Last month, I wrote a piece called “4 Suggestions for an American Jew Navigating Israel-Palestine During the Gaza Crisis and in General (Part 1 of 2).” I was responding to a series of questions emailed to me by a friend of a friends, which started as follows:
”I come from an orthodox background, and the fact that I am no longer religious makes my opinions even more easily dismissable. Right now I’m just at ‘I refuse to take sides’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about this.’ Neither of which are honest… I was thinking there are likely many others like me, so it might make a good blog post, offering some sort of advice for Jews living in America faced with the eerily one-sided dialogue that is all too common in our communities.”
The first four questions dealt with the “bigger picture” and can be found here. I’m going to take a whirl at the next four.
Now for the more day-to-day:
(5) How do I politely turn down an invite from a colleague to a pro-Israel rally for “peace?” Help me explain that just because I’m Jewish doesn’t mean I’m a Zionist.
Ok, fine. I don’t think you should actually write such a brief message (nor do I actually imagine that your colleague is named Fritz). But I do think that on this room, while I am generally an advocate for gentleness, there is also some room for bluntness, as in: Calling a pro-military rally a “pro-Peace” rally, as has become a Hasbara framing-favorite (during this past attack on Gaza and in general) is a bizarre, cynical betrayal of our people’s historical ability to speak truth to power. States -the monopolies over the use of violence- hate peace. Armies crumble under the weight of peace. Call it a Pro-War rally, then invite me. At least in that case, there will be an honest portrayal of what is really being advocated.
In terms of the question of one’s being Jewish not necessarily meaning they are a Zionist, I still basically stand by what I wrote in point 2 in the last post. I’ll maybe add, for anecdote’s sake, a good illustration I recently read about folks trying to break down stereotypes and collectivization in both directions: the non- and anti-Zionists who joined a rally this past weekend in Berlin against anti-Semitism. Inna Michaeli, writing for Sikha Mekomit and +972 Magazine wrote, ”The goal of the non-Zionist bloc was to show that we exist as Jews and others, who oppose anti-Semitism and all racism, and who reject the automatic linkage between Jews and the State of Israel.”
It sounds like it should be a straightforward thing, but like so many things that should be straightforward, it sometimes needs articulation and then rearticulation and then rerearticulation. Namely, collectivist assumptions are wrong, period. No one has the right to assume that a person’s religion dictates their political beliefs. It happens all the time, but that doesn’t make it alright. When it does happen, we should gently but firmly correct it. Maybe you could write something like this to your colleague:
Thanks for reaching out. I’d love if you could tell me a bit more about why this rally is important for you. From my end, I am not comfortable with the way that the rally is framed, or with your assumption that because I am Jewish I will, of course, want to come along to this type of rally. I’d like to politely decline, and instead suggest that we find some time over coffee or take a walk to discuss our respective visions and ideals and beliefs.
(6) Should I comment on that picture of my little sister posing with a bunch of Israeli soldiers holding guns? I don’t agree with this glorification of violence or nationalism.
This is actually a really tricky question. On one hand, of course I am with you in my disagreement with the glorification of violence and nationalism. On the other hand, I think that it’s important that individual soldiers not be blamed or named as the root of the problem. When the discussion goes there -is Soldier Y. a good guy or a bad guy- it can quickly spiral into dark and non-justice oriented realms. I generally try to keep the target of my anti-Violence, anti-Nationalism writing and activism as non-human as possible (ie. IDF Pamphlets or add-campaigns, or just the IDF as a structure– although the discourse has become so warped that supposedly serious people refer to the IDF as if it is a living, human thing. For example, Shelly Yachimovich, the supposedly Left-wing MK from the supposedly Left-wing Labour party, just wrote a horrid screed against the 43 veterans from the 8200 Intelligence Unit who recently refused to serve the occupation in which she called the refusers “cowards” and told them to express their opinions “in the political arena. Not on the IDF’s flesh.”)
The Individual Human as Bad framing can easily distract from the real issues at hand, as happened with the Abergil case in which an Israeli soldier named Eden Abergil posted pictures on her Facebook profile posing with handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian detainees. After the story broke, the Jerusalem Post clucked its editorial tongue and chided Abergil for “forgetting that Palestinians deserve respect,” thereby allowing readers to feel as if the ongoing occupation of the entire Palestinian population is filled with respect, and its only individual bad-apples (and Mizrahi apples, at that) who stray from the path of respectful violent military occupation by posting pictures of what is, as Breaking the Silence was quick to point out, not such an abnormal part of the day-to-day occupation.
I’ve strayed. And may not have even answered your question. My point is: Private message your sister. As soon as she, or one of the soldiers tagged in the picture, feels that this discussion is about the soldiers as individuals who are violent and nationalistic, rather than about violence and nationalism as phenomena, the discourse has fallen of the justice-track, I think… I’m open to being challenged on this point, and I recognize that sometimes, in historical nonviolence movements, the existence of an individual as a representative of a broader injustice has been a powerful organizing tool, like Bull Connor.
(7) Is there value in correcting people who talk about the palestinians/ the arabs/the muslims in dehumanizing terms? Can I change their mind? Or at least their choice of language – especially when it comes to conflating these identities?
Yes, yes, a million times over yes! Language shapes reality. Discourse shapes politics. It’s much easier to support the concept of bombs dropping on The Palestinians or The Arabs than it is to support the actuality of bombing these little human beings:
Can you change their mind? I think also yes. It won’t be easy. And words might not be enough (they might need to go actually meet a Palestinian/an Arab/a Muslim before they can free themselves from dehumanizing patterns of collective-speak. Some great ways to do that would be through an Encounter program, or a Breaking the Silence tour or simply walk humbly around most parts of Israel-Palestine and be open to asking questions), but words have to be the start. And especially now, as we near Yom Kippur, I think it is upon us to have faith in our fellows that they can do t’shuvah, that they can change. So my answer here is simple: Yes. There is immense value in calling attention to language, in asking your friends and those around you to speak more wisely, and in believing that this has the capacity to change reality. I think that it does.
(8) Specific to social media – should I even bother to share my take on these issues? Will it help?
I’ll end by providing more reading, lest this discussion seem to have actually wrapped up ;)
A. The story of how a small group of activists and organizers, mostly via online organizing, letter writing, opinion pieces, Facebook posts, succeeded in stopping the JNF from evicting a Palestinian family from their home in East Jerusalem. This was one of the most formative campaigns of my life, and the faith it gave me in the power of words and social media and internet campaigns was a big part of what moved me to start this blog.
ONE YEAR AFTER THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP THE JNF’S PLANNED EVICTION OF THE SUMARIN FAMILY IN SILWAN: RECOLLECTIONS, REFLECTIONS AND CAUTIOUS REJOICING.
B. This exchange with a man with whom I had a strongly negative interaction during a creative protest, and then wrote about it, only to have him respond online in a graceful, breathtaking way that ended up being on the most moving pieces of dialogue and political exchange I have had in a long time:
WHAT TO DO WHEN RAMMED BY A MAN IN AN ELECTRONIC WHEELCHAIR FUNDRAISING FOR 10 NEEDY HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS:
C. This whole project and dialogue we just had. There is immense, immense power in social media, and when wielded with gentleness and determination, this power, I think, can help, yeah.