J Street Los Angeles!

Because I am a glutton for punishment with no sense of restraint, when the email came in saying that J Street was opening up local chapters, not only did I immediately sign up, but I checked off every single skills/interests box. (Can I help it that I’m so well-rounded?)

Sooo, I’m going to need some help, people! Sign up, please! And maybe we can even get a Long Beach branch going? (I have no idea what these local chapters entail, by the way, but I’m pumped.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Two quotes from the Free Gaza movement

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.

Afraid of Muslim Arabs? Blame the Diaspora!

A recent issue of the New York Review of Books contained an essay about the West Bank separation wall, which included this quote by an Israeli man:

It’s incredible but the country still feels provisional. Of what other state can this be said? I notice that when I am in Britain that you plan for 2038, you say there will be this railway or that airport. But no Israeli plans so far ahead without feeling a pang in his heart which asks whether we shall be here at all. We look so strong from the outside, we have such a large army, so many nuclear weapons, we’re so certain in our expansion, and yet from the inside it doesn’t feel like that. We feel our being is not guaranteed. You might say we have imported from the Diaspora the Jewish disease – a sense of rootlessness, an ability to adapt and make do, but not to settle. After sixty years, Israel is not yet a home.

Sometimes Israelis are good for a laugh.

Let’s think about this. You live in a country that has been at war for 60 years. You’ve been occupying another country for the past 40 years. You’re currently building an 8 meter high, 436 miles long wall to keep the people you’re occupying away from you, and visitors have to ask you to keep your stamp out of their passports if they want to visit one of your neighbors.

In a completely unrelated matter, you’re not sure your country will exist in 30 years. Why? Because Diaspora Jews are diseased. Yup – us poor Diaspora Jews are so pitifully damaged and rootless that even the gleaming sabras have inherited our taint.

Look, I know the speaker’s trying to be poetic and all, but he fails on a couple of counts. First off, even if it’s a metaphor, it’s still a cop-out. Notice how he manages to eloquently explore Israel’s sense of fragility and existential fears without mentioning the occupation at all? I’m sorry, but poetry that isn’t honest simply isn’t good poetry. Secondly, there’s no way a statement like that can be separated from the weak Jew/strong Jew narrative that Israelis have been pushing for decades.

What you hear going bump in the night isn’t your ancestors’ fault. It’s yours. And it’s long past time to deal with it.

Naomi Klein On BDS

I’ve taken a long time to write about this because I wanted to make sure I had my thoughts on it sorted out. This article by Naomi Klein finally brought me around to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign against Israel. (Note: as you can probably tell, I’m very new to BDS, so this post is directed at other people who are new to it, too. I realize that many readers have been working on this for a long time.) This passage was what turned the lightbulb on for me:

Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work. (Emphasis hers.)

The problem, up until I read the article, was that most of the calls for boycotts I read were the dogmatic kind. Boycott Israeli academics! Boycott Israeli artists! Boycott non-Israeli Jewish business owners! Why? Because we hate them, that’s why! Because Zionism is racism! Even the ones that didn’t come off as dogmatic – or that made passing references to tactics – failed to address Jews’ concerns about anti-Semitism, and that turned me off to them. Was that irrational of me? Yeah, sometimes. But Jews have good reason to be wary.

I know, of course, that BDS will continue to attract anti-Semites, and I still fear that anti-Semitism will drown out pragmatism. I don’t know how to solve that problem – but we can address it by emphasizing, as Klein does, that it’s a tactic, not a dogma. We’re doing it because it works. We’re doing it out of love (for Israelis, too!). And, as Klein says, we’re targeting “the Israeli economy but not Israelis.” Strategy, not punishment.

Do check out the whole article – she responded very effectively to almost every concern that I had.

The Global BDS Movement’s website is here.

Thoughts? (When you comment, please remember that this is a very sensitive and complicated subject. Rude or hostile comments will be deleted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

From Jewish Voice for Peace

Let me cut down to the chase. We have just learned that a number of Israeli peace activists have had their computers confiscated, have been called for interrogations, and have only been released upon signing agreements not to contact their political friends for 30 days. We are asking you to contact the Israeli Attorney General to demand an immediate stop to this harassment.

The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a group of feminist women and men daring to suggest that Israel need not be a militarized society. They are being wrongfully accused of inciting young people–like the shministim–not to enlist in the army. The charge is not true. While New Profile does not tell youngsters not to enlist, they certainly support those who do not: pacifists, those who oppose the occupation, and others. New Profile informs them of their rights and gives them legal support when necessary. But Israel is a country that does not acknowledge the basic human right to conscientious objection.

The government’s accusation against New Profile is not new. It has been out there for some time, as a source of harassment. Today’s police actions tighten the screws considerably. We’ve seen how international pressure has helped get many shministim out of jail. Now it’s time to put as much pressure so that Israeli peace activists can do their work free of intimidation.

I leave you with a note from New Profile: “These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up “only” for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel.”

Here’s New Profile’s website.

Yes, yes, I heard, I heard.

Who fucking let Ahmadinejad out of his playpen?

Just a few notes:

1. Holocaust denial is racist. Our word for this type of racism happens to be “anti-Semitism,” since Jews are multiracial, but the sentiment comes from the same place as racism, and the differences are so minuscule as to be insignificant.
2. Putting on a conference dedicated to Holocaust denial is severely racist, and should probably bar you from speaking at an anti-racist conference.
3. Ahmadinejad’s main priority is Jew-hating, not Palestinian self-determination. That should be pretty obvious by now. Non-Jewish non-Arabs should take note of what he says in order to learn what doesn’t contribute to healthy debate.
4. Every time bigoted people hijack a discussion of racism in order to spew their bigotry (always under the guise of weeding out the “real” racists, of course), real issues related to racism are mowed over and forgotten. I would be surprised if much of anything useful were accomplished at Durban II.
5. With Ahmadinejad stealing the spotlight, other offensive acts surrounding Durban II haven’t received much press. Check out JVFP’s Muzzlewatch Blog to read about Avigdor Lieberman’s condemnation of the conference (yes, this is the guy who publicly supports ethnically cleansing Palestine), and Palestinian NGOs being banned from side events. There are also radical settlers comparing the UN to the Nazis, claiming that it wants to “finish what Hitler started.” The UN does contain anti-Semitic elements – see items 1 and 2 – but see what happens when we let the Right take over the issue?
6. Durban II reminds me of some of the worst comment threads I’ve ever been sucked into.

“The Quintessential Palestinian Experience”

Laila El-Haddad has written a powerful and infuriating post about going home to visit her parents:

“Its not very comfortable in there is it?” said the stony faced official, cigarette smoke forming a haze around his gleaming oval head.

“Its OK. We’re fine” I replied wearily, delirious after being awake for a straight period of 30 hours.

“You could be in there for days you know. For weeks. Indefinitely. “So, tell me, you are taking a plane tomorrow morning to the US?”


I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the “temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents” that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid ’90s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation.

It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.

Please, please, please read the whole account.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)