If you Can’t Defend Israel’s Right to Exist, Don’t Call Yourself Jewish

Having been very active in political activism during my college years, I know firsthand very well what it means to deeply commit to a cause to the point where it becomes an integral part of who you are. It becomes your identity, forms the lens through which you perceive and understand the world and creates the community of like-minded people you feel most comfortable being around. This community supports you, validates you and reminds you that you’re not crazy for having the beliefs that you do. To enter into conflict with this community about almost anything can feel isolating, disorienting and lonely.

This is the unique and serious challenge and tragedy of the rise of intersectionality that we are seeing today as issues that traditionally belonged to separate social or political movements are conjoined to the point where they are presented to seem inseparable. Activists are expected to toe the party line on a menu of issues and those who do not run the risk of having their commitment to other causes questioned and deemed not wholehearted or authentic.

Nowhere do we see this phenomenon happening more than with the splicing of all kinds of issues and causes into the anti-Israel movement.

This was made evident in 2017 at the Dyke March in Chicago where three Jewish women waving rainbow flags embroidered with a Jewish star were told to leave the march because the flags were “triggering to people” and “made them feel unsafe.” When one of the women was asked if she is a Zionist, which let’s remember is the belief in the right of the Jewish people to a sovereign nation of their own primarily so they no longer have to rely on others to protect their basic human right to live, she responded, “Yes.” She was then told that the march was anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian.

Imagine. At a pride march, where inclusivity is the main driving force, where people are demanding to be accepted for who they are and what they believe, Jews who support the State of Israel are not included. They are not welcome. They are asked to leave.

At that same march, one of the chants shouted by the participants was: “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go!”

Huh?? What do Palestine and Mexico and border walls have to do with a Pride March? Twenty years ago, when I was an activist in college, that would have been a very legitimate question. Today, it seems, it’s absurd to even ask. Of course they’re all connected. Everything’s connected, didn’t you know?!?

And then just a few of weeks ago, during the opening of an LGBTQ conference called Creating Change, activists rose uninvited to the stage and for 13 minutes led a protest for Palestinian liberation and against Zionism, screaming well-known chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” Event organizers were silent, allowing the protest to continue uninterrupted until the activists walked off the stage. (Again, what does Palestine and its potential future borders have anything to do with the LGBTQ cause??)

But the silence of the organizers doesn’t deeply bother me. I, like many others, have unfortunately become accustomed to the rants and raves of the anti-Zionists and the love and support that many in the greater activist community give them.

What does bother me is the silence of members of an organization that were present during this impromptu show of anti-Israel shouts and chants. This organization is called Keshet. As in the Hebrew word for “rainbow”. As in LGBTQ Jews who have formed a Jewish organization based on Jewish values so that they can teach others how Jewish values could and should guide their attitudes and actions towards members of the LGBTQ community. Including extending to them the Jewish values of respect, love and inclusivity.

But in a statement in reaction to claims that the protestors’ actions were anti-Semitic, Keshet had this to say:

“While we believe that criticism of Israel is at times anti-Semitic, we do not believe that it is necessarily anti-Semitic. In the case of this year’s Creating Change conference, we view blanket accusations of anti-Semitism as inflammatory and divisive.”

Inflammatory and divisive??

Calling out activists who scream “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”, a code word for the delegitimization of the very existence of the State of Israel, as anti-Semitic is divisive??

Criticizing them for publicly expressing their ardent disapproval of the mere existence of the Jewish state and their desire to dismantle it is inflammatory??

What is going on here?? What am I missing??

Keshet, where are the Jewish values of respect, love and inclusivity that you base your work on when it comes to the Jewish state?

How can you remain completely silent when the right to exist of your people’s one country is being completely trampled upon?

Say you don’t agree with the building of Israeli settlements. Sababa.

Say you wish the current Israeli government wasn’t so right wing. Fine. Say you don’t like Netanyahu. Ein ba’aya (No problem). I could deal with and respect all of that 100%.

But to remain silent in the presence of members of your movement openly declaring their desire to see Israel removed from the world map…that is crossing a line.

A major line.

And crossing that line takes you away from the Jewish people.

As a fellow activist, I can understand the fear of being isolated by your activist community, by those who you march with, meet with and dream with to bring about the world you want to see. It would not be easy nor comfortable to enter into conflict with those very same people.

But then again, being an activist, by definition, is not about doing what’s easy or comfortable.  In fact, being an activist is all about challenging one’s self, as well as others, to stand up for what’s right and call out evil when you see it and when you hear it. As is being a Jew.

But in the moment when it was happening right in front of you, you didn’t.

And afterwards, when you were asked about it, after you had time to reflect and maybe react differently, you still refused so see it, to call it out, to call it what it was.

Keshet:

You had a chance to do something that, while not easy, as it would have potentially isolated you from those you stand with and exposed you in front of them as different and possibly as “other”, would have made you Jewish activists in the truest sense of both of those words.

Because there is no greater fight and no greater cause than to stand up for your people. To say to the anti-Israel activists found within your movement that your people, the Jewish people, have the right, like any other people, to self-determination in the form of their own country in their homeland. To explain to them that the same values of love and equality and inclusivity that the LGBTQ movement seeks for themselves should be extended to the world’s one Jewish state as well. To tell them that the establishment of a Palestinian state doesn’t have to, and should never, mean the erasing of the State of Israel.

But you didn’t.

And that’s a choice you made. A choice you have every right to make.

But, Keshet, just understand the consequences of such a decision:

You have crossed a line that, in doing so, distances you so far from the klal, from the kehilla, from the community that is the Jewish people, as to remove yourselves from the Jewish people and from the values and tradition that you call upon to frame and support your own work.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Times of Israel



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