Many of you probably know that the passengers aboard the latest Free Gaza ship, the “Spirit of Humanity,” were kidnapped in international waters and sent to an Israeli jail to await deportation. During an interview from her cell, Adie Mormech gave this very salient quote:
Have you had access to a lawyer yet?
We have, and at the moment we’re discussing what to do about our deportation. They’ve taken our personal items – laptops, cameras, phones and many other valuables, and we want to find out where these are. They obviously want to deport us as quickly as possible, but some of us are thinking about fighting the deportation. Firstly on the basis that if we get deported we won’t be allowed into the occupied West Bank or Israel for another 10 years, but also, because we didn’t intend to come here to Israel – we intended to go to Gaza, and went directly from international waters into Palestinian waters. There is nothing legal about what Israel has done to us grabbing us like this. We’re considering fighting the deportation on the grounds that we shouldn’t accept and legitimize this barbaric military blockade of Gaza. (Emphasis mine.)
The only way to end the occupation and blockade is to strip it of its perceived legitimacy – and in that, I think Free Gaza is doing an admirable job. The Israeli administration is trying to juggle two contradictory narratives at once: 1) that the occupation of Gaza is over and Gazans are free to do what they like, and 2) only the Israeli military has the right to decide who or what enters and exits Gaza. Activists’ best strategy is to push against these narratives until one, and then the other, collapses.
But then a couple of days ago, I received an email from Free Gaza, linking to a video detailing conditions in Gaza, that included this line:
Israel outdoes the U.S. in torture, imprisonment and brutality. Where do you think the U.S. learned how to torture?
Reading this, I finally decided to unsubscribe myself from their updates.
As I and others have written numerous times before, claiming that the U.S. – the world’s most powerful nation with the world’s most powerful military – is taking orders from or being controlled by a small (albeit belligerent) nation like Israel is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish domination. Shifting blame for the U.S.’s crimes (torture, imprisonment, brutality) onto Jews, or claiming that whatever white Americans do, Jews do it worse, is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish evil. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please go away and come back after you’ve educated yourself.) What stopped the author of this email from simply writing, “Israel is engaging in torture, unjustifiable imprisonment*, and brutality?” Why the need to compare? Which is worse: the imprisonment of civilians in Gaza, or the imprisonment of immigrant families and nonviolent drug offenders in the U.S.? Which is worse: Israeli assaults on Palestinians or American assaults on Iraqis? Which is worse? Which is worse? We need to decide which one’s worse – and fast! Your cause or my cause? Your country’s oppressor class or my country’s oppressor class? Why does it matter!? What in the world is gained by such a comparison, besides excusing that which is familiar in order to highlight that which is alien?
I suspect that it’s precisely anti-Semitic – yes, this is anti-Semitic – statements like these, made over and over again and never challenged, that turn many Jewish activists off from Palestinian liberation movements and make us decide to focus our energies elsewhere**. It’s the difference between building an inclusive movement that awakens in us a sense of responsibility for what’s being done ostensibly in our name, and working to alienate us by strengthening our preexisting internalized shame and self-hatred (shame not for what Jews in another country are doing at this moment in history, but rather for one’s own irrevocable Jewishness). It leads to very real physical consequences – although it’s pathetic that so many people think mental and cultural consequences don’t matter.
And for those of you who might be thinking, “who cares about some line that offended you when there’s genocide going on?” Well, first off, that kind of reasoning is often used as an excuse to avoid acknowledging problematic behavior. Will we only be allowed to call out anti-Semitism after Israel has fully retreated from the occupied territories and granted all Palestinian refugees their right of return to pre-1948 land? Assuming that that’s never going to happen, are Jews simply never allowed to call out anti-Semitism again? (And how do you feel when you hear that your ethnic/religious group is required to accept its oppression because some of its members have committed crimes?) Secondly, if one line isn’t that big a deal, then it must not be a big deal to refrain from saying it, right? To tell someone else not to say it? How much energy does it take to just say, “Hey, cool it, that’s not helpful?” If you feel uncomfortable saying that, then examine why. Are you afraid of getting in the way? Well, getting in the way of what, exactly? Sympathizing with “the enemy?” Who is the enemy, and who is being affected by such a statement? Benjamin Netanyahu? The U.S. and AIPAC? Boeing and Caterpillar? Or that woman in the yarmulke over there whom everyone is suddenly staring at?
Acting in solidarity with Jews, Israeli or Diaspora, is no more difficult than acting in solidarity with Palestinians. So where are our allies? Where are you?
* I hope readers who are prison abolitionists know what I mean here.
** Which isn’t to say that we don’t have plenty of reasons to focus our energies elsewhere. Diaspora Jews are not obligated to center Israel over other issues simply because we share a religion or ethnicity with Israelis.