Why it is essential for Jews to speak out, as Jews, on Israel

The other day Phil Weiss, editor of the always informative blog Mondoweiss (http://mondoweiss.net) asked Dorothy Zellner, a longtime leftwing activist now working with Jews Say No (http://jewssayno.wordpress.com), to explain why it is essential to address the issue of Israel's occupation of Palestine as Jews, and speak to other Jews. A lot of activists would say, But this is an American issue; everyone should be engaged. And a lot of leftwingers would say, Religion/ethnicity is a tiresome traditional category, I don’t want to identify myself in such a manner. [Thanks Phil for sparking a great post.

Zellner responds:

Whether we like it or not, as Jewish Americans we are in the middle of this mess. Not only do our taxes pay for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but our very bodies have been appropriated by Israel, which claims to speak for Jews everywhere. Certainly it can be said this is an American issue—which of course it is—and certainly religion and ethnicity can be tiresome and traditional. But I think the end result of taking this position and not supporting a Jewish voice against the occupation would abrogate our responsibility to resist injustice and would, in fact, hurt the anti-occupation struggle.

I have participated in several demonstrations in the last few years where just the sight of self-identified Jews denouncing Israel’s policies causes jaws to drop. This visual breaking of the stereotype—of Jews unendingly supporting whatever Israel does—seems to fry the synapses of bystanders. Of course it is met with abuse by some frantic and hysterical Jews who see this as the height of disloyalty. For instance, in addition to the constant refrain of “fuck you,” certain words seem to predominate: “ugly bitch,” “Nazi,” and “traitor.” (The vocabulary of hatred seems to be quite limited.

But the sight of us doing the unthinkable has many benefits: There are a few Jews who are happy and relieved to see us because it opens the door for them. They have felt uneasy about Israeli policies for a long time, and seeing us seems to give them more courage to speak their minds. There are also some gentiles who are happy to see us because they have been afraid for a long time of being called anti-Semites if they criticize Israel.

Just think what it would mean if a significant number of people in our country started to break through the rigid unthinking mindset of supporting Israel right or wrong! And just think what it means if we could have weakened the stranglehold of Israeli policies but chose not to do it!

Because we are Jews, we naturally have a certain currency in challenging Israeli policies. We identify with the Jewish people and we respect Jewish culture. Some of us are former Zionists and we know that Israel was never an empty land. We’ve been to Israel and Palestine more than once and we’ve seen the checkpoints and the barbed wire and the guard towers with our own eyes. We’ve been angry and ashamed that this occupation is supposedly being done to protect us. Some of us have relatives in Israel. Some of us are the children of Holocaust survivors and we say that what happened to our murdered relatives in Europe should not be the reason for Palestinian pain.

All of us, as individuals, take part in anti-occupation activities, some of which are led by the Palestinian community and others by the numerous organizations engaged in anti-occupation work. In addition to this, we participate in Jews Say No demonstrations, such as the time when we stood in front of the Waldorf Astoria to protest a “Friends of the IDF” banquet holding up our “Jews Say No” signs or when we protested a speech by Abe Foxman of the ADL at the 92nd Street Y. We’ve also held protests near the subway entrance on 79th Street and Broadway with our “Jews Say No” banner, along with our signs, which say: “"Am I a Self-Hating Jew if I Criticize the Israeli Government’s Unethical and Inhumane Policies?" “Does Israel’s Security Really Hinge on Illegal Occupation and Siege?” “What Jewish Law Permits the Killing of 1,400 Gazan Citizens?” “Doesn’t the Holocaust Teach Us That It Must Never Happen to ANYONE Ever Again?” “Is Israel’s Treatment of the Palestinian People Consistent with the Long Jewish Tradition of Social Justice?”

So I say that we should act as Jews against the Israeli occupation. If we do so, right now, we will make a real dent. If you’re Jewish and you’re against the Israeli occupation you should speak out as a Jew in the name of the Jewish tradition of social justice, you should say to the government of Israel “No, no, you do not speak for me,” you should come out and demonstrate with Jews Say No or other Jewish dissident groups. If you’re not Jewish, come with us as our precious allies. We welcome all of you. The time for Jewish resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is now.

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