Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Jews Who Protest Against Israel Are Not Your Enemies

To be Jewish and opposed to the killing in Gaza carried out in our names does not make us unworthy of Jewish identity, and it does not mean we wish harm on our fellow Jews.

It’s been six weeks since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack left 1,200 Israelis dead, and the brutal retaliation on Gaza that followed has now claimed over 11,000 Palestinians.

It’s been a time of channeling my grief into action. I’ve called my members of Congress, marched in the streets and begged those in power to stop the violence. This week, I participated in the sit-in at the Oakland federal building with 700 other Jews and allies, to speak out against the unfolding horrors in Gaza and call for an immediate cease-fire.

Many of us have been accused of being antisemitic, and most Jewish news outlets (including J.) take it as a matter of fact that anyone condemning the State of Israel must hate Jews, with news coverage painting us as fringe radicals.

Calling for a cease-fire and an end to violence shouldn’t be a radical position. But too often, Jews criticizing the State of Israel get called “self-hating” or “not really Jewish” at best — or “kapos” and “Nazis” at worst. To be Jewish and opposed to the killing in Gaza carried out in our names does not make us unworthy of Jewish identity, and it does not mean we wish harm on our fellow Jews.

My family is from Charlottesville, Virginia. My parents got married and my siblings had their b’nai mitzvahs at the synagogue there — the same synagogue where during the 2017 Unite the Right rally, congregants had to hide the Torah because of threats from neo-Nazis, truly violent antisemites. To be compared to those people is abhorrent to me.

This is a moment filled with false equivalencies, false binaries and false choices:

The idea that the State of Israel represents all Jews. It does not. More Jews live in diaspora than in the State of Israel, and there have been anti-Zionist Jews for as long as Zionism itself has existed. The idea that Israel represents all Jews in fact makes Jews everywhere less safe — as we have already seen recently when people conflate the actions of Israel with the actions of the Jewish people. And antisemites, most of them white nationalists, use this association to attack Jews who have nothing to do with the State of Israel.

The idea that Hamas represents all Palestinians. It does not. Even leaving aside the West Bank, where Hamas does not operate, there have been no elections in Gaza since 2006. Half the population of Gaza is children, most of whom weren’t even born in 2006. This idea also justifies horrific treatment of Palestinians, leading to the bombing of refugee camps and assaults on hospitals.

The idea that only one group — Palestinians or Jews — can be free in the land of Israel/Palestine. Freedom for one does not necessitate the removal of the other. Both peoples have reasons to fear genocide — but it is an inevitability for neither. It is possible for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to live side by side in peace, as many peace organizations in the region have demonstrated over and over.

The idea that violence will solve this problem. It will not. If bombing Gaza could stop Hamas, it would already have worked in the Israel Defense Forces’ campaigns in 2008 or 2014. If killing Israelis is meant to end the occupation and persecution of Palestinians, it would already have worked after the first or second intifada. The idea that violence will solve this problem hardens our hearts to the human pain and suffering that is at the root of all violence.

I know that many American Jews are scared right now. Whether or not we knew people killed in Israel in the Oct. 7 attacks, it is understandable to be overcome with fear and grief. What I don’t understand is how we can, at the same time, ignore the fear and grief of Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers and the IDF have killed over 150 people since Oct. 7.

We do not have to choose between grief for Israelis and grief for Palestinians. We can feel for and honor both. Nor do we have to choose between our Jewish faith and our belief in the inherent worthiness of all human life. As Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole entire Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

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