” we “hear” that as a consequence of the genocidal terrorism and advent of war in Israel, along the Gaza Strip, Jewish and Palestinian people in Oxford and everywhere, are experiencing a renewed threat even as they are grieving the violence and loss. We believe it is time for us, for the City and University, to recommit to Not in Our Town.
On Thursday Ann attended a program, “Jewish&: Understanding Jewish Student Identity on Today’s College Campus”, at Hillel at Miami University. (This program will be offered several more times in the near future.) The gathering was designed to help provide a deeper understanding of who the Jewish people are while also providing campus and community partners with tangible ways to help Jewish students feel not only safe on their college campus but truly welcomed. As she listened she “heard” that many Jewish students feel safe from immediate attack, but many do not feel welcomed. They are the targets of online bullying. They wake in the morning to a swastika on the whiteboard on the door of their residence hall home.
Executive Director of Hillel at Miami University, Whitney Fisch, who appreciates the support
of President Biden calling out the futility of violence, suggested local ways to act in solidarity with the students and Hillel. She encourages local support and participation in Hillel life. All
members of the community may attend Shabbat services, braid and purchase Challah for
healing, walk past the Hillel building at 11 E. Walnut St. to make sure it is secure, and put signs
in our yards that affirm that all are welcome here. Whitney reports that last year, Hillel at Miami University welcomed 700 unique students, including transgender Jewish students who are reeling from the double oppression of transphobia and antisemitism, and Jewish students of color who know they are targeted because of multiple stigmatized identities. Services to support such a large community of students requires monetary funds— we can send a donation by visiting their website at www.muhillel.org or DONATE to Hillel at Miami University. We can also openly affirm that peace will not result from war.
All this thinking and listening has led us to an initial action plan for OCPJ that we will take to the Board for discussion and likely affirmation:
- Continued solidarity with Hillel: attending events, facilitating programs, etc.
- Conducting at least one What? So What? Now What? Program in our Townhall Series focused on this crisis.
- Make a statement to City Council on Tuesday urging official recommitment to Not in Our Town and the issuing of a resolution.
- Publicly disseminating the Peace Pledge below.
- Creating opportunities to discuss this topic at our Annual Bread Not Bombs Dinner
Members and Friends, as we listened to those around us and planned the actions above we also listened to the history of OCPJ. Earlier this week Linda Musmeci Kimball sent all of us her recent version of the Peace Pledge for Peace Makers adapted to this moment. See below. It’s built on OCPJ responses to previous conflicts and makes use of a statement from the Board of the Dayton Peace Museum. The two of us support this statement and will take it to the Board of OCPJ for discussion and hoped for affirmation of OCPJ’s commitment. Please communicate with us or other members of the Board your views on our plans and your wishes for our work going forward.
Ann and Barb
For a Just Peace, we:
Express our support for the security of Israel and Israelis.
Express our support for a just and dignified peace
for Palestine and the Palestinian people.
Reject militarism as a response to territorial and political
disputes, exclusions, and injustices.
Feel empathy for those who have come under attack and
who have been living with the fallout of violence.
Support non-escalation and avoidance of temptations for revenge.
Recognize the shared humanity of all people in the Middle East
and the shared need for peace.
Invite affected communities locally to be open to dialogue
and continue mutual engagement.