Where do Jews fit in the fight for Palestine?

As most readers know, I’ve been posting regular updates on progress of the Free Gaza movement. (Quick semi-update: the Israeli government has recognized the boats as humanitarian vessels, but passengers and their families have been receiving threatening phone calls. I’ll post a more detailed update later this evening.) I strongly support the movement’s mission to break the Gaza blockade. What I don’t support, however, are the two references to The Evil Zionists I’ve seen in their email updates. Here’s one, from Danish activist Adam Qvist:

“The whole idea of having just one Palestinian who’s been forced off their land and who is able to return to Palestine – this is something that could demolish the whole Zionist venture.”

Everything before the dash I support one hundred percent. But what does he mean by “demolish the Zionist venture?” The only reading of his statement I can come up with is that he wants to dismantle the whole state of Israel and force the 5,500,000 Jews living there (including the indigenous ones) to… well, just not be there anymore. The wording Qvist uses completely erases the fact that Israelis are real people with real lives; yes, some are part of militant gangs, and many subscribe to racist colonialist ideology, but characterizing a civilization as a “venture” makes it sound as if every Jew in the region is there solely to devour other people’s homes. I have friends (although I don’t agree with their political philosophy) and even distant relatives in Israel; does Qvist think they’re the cold, inhuman monsters that “the Zionist venture” implies? Has he ever stopped to wonder what led Jews to want to return to Palestine in the first place? (Hint: the answer is not “Because they’re greedy Jews, of course!”)

The second one is from Reporters Without Borders:

“These are the actions of a brutal state which tries to crush those dedicated to telling the truth about the full horrors of the Zionist regime and its determination to see through its deliberate and slow genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Just to get this out of the way: I have little patience for people who claim that the situation in Palestine isn’t genocide “because it’s just not.” You can make a compelling argument either way (which is a post for another day). Anyway, this one’s more ambiguous, because Israel has been using tactics to stifle dissent that are just as brutal as the US, which has also been characterized as a regime. But what makes a Zionist regime different than a “normal” regime? Why is the fact that Jews are in charge significant? Why is Zionist colonialism distinct from normal colonialism? What point in this argument would be lost if the writer just said “regime” instead of “Zionist regime?”

As I and others have said before, the term Zionist is often used as a codeword for Jew, so that people can mask their anti-Semitism. Everyone knows that it’s intolerant to hate Jews… so they say “Zionists” instead, in the hopes that no one will notice that phrases like “the Zionists control the world” have more to do with myths of Jewish power than with contemporary politics. So when I see phrases like the one above, I have to assume that the speaker’s either indulging in anti-Semitism (even if they wouldn’t admit it to themselves) or that they’re repeating a phrase without spending even a second thinking about what it means.

And, as I’ve also said before, Zionism is too complicated, multifaceted, and occasionally contradictory a philosophy to be reduced to one monolithic ideology (ie, “we want the land and the Arabs must die”). If all anyone’s allowed to talk about is the very worst form of Zionism, then the realities of 19th and 20th century Jewry – the pogroms, the genocide, the waves and waves of exhausted and homeless refugees – are erased.

If you’re talking about Israel, then talk about Israel. It really is that simple.

This made me think about Leftists I’ve seen who have displayed American flags to demonstrate the US is our country, too, that American culture can be wrested away from radical conservatism, and that wrongs, no matter how grievous, can be made right. It’s a symbol that I’ve found other Leftists usually understand (even if they don’t agree with the sentiment, or are working to challenge notions of borders and nation-states). What would happen if I displayed an Israeli flag for the same purpose? I have a feeling that, even after I explained it (as I would most assuredly have to do), people would still view it as pure hypocrisy. My personal feelings on borders and nation-states notwithstanding, the point is this: leftist Jews are supposed to hate Israel with all our hearts – otherwise we’re evil black-hearted Zionists, too. Why is this, when no one is expected to hate the US, even though this land was also stolen from indigenous people? Some might argue that the theft of Palestinians’ land is more important because it’s more recent, but I don’t buy that imperialism’s okay after 200 years.

So I ask you: where do Jews fit in the fight for Palestine? Are we supposed to constantly flagellate ourselves for being so awful? Are we supposed to ignore our own history? Are we not allowed to feel pride in our culture? Should we just stop being Jewish? Are we supposed to take all our conflicting feelings about Israel and burn off everything but the hate, or maybe manufacture some hate if we don’t have it already? Because when I get emails talking about how evil the “Zionists” are, the conclusion I’m forced to come to is that the only thing this movement wants me to do is disappear.

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8 Responses

  1. The movement only wants us to disappear if we refuse to return to servility. This sort of bullshit makes me so angry I don’t think I can explain it straight, but I’ve been trying to work out my own post about where this shit comes from.

  2. That flag example really struck me. I hadn’t thought about it. I wouldn’t fly an American flag because I don’t want people to think I’m a Republican; how the hell did they get to own the flag? I think I’ll go buy one and put it outside. As far as Israel goes, within the Jewish community, I’m perceived as traitorous because I don’t support the Israeli government and all its policies, and in leftist political circles I’m considered a traitor because I support Israel’s right to exist. Both sides would prefer that I disappear.

  3. […] to voice my dissent with Israeli policies and struggle with my place in the fight for Palestine, as TGD eloquently describes. I will continue to flinch at coded (and not-so-coded) anti-Semitism in those movements. And, as […]

  4. This weekend, my mother came to visit and we talked with an old friend of hers. She was, as she put it, pissed at Jews who wouldn’t vote for Obama because of Israel. (“Orthodox Jews in Boca,” to be precise.) But here’s the thing – both of them, like most Jews, support Israel. And it turned out the Jews my mother’s friend was talking about were “I know people who know people.” I don’t think I know a single Jew who is really unwilling to entertain criticism of Israel – though some take it better than others – but it seems every Jew I know knows some Jews who know some Franken-Jews built from bits of Foxman, Dershowitz, and Horowitz.

    I think there’s a strong pressure for Jews to deny that we care about Jewish issues of any kind, and this plays out in discussions on Israel. There’s always an imagined group of Jews who are too concerned with Israel. When we talk in that frame, though, it only deligitimizes the concern for Israel that we share. It’s not concern for Israel that makes anyone a right-winger. That in itself is a frame forced upon us to demand we renounce any sort of Jewish identity politics. It’s not concern for Israel – no matter how strongly felt – that makes any Jew a right-winger. And, though I think it’s great to be concerned for the Palestinians, we shouldn’t have to pander in order to deserve to live without antisemitism. Personally, I feel that I’m a Zionist because I’m a leftist.

  5. That reporter definitely shoulda gone w/ “regime” alone.

    [Adjective w/ name of state] MAYBE.

    But plain ol’ “regime” works in this sentence’s grammar, so I vote for that 100%.

    I think I’ve been doing such things as I write and speak to people, but it’s always nice to have examples like this (and examples of what TO do) brought up just so I can be super-duper-extra sure.

    I will spread your message when I see similar things.

    I was already trying to make sure I was always criticizing the right noun or noun-phrase, but not sure I was apt at dissecting them. Now I feel more apt…thanks.

  6. […] not going to grace this writer with traffic, but I’d like to briefly dissect the page my last entry inadvertently linked to – the one about an anti-Zionist smear tactic. (If you go to the page, […]

  7. […] flag doesn’t have to be about that, of course, as I’ve discussed before. But those are the most commonly accepted connotations. It’s a symbol of pride in and loyalty […]

  8. […] flag doesn’t have to be about that, of course, as I’ve discussed before. But those are the most commonly accepted connotations. It’s a symbol of pride in and loyalty […]

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