Today’s post comes to you from a friend and follower of NWS, Eliora, after we connected through the conversations that have been had surrounding the Palestine / Israeli conflict. Remember to keep in mind that one can be both the oppressed and the oppressor. Our multiple identities are not static. Power dynamics shift and change depending on context. One can be proud of their Jewish heritage, acknowledge the pain that Jewish people have experienced throughout history and still hold the state of Israel accountable. We hope you learn from and share what Eliora has taken so much time to write here.
Who I am
I need to talk about the way we talk about something that has been going on for a while. My name is Eliora (it’s a Hebrew name) and through my mother, I am a Sephardi Jew from Morocco, and through my father I am German.
It’s a long story. As far as Jewish people go, I don’t fit the stereotype. I am not practicing nor have I ever lived in Israel, and no one in my family has ever made matzah ball soup (because that’s an Ashkenazi thing and also bland af). I have lived in Jordan where I worked with a majority of Palestinians. I definitely don’t speak for all or the majority of Jewish people. And I’m not here to weigh in on “the conflict”. I’m here to comment on the — online — conversations about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The debate on NWS started with someone asking why Israel is always being criticised, all the time, out of context, on a day like Christmas. They were wondering if they had missed a nuance and whether people’s hurt came from not being heard in their Jewish identity. So we’re going to talk timing and we’re going to talk voice. And already I know that attempting this will be mayhem, alienating those who think I go too far, and those who think I don’t go far enough. But I believe in the way @nowhitesaviors does education, and my identity as a Jewish person lends credence to my voice on the Jewish perspective. This is my commentary.
In the past 60 years most Jews from Morocco emigrated, to France or Israel. So did my great aunt Haguit who left her home in 1953 to do aliyah (aliyah: the emigration of Jews to Israel). She lives her life in a kibbuts near Haifa, a city with a bitter past, and a history and present of being inhabited by Jews and Muslims. Her daughter, Hagar Roublev, could not grow up complicit in her country’s violence. During the first intifada, she co-founded “Women in Black” — an organization of women protesting the dispossession of Israel over Palestine. They stood in silence on Paris Square in Jerusalem, condemning the IDF and the Israeli government for their occupation, commonly getting violent reactions and spat on by the Israeli public. With Sumaya Farhat Naser of the Markaz al-Quds la l-Nissah (Jerusalem Center for Women), Hagar and the other women spent years building for peace together through the Jerusalem Link. They imagined a peace in the region that was leftist, and feminist in practice. It revolved around non-violence and transformation of power structures. The central tenet of their work: that as long as Palestinians are not free, and as long as there was no agreement for two states, there could be no moving forward. This alienated the Israeli mainstream.
Why start with this story?
Because it is not a story of success, it is a story of dwindling hope. 28 years later, Woman in Black has become an International movement and women continue to carry on this protest, standing in the same square. Jerusalem Link went extinct in 2003. This extinction can be chalked up in part to flaws in its construction, and in part to the impossibility of continued partnership in a climate of ever growing imbalance. The air around the issue has gotten murkier and more putrid. Women continue to organise against war but Palestinians no longer have the ability to go and meet with Israelis in public squares without obtaining a highly bureaucratic permit. Their movement is restricted, restricting the joint movement toward liberation so many pacifists want to witness. The current international peace process has its’ terms entirely dictated by the entity that wields power, making it an unlikely beacon. And so, in a climate where the situation of segregation has gotten worse, and negotiated peace seems to be moving from possibility to pipe dream, what are we left to think of conversations about Israel and Palestine?
The unequivocal / for the Jewish followers who got upset
As this is a post about conversation, I want to organise it around 6 main fallacies. Insidious, these six creep up in various forms, but just as I guarantee you have heard them before, I guarantee that once you’ve seen them for what they are, they lose their traction. @jewishvoiceforpeace also has some great resources on this along with step by step answers that you can give to your friends relatives when they engage with those. This is a small guide on when to pipe down
- No false equivalencies. Some conversations get shut down on the grounds that “there are two sides to every story”. While this is true, there is no debate to be had about the state of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and the increasing theft of land. It is state violence and discrimination, manifested by restricting the freedom of movement, evicting people from their homes or destroying them, protecting killings with silence, and rationing water. And as with all situations of oppression, we need to stop with the false equivalencies in conversation. There is no ‘but also see our side and the danger we’re in’. In a situation of power imbalance, pointing out to a Palestinian’s place on an Israeli and U.S. terrorist list has very little value when those in power get to decide who is a terrorist. You know you would not go spend a wedding or a weekend in TLV if you felt imminent danger there. This does not negate the genuine fear your relatives, like mine, experience when they hear rockets over their head or run for shelter in a bunker. It separates the daily plight of Palestinians that is incomparable with that of occasional threat. You can look at the death toll, or income figures, or land grabs, or any other “objective” measure to convince yourself it is not a case of matched enemies caught in a quagmire. Cf: False Equivalencies
- Specificity. Antisemitism is a very specific word, that should be used to refer to people who explicitly or implicitly harbor negative feelings about Jewish people. Anti-zionism isn’t antisemitic. It attacks an ideology, not a people. Supporting BDS isn’t antisemitic. It promotes sanctions against the actions of a state. Suggesting that these are the same, or intrinsically related, has disastrous consequences. It shuts down valuable debate and it punishes luminous figures like Mark Lamont Hill and Angela Davis. cf: Ad Hominem
- Fragility and timing. Sometimes, people’s anti-zionist reasoning is misinformed and sometimes it exists alongside their antisemitism. These types of conversations are the hardest to remain engaged in because they contain obvious wrongs. Seemingly attacking you and your family with insult over argument, or dismissing Israel’s foundation as a whole while continuing to visit and engage with other countries founded on the genocide and oppression of their indigenous populations. I ask you, as a person dedicated to fighting injustice everywhere, to not chime in to a post or a discussion about Palestinian’s lives being in danger and their identities attempting to be erased, to decry the nuance this conversation misses, using factoids about history and social fabric that they may or may not be aware of. It’s taking away from what is discussed. When someone who fears for their life wants to condemn Israel in its entirety and unequivocally, is not the time to offer an alternative perspective of context, not even for making them aware of anti-semitic undertones. As a femme, I don’t want to hear about the misconception some males have about consent — when discussing rape, as a way to hypothetically contextualize the behavior. None of that. I do eventually want to engage in the conversation about the factors in society and value creation that make boys grow up to feel entitled to a woman’s body, of course I do. And I do want to invite non-Jewish, non-Palestinian people into thinking about their role in the reactionary pullback some jews feel when outsiders speak on this issue and conflate what shouldn’t be conflated. But not in the same hour when we are speaking of the lives of Palestinians. (I’m going to do exactly that below because I’m speaking on conversation, not issue, but bear with me). Ask yourself if this is the right time for well-meaning insertion of macro-reasoning. cf: Tu quoque
- Over-Intellectualization. There is an intellectual counterpart to spiritual bypassing which I’ll call over-complication or intellectualization, here the “avoidance of psychological insight into (an emotional problem) by performing an intellectual analysis”. This is the “it’s not an easy topic” line, as it’s getting lost in the geopolitical intricacies of the conflict, pretending they apply to the issue. This asymmetric conflict has become a trope for its’ complexity and the propensity people have to emotionally discuss its’ million viewpoints, landing on the stance of an unsolvable tangle, when absolutely every ongoing conflict has a million intricacies to it. True, getting to a viable, durable, peaceful solution is difficult. And picking apart people’s exact positions, alignments, histories and arguments in a post-truth age is mammoth work, that continues to happen in academic spaces, to clear the rubble for conversational field battle. Yet, despite difficulty in the solution, observing what is going on remains simple. There is no PHD required in calling a spade a spade, and calling an unjust occupation just that. When over-intellectualising, people erroneously imply that the difficulty of achieving something makes the search for it, and conversations about it, pointless. But that’s nonsense. We constantly look for a truth even if we believe absolute truth is unknowable. We constantly try to make society better and fairer even if a perfectly fair society is logically unsound. Just because it’s gargantuan to put into action, does not give leeway to avoid trying, and much less to avoiding the conversation. cf: Perfection fallacy
- The premises of the debate: On why anti-zionism is not antisemitic. When someone stands up in support of Palestine, they are weighing in concretely on a dispute about land and power, and broadly on a battle of world-views. In this larger debate, white supremacy, supported by islamophobia and the patriarchy, defends a fragile world order, tirelessly attempting to pull Judaism into their camp. Yoav Litvin wrote a lucid exposition of this fallacy on Aljazeera last week, where he warns against portraying Zionism as Jewish supremacy. Expansionist movements always try to conceal the banal undertones of their ideology, wrapping it in some loftier rationale. Allowing anyone to make this political debate about religion, amounts to letting them weaponise the one thing they know we can’t turn our back on: our Jewish identity. As a minority we are naturally protecting ourselves from those that try to eradicate us for who we are. Because we are the only living Jewish people left, being Jewish is, in some way, not a choice: it’s a duty. And this is why, even though me and monotheism parted a few years back, I will never not be Jewish. It’s the religion of my ancestors, that of next to no conversions, devoid of missionary ambitions to make everyone a believer. Our identity lives and dies with us. Yet, modifying the vulnerable part of our identity as oppressed or in danger, to diminish that of “the enemy” is the oldest trick in the book. It started when there was a tangible debate about land, a land which was claimed as birthright by us in our texts, and by other groups in theirs (“This Land is mine” is a gross oversimplification, but it shows the absurdity of laying exclusive claim on religious grounds). Which is why it is important to remember what’s at stake in this debate: Judaism is not in danger, white supremacy is. In that specific sense, this complicated and emotional debate, is as banal as all others. cf: Appeal to Pity
- False dichotomy. The confusion of premises above is achieved by “manipulating our trauma”. Powerlessness in one setting, the one where antisemitism is a fabric of society, will have you think the only alternative is for the Jewish people to accept their role of hard-bitten enforcer in another. This is the argument that goes “Jewish people need a strong, Jewish state because we are at risk everywhere else, look at our history” or “Israel’s neighbors want her harm, which is why we must use deterrence as military tactic”. Revisionist Zionists especially, play into fear with this false dichotomy. We are either the strong oppressive state that Israel is, or we are victims of violence against us, inside Israel and out. To break from this dynamic, we need to realise the incredible power in our opportunity to be a generation that redefines what it means to be Jewish and work for peace. That there is a dimension of power in leaving the dichotomy and standing against all violence: the one committed against us and the one committed in our name. Being Jewish at its core, has always meant community organization and living socialism. It means looking for peace together. We get to reclaim our identity away from the oppressor, without needing to oppress anyone else. That’s what a real Mensch does. Cf: False dichotomy
What we’re going to do:
We’re going to join Jewish voice for peace and maybe create a local chapter.
We’re going to hold our friends and relatives accountable for false equivalencies and over-complication, reminding them that what is going on has nothing to do with religion.
We’re going to think of ways we can be bridges in conversations where no one else holds the same legitimacy as us.
We’re going to be kind to each other when someone gets it wrong because they are scared.
The necessary nuance / for the non-jewish, non-Palestinian followers of this post.
Your driving question should always be, “How may we best support Palestinians in their fight for liberation?” Palestinians are not voiceless victims, they are the ones who are narrating their life and reconstructing their experience. Your solidarity with Palestinians is important and heard. But you are not the moderators of this conversation and should be careful to interrogate what narrative you are contributing to when you $comment. I would venture to say that solidarity is the first step but not the solution. As my wise friend once said, “solidarity without understanding… feels a bit like saviorism for woke people”. So as you comment on a very simple issue, with a very difficult solution, I wonder if you know what the Great Return March is commemorating. Do you know what the main issues were in the Oslo peace process, from the perspective of a peace built by the acting hegemony? Do you understand the difference in perspective between the Ramallah bubble and life in Gaza ? Do you understand how antisemitism fuels zionism in jewish communities outside Israel? If you don’t, consider passing the mic to people who are much more informed and involved than you (and me). There are, primarily, Palestinian voices for liberation (Omar Ghraib, Hanan Ashrawi, Farah Gazan, @thisisgaza, @wearenotnumbers to name a very small selection) that you can listen to an uplift. If you care about a jewish perspective, there are Israeli and non-Israeli groups having this conversation (jwfp, women in black, jews for justice for palestinians).
What you can absolutely do, is match your vocal support with monetary contributions. The US cut funding to UNRWA after Donald Trump took office. The programs they run, especially in education programs functioned as a main safety net, and are left in suspension. https://www.unrwa.org/(but it would be better to donate to a Palestinian NGO directly, I am not sure which one and would be grateful for recommendations in the comments)
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The separate conversation, on a different occasion / for the non-jewish, non-Palestinian followers of this post (especially Christians and Americans).
When you stand with strength and power against the actions of Israel, remain vigilant in separating white supremacist ideology from Judaism. Let your criticism start with holding your own government and its’ people accountable. Remember that a white, British, Christian man signed over Palestine to the Jewish people in 1917. People have been Zionists long before world war 2, and the notion of the jewish state as a safe haven demanded by Jews after the Shoah is a mental shortcut. Remember that the Israeli defense budget comes from the pockets of the US, not through “powerful jewish lobbies” but specifically from those evangelicals who believe Jesus will return to Jerusalem, and want to ensure it is not under Muslim rule at that point (this is real, look it up) along with many islamophobes and racists who feel close to white Jewish people through their othering of Arabs.
Because of this difference, please stop asking non-Israeli Jews out of context what “they think about Israel”, unless this is a question you ask everyone. We wonder every time where the tone of expectation comes from. None of us ask Christians, between two bites at dinner, what you think about priests molesting children, or evangelicals keeping millions of their children homeschooled, or missionaries’ crimes in Uganda. We are not suggesting you are responsible for the sins of those Christians who shoot up schools in your name, even though you live alongside them. It’s only minority groups that are constantly asked to justify the actions of those who wrong in their name, and it’s tiring. Every person should be implicated in the fight for Palestinian liberation. It’s ok for me to suggest Jewish people should be especially involved, but not for you.
n.b. If your jewish friend has family in Israel, and they feel informed and comfortable giving you additional guidance, you may of course ask. But it has to be about information, not justification.
As we move away from the Judaism/Israel intersection, we call on Jewish people, especially white ones, to consider their role in white supremacy everywhere (cw: point 5). I ask you to remember that your solidarity with Palestinians is no excuse for you to not consider your role in anti-semitism today. Ask yourself if you’ve ever toyed with the mental image of Jewish people being a particularly powerful and wealthy people and that being the reason for support of Israel. It’s not. (You can read the history of “Elders of Zion” if you want to find out about where that myth originated from, and the consequences that spun from it). “Positive” stereotyping around wealth, connection and cunningness is still stereotyping, and in the case of Judaism it has been a pervasive narrative used to discriminate. So is using “and he’s a Jew” as a punchline to a joke.
Finally, I mentioned above that false equivalencies have no place when discussing criticism of Israel’s policies and the plight of Palestinians. But if your anti-zionism makes you anti-zionists, i.e. if you believe there is an inherent issue with a person who supports the existence of a country on stolen land, whatever their personal history, I would expect you to not make it exceptional to this state’s ideology. I respect your activism and I would equally expect you to be the sort of person who applies the same attitude against the USA, Canada or Australia. If you can’t look someone in the eye because they support the existence of Israel, will you employ the same stance with someone on the pathway to Australian citizenship, or participating in the US political system? If not, can we have a discussion into why — is it time passed since the land was taken? or is it the relative cultural power that the US wield, making it visibly a place made up of more than one narrative? Because stolen land is stolen land, and how you act around someone who lives there or supports it, has to be consistent.
If you believe in calling in and in common discourse like this account does, you will likely do it with Israelis too and with Jewish people who are getting it wrong.
Did I get it wrong?
I can never post something like this and not be wrong. I am accountable, first and foremost to a Palestinian reading this, and next to jewish people who I address. If you think I missed a point or nuance in my discussion please let me know.
If neither of those apply to you and you feel the need to react, I’m asking that you research one new thing about Palestinian history and one new thing about Judaism that are unrelated to the current Israeli occupation and include that in your message.