Coming to terms with Jewish upbringing
Coming to terms with my Jewish upbringing
by Tsiporah Grignon
My story of growing up Jewish in Canada is similar to my peers in America and England, perhaps in other western democracies. We were taught to feel immense pride in Israel.
That pride has dissolved for many. In the words of psychologist Dr. Gabor Mate: “The beautiful dream of Israel has become a nightmare”.
It’s a sad truth that so many of the world’s people live in nightmare conditions. And because I live a privileged life, with a warm shelter and enough food and clean water, I am motivated to do something useful with my life. I used to organize community events … now I organize the community of my thoughts, about the state of our world … and so I write.
From a rising awareness of political realities that keep all planetary citizens on edge, I realized it was time for me to stop avoiding my Jewish heritage … for I had come to the inevitable conclusion that my Jewish upbringing has played a key role in the seemingly intractable Israel/Palestine conflict. So I set out to learn ‘the other narrative’ – through reading books and articles by Palestinian and international historians, journalists, conscious writers of the political arts including an Israeli general’s son, and eyewitness accounts from those who live under terrible living conditions in Palestine.
First to understand is that the focus of this conflict has been two different groups wanting to live on the same piece of real estate. When Israel became a state in 1948, the land was divided, and Palestinians were given specific areas to inhabit – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Since that time, Israel has purposefully fragmented Palestinian territory in the West Bank – taking land that was to be Palestine through building Israeli settlements, illegal according to international law, which together with illegal outposts and Jewish only roads, covers close to 60% of the West Bank. It is eye-opening to see a map of land left for Palestinians.
Besides having their land and water sources stolen, Palestinian lives are controlled completely by a harsh military occupation, by one of the world’s mightiest military powers. To witness what Palestinians must endure on a daily basis is heartbreaking. It is indeed a nightmare. In today’s world of instant online media, because any citizen armed with a cell phone can document on site developments, the world can see what Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were ordered by their military superiors to do.
It is shocking to see images of IDF soldiers spraying raw sewage onto Palestinian homes in the West Bank. One can imagine the humiliation Palestinians feel as they wait in long lines at checkpoints on their way to work or school, caged like animals, where any soldier can arbitrarily deny the Palestinian to pass through the checkpoint despite having the correct permit required by Israeli occupation policy. And we can see the anguish of a Palestinian woman desperately clinging to a productive olive tree, in the wild hope of saving it from being destroyed by the IDF. As global food supply becomes increasingly jeopardized due to climate change, I believe that the purposeful destruction of a centuries-old source of food is as much a criminal act as cruelty to sentient beings.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem must qualify for legal status in order to formally work, move freely, renew drivers’ licenses, or even obtain their children’s birth certificates which are needed to register them in school. Legal status can also be revoked for any number of bureaucratic reasons. Palestinians may apply to become permanent residents, to prove they maintain a “center of life” in Jerusalem, but most reject doing so since it involves pledging allegiance to Israel, the occupying power. According to international humanitarian law, an occupying power is forbidden to compel people under occupation from pledging loyalty to it – however, Israel does not comply with such laws. Its extensive bureaucratic system makes it extremely challenging for Palestinians to obtain official status as a Jerusalem citizen.
The other Palestinian territory is the 140 square mile Gaza Strip. Because of an 11 year blockade by Israel and enforced by Egypt to the south – in which Palestinians are not allowed to leave and needed goods are not allowed in – Gaza has the unsought after distinction of being called “the largest open-air prison” on the planet.
Israel has assaulted Gaza heavily three times since the end of 2008, which caused the deaths of thousands as well as enormous damage to its infrastructure and crippling Gaza’s economy. Severe cuts to electricity have had a devastating impact on medical aid, food, and technology. The water situation is dire – since Israel destroyed Gaza’s sewage infrastructure, raw sewage flows into the ocean, polluting their beaches and leaching into and polluting almost all of Gaza’s groundwater, making it undrinkable. Almost everyone in Gaza depends on water delivered by tanker trucks. Since building materials are prohibited from being allowed into Gaza, valuable infrastructure cannot be rebuilt. Being a fisherman in Gaza is now a very dangerous occupation, for the IDF routinely fires on fishing boats, injuring, arresting and killing fishermen, as well as confiscating and even destroying fishing boats. How might any of us react to such an inhumane blockade? Would we risk our lives to protest?
That is exactly what Palestinians in Gaza have been doing with The Great March of Return. This spring, tens of thousands rose up in mass solidarity, in an unarmed and civilian-led protest. As of this writing, Israeli snipers have shot and killed more than 150 Palestinians and injured more than 16,000. Confronting their jailers has unified the people of Gaza in the hopes of sending a clear message to the international community to demand an end to the blockade. Meanwhile, Israel explains this collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians as necessary for the security of the Jews in Israel.
I cannot accept any justification for abusive treatment of human beings. I am tired of being told the Israel/Palestine conflict is complicated. In simple language, it is one group of people treating another group very badly.
Why would Jews, a group persecuted for centuries, be so willing to persecute others? Are we to carry hatred in our hearts forever? I am of a generation who are the children of Holocaust survivors. We all grew up learning about concentration camps and gas chambers, of the efficiency of Nazi cruelty. My father never spoke about his parents killed by the Nazis, not even of any happy childhood memories – it was too painful, and I think he felt guilty for somehow not being able to save them.
The obscenity of the Holocaust for Jews led to the creation of the mantra, Never Again. But a mantra is only as good as our intentions, as noted by American Jewish historian Howard Zinn:
“The Jewish Holocaust should not be encircled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other atrocities in history. … All who have taken seriously the admonition “Never Again” must ask ourselves – as we observe the horrors around us in the world – if we have used that phrase as a beginning or as an end to our moral concern. … To build a wall around the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust is to abandon the idea that humankind is all one, we are all – of whatever color, nationality, religion – deserving of equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … My point is not to diminish the experience of the Jewish Holocaust, but to enlarge upon it. For Jews, it means to reclaim the tradition of Jewish universal humanism against an Israel-centred nationalism.”
That is exactly what 47 Holocaust survivors did after seeing the carnage of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s massive attack against Gaza in 2014. Reclaiming the spirit of ‘never again’, they published an open letter in the influential New York Times calling for “the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel”.
Growing up Jewish in North America
Being Jewish fundamentally meant unquestioning support for Israel. Attendance at the synagogue was far less important than adherence to the belief that according to the Bible, Israel was the land of the Jews – where any Jew, from anywhere in the world who wanted to live there, would be welcomed.
My family observed traditional Jewish life: lighting Sabbath candles, keeping a kosher kitchen, attending synagogue during the most important Jewish holidays or for my friends’ bar-mitzvahs. We children attended classes several times a week after regular school to learn the teachings of Judaism and the Hebrew language. Like Jewish children all over North America, I would collect 10 cent stickers until there were enough that meant a tree would be planted in Israel. This was the 60s when we knew that youth from around the world were traveling to Israel to work on a kibbutz, Israel’s socialist agricultural communes, along with Israeli born youth. Everyone was proud of the kibbutzniks who “made the desert bloom”.
During the summer months, many of us attended Zionist summer camps which I did for 9 summers. My favorite activity involved music – singing Hebrew songs and doing both Israeli and Arab ethnic dances. It was at camp that I first encountered interpretive dance, and what we mainly interpreted was how it felt to be persecuted. Our morning ritual was to gather around the flagpole as the flag of Israel was raised, place our right hand over our hearts, and sing in Hebrew the words that mean: “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget its cunning.” I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable repeating such a fierce statement, for my humanist nature was developing without my conscious awareness. Unlike others at camp, I never felt the call to visit Israel, a place where I knew that hatred of The Other was a big part of life.
In 1962, the movie Exodus gave us sexy movie stars portraying heroic Jewish freedom fighters. In reality, they terrorized defenseless Arab women and children to get them to leave their homes. The movie’s theme song is hauntingly beautiful, and its triumphantly defiant lyrics hit the perfect emotional chords to serve the Zionist agenda: “This land is mine, God gave this land to me”.
I must ask: Why would God tell one group of believers that a power spot on planet earth was theirs, that it “belonged” to them only? Did this same God then forsake those who lost everything when Israel became a Jewish homeland? Does this God actually choose sides?
“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of the truth” – Einstein
My father did not discuss politics in the family setting, so I grew up not asking too many hard questions about the world. But in later years, from observing the military industrial complex perpetuating wars, it dawned on me that my choice to sit back and not know was a cop-out. A democracy works best when citizens take part in it beyond voting every few years. I began to relish deep discussions about geopolitics with my politically astute partner.
It was dizzying to deal with so much information from the internet. Fortunately, I received help from my partner in learning what information sources to trust. I became aware of an army of alternative information disseminators who were willing to dig deeper into what I call “power gone bad”, many of them respected investigative journalists who had spent their entire careers questioning authority and exposing injustice. It turns out that discerning honest information sources are a constant and formidable task for all things political since the rabbit hole of deceptions is very deep. As well, I learned that investigating a news story has to take into account the motivations of every source. In this regard, one media phenomenon became apparent – the hypocrisy of words spoken that did not match facts on the ground. That is the time to ask cui bono, who benefits, an invaluable strategy in a search for truthful media reporting.
I recognized that cui bono could also apply to an examination of extreme interpretations of religious beliefs that all too often lead to violent behavior. This led to becoming involved with an interfaith group, established by a Muslim elder deeply concerned about how the masses conceived of his religion after 9/11 – his desire was to teach that Islam is a religion of peace. But although I appreciated being in the presence of wise elders in that group, after a couple of years I left out of sheer frustration in never ever discussing the shadow side of religion – those fanatic zealots who believe their way is the only way, that others are infidels and unworthy human beings – which somehow in a kind of warped religious zeal justifies horrendous violence against a perceived enemy. Furthermore, if we are willing to look, there are violent messages in certain religious texts themselves.
This leads me to ask: Why is it appropriate in modern times, to live according to books written centuries ago? I am aware that for some people, holy books are said to be divinely inspired and imbued with wisdom, which in theory would give them a timeless quality. But the Old Testament of the ancient Hebrews is not a book to suit everyone’s philosophy of life. My birth into a Jewish household does not automatically mean I agree with a bible that exalts patriarchy (power over – the cause of much suffering), tribalism (loyalty without question), and merciless slaughter at the command of the Hebrew God. Some of us are designed to rebel, to question authority.
The more I learned about the history of the establishment of the state of Israel, the more I felt betrayed by my early Jewish conditioning. Cheerleading for Israel meant we did not learn about the Nakba, the expulsion by Zionist paramilitary groups of 750,000 Palestinians from the land they had lived on for generations. I have often lamented that as a child I did not think to ask what happened to the people who lived on the land that became Israel. As an adult, after immersing myself in the study of the Israel/Palestine conflict, I now comprehend the incredibly powerful influence of Zionist ideology in the world.
Thus, through blind support for Israel, I feel that my generation became complicit in perpetuating the dispossession, persecution and mass murder of an entire people. We also missed out on learning compassion for The Other.
A brief primer on Zionism
By the mid-1800s, there was a rise of nationalist movements in Germany and Italy. European and Russian Jews were inspired by the idea of establishing their own sovereign state as prophesied in the Bible. This led to the founding of Zionism in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, and political activist. This new movement renewed the ancient attachment of the Jews and of the Jewish religion to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills of ancient Jerusalem was called Zion.
Naturally, Zionism had a powerful appeal for many Jews – having a Jewish homeland meant an end to centuries of religious persecution. However, the Zionist movement also had its detractors. Rabbis and others warned that such an ideology was morally wrong, that it would lead to unending conflict, that it had the potential to become racist in nature. They were prescient.
Herzl died before his vision was realized. Dr. Chaim Weizmann became the new leader of the World Zionist Organization. Weizmann personally pleaded with the British government to give Jews their own home, however, the land Zionists wanted was in the area controlled for about 400 years by the Turks, as part of the Ottoman Empire. This was when the First World War was happening, and such timing led to a surprising development: the British government made a promise to give Palestine to the Jews – but only if Britain and its allies won the war. In this way, Zionists in America were motivated to use their considerable influence to drive Americans into the war, which proved to be the decisive factor in the victory over the Germans and Turks.
This special promise was made public in November 2017 in a letter from British Foreign Secretary Lord James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
Known as The Balfour Declaration, this document went on to say“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. It is important to note that when this declaration was issued, Palestine was populated 93% by Arabs, with Jews about 7% of the population. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has said, “these 67 words are still being fought over in the middle east 100 years later”.
After the war, Britain did gain control of the biblical land of Israel, then known as Palestine. Even though the British helped the Zionist project survive several Palestinian uprisings, they stalled on giving the land over to a Zionist state. In March 1939, the British officially reneged on their promise, stating that Britain “was not free to dispose of Palestine without regard for the wishes and interests of the inhabitants of Palestine.” Zionists felt betrayed and carried out acts of terrorism against the British occupation of Palestine – the most famous being the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the administrative center of the British mandate over Palestine, and the act that helped accelerate Britain’s decision to withdraw from Palestine 2 years later.
After WWII, the world learned of the Nazi Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews, and 9 million others. Who would not be emotionally inclined to give Zionists needed political support for its goal of a Jewish state? This support also included money to buy weapons to fight and defeat Arab armies. And so it was that Zionist fighters, terrorists by today’s definition, ousted the British and held off the hostile Arab states surrounding their new conquest.
But there was one more item to deal with – Zionists needed official recognition for the new state of Israel. This task was assigned to the newly created United Nations to be resolved.
Response by the United Nations
It was not in the UN mandate to create states. Its General Assembly had neither the legal nor the legislative powers to impose such a resolution or to convey title of a territory, only to recommend resolutions. Moreover, General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, never went to the Security Council for approval. Therefore it remained as a “recommendation”.
Implementing such an approval would have required military force, for there were 1 million Palestinians in the part of Palestine allocated to Zionists in the partition plan. Despite an attempt by the United States to propose that Palestine be placed under a temporary UN Trusteeship, plans and calls for a ceasefire fell on deaf ears.
With the Zionist goal so close, Jewish forces kept up their attacks on Palestinian villages to secure more than their portion of land allocated in the partition plan. Meanwhile, American Zionists lobbied hard for Harry Truman to be elected as President, so effectively that he caved to their demands and authorized recognition of Israel on May 14, 1948, the first nation to do so – a decision not shared by many of his high ranking advisors.
The British mandate ended the next day. Palestine was not only partitioned – it was destroyed.
Since then, the United Nations and other international organizations have failed to address Israel’s criminal actions and policies.
Before and after the birth of the Jewish state of Israel, Zionist leaders spoke with confidence about the ongoing process of settler colonialism, premised on occupation and the elimination of the native population. Quotes by Zionist leaders do not mince words.
From the founder of Revisionist Zionism, Zeev Jabotinsky: “Zionist colonization must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population”.
From Moshe Dayan, IDF Chief of Staff, Israeli Minister of Defence: “before their eyes, we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers lived … We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house.”.
From the Director of the Jewish National Fund, Yosef Weitz: “It is clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries – all of them. Not one village, not one tribe, should be left!”
The word “transfer” was and continues to be Zionism’s euphemism for ethnic cleansing. Such strong statements make it crystal clear that from its beginnings, the leaders of the new state of Israel planned to rid their homeland of Arabs.
Why I must speak up for Palestinian human rights
I cannot in good conscience stay silent about the behavior of a country I was led to believe was the most wonderful thing to happen to Jewish people.
This conflict continues, with the continuation of the military occupation of the West Bank, strict enforcement of legal status for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza. For most Israelis, life is good … while only a short distance away, a people long for freedom.
Imagine if any of us had to deal with daily serious human rights abuses perpetrated on us, authorized by law, and enforced by 18-year-old soldiers with a gun. Shocking numbers tell the story of Palestinian losses and their daily struggles since the military occupation began in 1967: 48,000+ homes and structures demolished; over a million olive trees uprooted; 100,000 detained without trial; 500+checkpoints and obstacles controlled by a soldier’s arbitrary decision; 600,000 Israeli settlers living in 130 government-approved settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and 100 unofficial ones, all in defiant violation of international law.
From British journalist Jonathan Cook living in Bethlehem: “Israel is not defending its borders but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege. In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.”
How heartbreaking it must be for Israeli peace and justice activists to acknowledge their country’s racist and cruel nature. Here in Canada, those of us aware of Israel’s absolute military control over the lives of Palestinians are exasperated that so many Jews and elected politicians continue to make excuses that justify Israeli atrocities, conflating criticism of Israeli government policies with anti-semitism. I am not alone in noticing that continual support for blatant Zionist bullying could actually create a resurgence of anti-semitism.
When supporters of Israel are willing to take a deeper look at Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, they will discover a variety of organizations that monitor it. Some keep track of Israel’s control mechanisms over the Palestinians, such as Adameer, a prisoner support group; The Discriminatory Laws Database; Rabbis for Human Rights; and Btselem, documenting human rights violations in the occupied territories to combat denial amongst the Israeli public.
Actions are also being taken by courageous young Israelis willing to upset their families and even go to jail for refusing to do their compulsory military service in the Occupied Territories. And IDF veterans unwilling to ignore their conscience have created an organization called Breaking the Silence, giving us powerful first-person testimonies: “We endeavour to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Our work aims to bring an end to the Occupation.”
The one group that as a parent I feel deeply about is the Parents Circle Families Forum, peopled by bereaved parents, both Israeli and Arab. All have lost a child to the insane hatred of this conflict. And what is a root cause of their suffering but none other than religious belief gone bad? These people show us that for some, compassion does exist for The Other.
One of the groups involved in this conflict is the political party Hamas, acknowledged by the world as terrorist militants. In 2006, a year after Israel withdrew its settlements and bases from Gaza, Hamas was elected to form the government in Gaza. It must be understood that Israeli withdrawal did not change the basic fact that Gaza remains occupied – Israel controls Gaza’s land and sea borders, territorial waters, natural resources, airspace, telecommunications and power supply. To the world, Hamas is a group responsible for attacks on Israeli Jews. To the people of Gaza, they are the group that created a necessary and extensive social welfare programme. This is not to say that everything Hamas does is wise or the best strategy. But let us remember that Israel constantly invokes its right to self-defense. We must understand that Palestine also has the right to self-defense. Since Gaza is a territory with no official army, navy or artillery, Hamas are the fighters, unwilling to ignore mistreatment and dispossession of the people they were elected to govern. Are Palestinians expected to simply accept their situation? Do the protesting Gazans at the Great March not exemplify the noble American expression, “give me liberty or give me death”?
In December of 2017, a video went viral of 16-year-old West Bank Palestinian freedom fighter Ahed Tamimi who slapped an IDF soldier outside her home. She was charged with assault for actions she took with her bare hands against a fully armed and protected soldier. Ahed has recently been released from 8 months in an Israeli prison, along with her mother charged with incitement for filming the incident. The village in which they live has held non-violent demonstrations for more than 6 years, to resist Israel’s occupation that confiscated village land, and to protest settlers who stole their freshwater spring.
For continuing to exercise her right to resist, Ahed Tamimi has become a symbol of Israel’s victimization of children – every year about 750 children are arrested. Currently, over 300 Palestinian children are held in Israeli prisons, all, like Ahed, in military confinement. Millions around the world saw this fierce teenage girl stand up to her oppressors.
The only democracy in the middle east is a myth
Democracy means more than voting in elections. In essence, in a democracy, the law applies to all equally. Israel’s control over Palestinian life disqualifies it as “ a beacon of democracy”, a term that supporters of Israel love to use.
Recently, the United Nations commissioned a report to examine whether the international criminal law concept of apartheid applies to Israel’s policies and practices towards the Palestinian people. The report’s authors were chosen for their respected credentials in International Law and political science; they were careful to confine their conclusions to the working definition of apartheid from the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the International Crime of Apartheid, as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
I felt compelled to read this lengthy report that came out in the spring of 2017. It very articulately expressed its conclusion that indeed, Israel’s policies and practices towards the Palestinian people can rightfully be called apartheid. Mentioned in the report is a surprising admission from Israeli leaders who for decades warned their colleagues of apartheid features of Israeli policies.
In 2006, American history professor Tony Judt wrote an article entitled “The Country that Wouldn’t Grow Up.” He commented on the loss of Israel’s moral credibility: “… the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression”. And then he clarified: “But democrats don’t fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don’t ignore international law and steal other men’s homes”.
Furthermore, the very recent passing of the Jewish nation-state law has enshrined systematic discrimination into its basic laws. Israel has effectively declared itself an apartheid state – its Arab population are second-class citizens. Palestinian/American human rights activist Susan Abulhawa says Israel “codified Jewish supremacy into law”. In response to this new law, a famous Israeli performer has used his celebrity to state unequivocally that he is ashamed to be an Israeli.
Gideon Levy is a truth-telling Israeli journalist and regular columnist for Israel’s newspaper Haaretz. When I read his articles I feel his anger and his sadness at what Israel has become. For his ability to cut through pretense and tell it like it is, he has been called “the most hated man in Israel”.
“Israel has enacted a law saying it is the nation-state of the Jewish people. In other words, anything Israel does represents the entire Jewish people. This has a price. When an Israeli sniper shoots dead a legless man in a wheelchair, and a nurse – the Jewish people is a partner. Thus Israel’s policy is inflaming anti-semitism in the world.”
The Freedom Flotillas to Gaza
Israelis with a conscience may also feel ashamed of Israel’s response to the Freedom Flotillas. Because of the worsening situation in Gaza, several international boat crews made three attempts at bringing humanitarian aid and medical relief to Gaza. These boats were all boarded by IDF navy who forcibly directed crew members to Israeli prisons. Sadly, in May 2010, the Mavi Marmara was hijacked at sea by a dozen Israeli attack boats and several helicopters, from which IDF soldiers shot at the crew, killing 10 Turkish activists on board. Soldiers also stole thousands of dollars from their prisoners.
The most recent flotilla boat, the Norwegian al-Awda, was hijacked 60 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza in international waters. An Israeli press statement said the incident occurred “without exceptional incident”. From this I conclude that the IDF’s actions were not exceptional but instead the norm – to taser and twist arms of the crew, steal belongings, punch the captain and threaten to kill him if he did not start the engine. A British doctor on board reported being prevented for hours from relieving her bladder, plus, she was not allowed to immediately treat the Canadian First Nations crew member who was in obvious pain, who instead had to wait for an Israeli doctor who arrived about 10 hours later.
In no way is this a moral army as claimed by Israel’s politicians. To me, the truly heroic soldiers are the ones who expose to the light the dark deeds of their military service.
Israel continues to live by “the steel helmet and gun barrel.” The international community is speaking out to condemn these Israeli actions. Editor of Moment of Truth: Tackling Israel-Palestine’s Toughest Questions, a compendium of many writers on the topic, Jamie Stern-Weiner writes: “The world is replete with morally difficult conflicts and complex ethical dilemmas. Gaza is not one of them.”
In closing – A turning point is upon us
It is clear to me that in this conflict, religious tribalism is so emotionally charged, that no matter what facts are presented, supporters of Israel will continue to try to excuse bad behavior, along with cries of anti-semitism. Rabbi Michael Lerner, a decades-long American political activist, laments that he is “mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel.”
The world is watching. Jewish people the world over have a choice to make. This new Jewish nation-state law makes official what the real goal was all along. Some are saying it undermines peace in the Middle East, that it’s a prelude to the annexation of more Palestinian territory.
I have long believed that Jewish people everywhere must question blind allegiance to Israel. It is time to acknowledge what is undeniably happening … that the oppressed have become the oppressors. Is it not the Zionist dream that is the root of all aggression in this conflict?
The Canadian government has been on record as being uncritically supportive of Israel for years. Perhaps that may change because a delegation of parliamentarians traveled to Palestine recently and saw first hand the living conditions of Palestinians. As well, two political parties made statements of condemnation after witnessing the massacre of protesters during the Great March of Return. I am not holding my breath about a shift in official government opinion, simply because it is likely to be shouted down as anti-semitic by Zionist organizations.
American Jews must realize that the United States supports the Israeli military machine to the tune of about 3 billion dollars a year! It is heartening to know that many American Jews are outraged at the ultra-nationalist and racist state that Israel has become.
American Rabbis are speaking out. Rabbi Alyssa Wise was denied entry to Israel in 2017 for being part of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group (BDS). “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extends to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.” Rabbi Brant Rosen is troubled by claims of anti-Semitism in progressive Jewish circles. “I’ve long been frustrated at my liberal Zionist colleagues who are more than willing to condemn any number of human rights abuses around the world, yet refuse to apply the same standard when it comes to Israel.”
A growing number of American Jewish youth are adamant that the Judaism advocated by Israeli Zionists does not speak for them. Through their movement IfNotNow, they are calling the Occupation “a moral disaster for those who support it and administer it.”IfNotNow is currently running a campaign called “You Never Told Me”, where they level a critique against Jewish summer camps and day schools for ignoring Israel’s occupation, calling upon these institutions “to provide Jewish education that advances freedom and dignity for all people”.
Another group making waves in the Jewish community in the United States is Birthright, an organization that for years has offered young Jews around the world free trips to Israel. This past June, five program participants walked off the Birthright bus on the last day of their trip, met up with Breaking the Silence, and together went to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron where they met Palestinians.
“We each came on this trip separately with hope that — especially in light of the recent killings of more than a 100 protesters in Gaza and Trump moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — Birthright would trust its participants enough to give us an honest education. We came with questions about what’s happening in the occupied territories and wanted to engage with new perspectives, but what became clear over the course of 10 days was that Birthright did not want to truthfully engage with our questions. It’s clear that young Jews who have critical questions about Israel are not welcome on Birthright. It’s shocking that given all the recent violence Birthright would continue to act as if we can’t handle the truth.”
This is aptly demonstrated by Birthright’s map of Israel showing no Palestinian territories whatsoever, a clear message of Israel’s intentions to own all of the land, as prophesied by the Zionist leaders quoted earlier. These five young Jews showed courage in addressing a growing disillusionment with Zionism.
Disillusionment with what Israel has become is also being expressed by older American Jews as well. Early this year, American political scientist David Rothkopf referred to Israel as a “ thugocracy”. His most recent article published in Haaretz is a call to action – “Why it’s Now Every American Jew’s Duty to Oppose Israel’s Government”: “To the extent that laws like the nation-state law remain the unaltered law of the land, Israel’s leaders must be challenged, communities of conscience everywhere and all manner of pressure mobilized against it on behalf of those denied their most basic human rights by the law.”
I am choosing to join others calling for an end to the Occupation and the Blockade. I believe stealing land from another is wrong, anywhere. In this regard, the Palestinian perspective is the same as that of the First Nations people of our own country.
We can become effective in bringing our voices to bear upon this issue by supporting the work of organizations advocating an end to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. We can boycott goods made in the occupied territories labeled ‘made in Israel’- every purchase is a reminder of the Palestinian call for human rights. And we can sign petitions urging artists to cancel gigs in Israel as a statement in solidarity with Palestinians and against Israeli apartheid.
A father in Gaza who participated in Gaza’s Great March of Return wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times about his decision to take part in this historic uprising despite the dangers. He told his sons: “If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.”
We either work towards a more loving and compassionate world, or we perish. More and more of us are opening our hearts to the pain of The Other. The same psychologist quoted at the beginning of this essay wrote of his fear of “rancor that might arise between friends” in discussing this issue. I am ready to take that risk.
This essay is a way of coming to terms with my Jewish roots – to atone for my complicity in the Zionist conquest of Palestine – and to claim my responsibilities as a Canadian.