No need for ‘Jewish values’ in the fight for Palestine – Mondoweiss

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The popular Jewish fight for Palestinian liberation is often qualified with an invocation of “Jewish values.” 

“My Jewish values demand that I stand against genocide” (or variations) is a popular phrase tossed around in speeches, statements, and slogans — giving a legitimate Jewish seal of approval to whatever comes next. 

So say founders and representatives of Jewish organizations If Not Now, Independent Jewish Voices, Na’amod, and Jewish Voice for Peace. So say politicians such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. So say viral tweets and popular videos

Whether intentional or not, these organizations, individuals, and sentiments have a common thread that aligns them with popular Zionist groups and movements: an appeal to Jewish supremacy. 

What exactly are Jewish values? Of course, Jewish values, like the values of any religion, cover a wide spectrum from the liberatory to the repressive. But if you asked Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, he’d likely say that this abstract notion of “Jewish values” comes down to the necessity of defending the Jewish community by pushing pro-Israel policy in the face of rising pro-Palestine organizing, or that it comes down to supporting Zionism itself. If you asked Israeli military leaders they would likely say even the genocidal attack on Gaza has been guided by Jewish values.

And that’s the rhetorical benefit, and pitfall, of “Jewish values” — they aren’t concrete agreed upon concepts or guiding principles, and they change depending on who you ask. They’re made up. 

The invocation of “Jewish values” is a malleable device used to justify decisions, actions, and statements made by Jewish people — whether in the fight for Palestinian liberation or against it. And this is ultimately a self-serving and self-centering method of navigating another people’s struggle for freedom.  

And in the process, the elevation of “Jewish values” to validate the Palestinian struggle is fundamentally an appeal to Jewish supremacy rather than a firm stand against it.

This line of argument postulates a grand mythos of undefinable values that seek to valorize Judaism as being inherently incompatible with genocide—as being inherently moral, disconnected, or above the violence being enacted in Palestine. But the truth is much more sinister: that Judaism has been adapted to be a functional vehicle for this violence.

Rather than actually confront the use of Judaism as a mechanism of imperial rule, so-called Jewish anti-Zionists have worked around it by claiming the authority to write it out of existence. In this failure to address Jewish supremacy as a root of Palestinian genocide, Jewish anti-Zionism claims a moral high ground and pardons itself from any affiliation with colonialism. 

We evade accountability and avoid the reckoning that Judaism is not of unique importance in the world, that it is not a ‘chosen’ religion or even inherently good. It also blindly ignores that Jewish values can and are currently being used as yet another structure of power to fuel a holy war that seeks to eradicate anything and everything that opposes its propagation.

And singing the praises of “Jewish values” while nearly every single Jewish institution materially endorses and funds genocide in Palestine using the same tagline is, yet again, a mechanism of Zionism; so agrees writer Em Cohen

“[M]aybe we should stop extolling ‘Jewish values’ while essentially every mainstream Jewish organization/institution upholds white [E]uro-[A]merican superiority and philosemitism. Maybe extolling ‘Jewish values’ as inherently morally good is a part of that project, not disruptive of it.” 

In continuing to hide behind “Jewish values”, we avoid the simple truth that we have no right to anything: Not to claim a moral high ground and not to someone else’s land.

By invoking “Jewish values”, we position ourselves not just as non-actors in this genocide, but as saviors bestowed with the special importance of Jewish imperative.        

Ultimately, that savorism isn’t solely about Palestine; there, too, exists a fight to save the soul of Judaism itself. The moral high ground that “Jewish values” claims, also seeks to exonerate Judaism from association with Zionism — and into existence is born a fictitious Judaism unstained by the moral egregiousness of raping a 13 year-old boy with a pipe or murdering 274 Palestinians to free four Israeli prisoners of war.

And when we engage in this internecine debate within the Jewish community that seeks to save Judaism from those who conflate it with Zionism it inevitably takes precedence over Palestinian liberation. The struggle for freedom becomes secondary when the primary concern is the discourse and struggle within the communal tent.

This can be seen even in the most notable of ‘anti-Zionist’ Jewish figures who unabashedly celebrate the recent release of the Israeli prisoners or who wish the Israeli prisoners well, before even uttering a word about the Palestinians killed at Nuseirat. Or, in those who see inherent innocence in the conscience of Israeli Occupation Force officers. For more, yet, there is the blatant self-awareness of wanting the Jewish community to “atone for the blood on its hands.”    

Self-interest is too often the beating heart of Jewish anti-Zionism: The internal fight against Zionism to save Judaism regularly dwarfs the fight for Palestinian liberation.

But Palestinian liberation does not need Jewish anything, much less the saviorism justified by “Jewish values.” As Palestinian organizers have said for years: Jewish people will not liberate Palestine, Palestinians will. And if Judaism exists without a notion of supremacy afterward, that will have been a byproduct of Palestinian freedom rather than a priority over it.

But this certainly doesn’t mean that we, as Jews, are exempt from the labor of revolution — quite the opposite. Revolution requires of us a radical decentering of self in the fight for liberation and the recentering of communal struggle and collective freedom. Until we are able to separate our individualism from the struggle, we only serve Zionism—Jews don’t need “Jewish values” to justify our work toward Palestinian liberation. 

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