American Jews have a unique duty to Palestinians – Mondoweiss


Last weekend, I marched in a pro-Palestine rally in Sacramento, California, side by side with hundreds of other supporters of Palestinian rights. Social justice, civil rights, and local Arab groups all came together to protest Israel’s oppression of Palestine and demand an end to the illegal occupation. Similar rallies have occurred all across the country and the globe, from the United Kingdom to Morocco. 

I am an American-born Jew, a progressive, and a climate activist. I’ve donated to Palestinian charities (such as PCRF and MAP), supported anti-Zionist organizations, and tried to educate my friends and loved ones about Israeli’s apartheid against Palestinians. I now recognize that is not enough. There is no other choice but to stand up and loudly condemn the brutal violence that Israel is committing – in the name of Jews worldwide – against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

There is no excuse for Israel’s blatant war crimes in Palestine, and there is no excuse for progressive Jews in America to support Israel’s government. Now, more than ever, it is uniquely incumbent on us to denounce Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. We must have the moral courage to act before further atrocities are enacted upon Palestine.

The rally I attended featured a diverse group of speakers, including David Mandel, an Israeli citizen, and representative for the Sacramento branch of Jewish Voice for Peace. He spoke about the importance of solidarity between Jews and Palestinians in this moment, and I felt inspired by his words and the vital energy of the rally.

Anyone with accurate knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a correct moral compass should oppose the occupation, but after Israel’s current massacre of over 4,000 Palestinians and displacement of nearly a million more, American Jews must now feel a special duty to fight back against Israel’s government. We can not simply sit on the sidelines as Israel is on the brink of invading Gaza.

We should be disgusted by the knowledge that Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is being done in the name of the religion that many of us were born and raised with. Israel has used Judaism as a cudgel to implement its project of ethnically cleansing Palestinians. Western media, encouraged by the Israel lobby, has consistently repeated the bald-faced lie that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Time and time again, this rhetorical device is cynically deployed to deflect any criticism of Israel’s crimes.

If American Jews do not act to end Israeli apartheid, we are abrogating our responsibility to Palestine. Some have recognized this fact and have been protesting in the Capitol throughout this week to demand a ceasefire.

However, there are still many Jews who believe they can occupy some mythical “middle ground” where both sides are equally at fault in this conflict. There is no longer any middle ground and no claiming ignorance. If you support Israel’s government, then you support the IDF’s mass genocide of Palestinians. You support a government that considers Palestinians “human animals.”

This declaration will no doubt make some Jewish readers, and perhaps even some of my Jewish peers uncomfortable. That is my goal. We must embrace that discomfort and face the reality that it is morally reprehensible to not act while hundreds of Palestinians are senselessly killed because Israel claims that their deaths make us safer.

Zionists are weaponizing Jewish identity to unleash “hell” on Palestinians. Progressive American Jews must denounce the dehumanizing policies of the Israeli government and fight tirelessly for a free Palestine. Liberal Zionism has always been an oxymoron, but following Israel’s most recent bombings in Gaza and the ratcheting up of anti-Muslim rhetoric both in Israel and the West, we can finally put to rest the notion that you can be a progressive and support Israel’s settler program and apartheid government.

As progressives, we are implored to condemn the violence on “both sides,” as if Israel and Hamas are equal combatants in a traditional land war. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s crucially important to recognize the context of Hamas’ resistance to Israel’s decades of occupation. Many of the settlements that Hamas attacked on October 7 were formerly home to Palestinians. These Palestinians had their land stolen from them by Israeli settlers, and were displaced from their homes at the barrel of a gun. The United Nations have long recognized their right to return.

Equating Hamas and Israel’s violence erases that history, and serves to propagate the colonial narrative that Hamas, and by extension Palestinians, are merely inhumane killers whose only goal is destruction. This historical context is, of course, absent from the majority of mainstream Western coverage on Israel. CBS refers to Hamas’ attacks as a “murderous rampage,” and President Biden calls Hamas “sheer evil.” Yet denunciations of Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians are virtually absent.

Anti-colonial struggles are necessarily violent, and civilian noncombatants are often casualties of this violence. Progressive Jews can mourn the loss of their Israeli family, friends, and loved ones, while still recognizing that many of those Israelis can only live on their land because Palestinians have been forced out of it. Israelis and Palestinians both suffer because of the actions of an Israeli government that fundamentally does not respect basic human rights.

Israel cannot continue its oppression of Palestinians without the direct support of the American government. In addition to the billions of dollars the United States already sends to Israel yearly, the Biden administration has pledged billions more in weapons to fund Israel’s upcoming ground invasion of Gaza. The U.S. government does this, in part, because Israel claims it has a mandate from Americans Jews.

Progressive American Jews obviously cannot reverse decades of pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy by ourselves. However, we can use our collective voice to vocally condemn Israel’s apartheid of Palestinians and demand an end to occupation, call on our government to stop sending military funding to Israel, and support movements that pressure the Israeli government such as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Moral clarity demands that we stand with Palestine until it is free from the river to the sea.

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