by Tessara Dudley
If there’s a faster way to be reviled in the United States media than denouncing Israel, I’m not sure I know it. The US government has a long-term, committed relationship with the Israeli government, including foreign aid and military support. While some on the far-left speak critically about the problems of Israel, the bulk of politicians and many citizens openly support its existence. Criticizing it is one of the fastest ways to have the word anti-Semite thrown at you.
Well, it’s time for some real talk: I’m Jewish, but I don’t support Israel — and neither should any Jew dedicated to social justice. Those of us who struggle for equity cannot turn away from the truth that Israel is a colonial force that hearkens back to the British Empire: it is the site of exactly the kinds of atrocities, apartheid, and injustice that we fight against elsewhere. Ignoring that is engaging in a horrifying form of doublethink.
The tragedy of such willful ignorance to me comes from the beauty of Judaism. At its heart, being Jewish is about being one of a chosen people, chosen by a higher power not to look down on non-Jews, but to spend our lives in stewardship of the earth. We are commanded in the Torah to love every person, to be generous and do charity work, and to avoid wronging any person. It is our calling to fight for equity and justice for all people.
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One of our main duties is giving whatever we can to impoverished and needful people; the word for this practice, tzedakah, doesn’t mean charity, but righteousness and justice. Tzedakah is a duty. But if that is the case, how do we explain Israel? The actions of the Israeli state are antithetical to the pillars of our religion, yet it is nevertheless claimed to be a Jewish state.
Ask Black and Brown Jews about it, though, and you’ll get a different answer than the mainstream. We know Israel isn’t for us. Despite that it was theoretically created to serve as a Jewish homeland, a place where Jews from all over the world would find welcome, the history of the country has never borne that out. In 2012, Israel began to roundup, detain, and deport many of the 60,000 African asylum seekers living in the country. In 2013, it came out that Israel had a practice of involuntarily sterilizing Ethiopian Jewish women living in its borders. In April 2015, video emerged of two police officers beating an Ethiopian Jewish soldier, sparking protests in Jerusalem.
Clearly, being Jewish isn’t everything, even in a so-called Jewish homeland. Anti-Blackness is thick on the ground in Israel, as it is in so many places. Being raised Black in the United States, I understand the yearning for a home. I don’t know where my father’s African ancestors were originally from, and the siren call of a place that will always welcome me is a strong one, especially since August 2014. But Israel will never be that place. To affiliate myself with Israel is to co-sign occupation, torture, apartheid, and genocide.
As a resident of the United States, I acknowledge that I already live on occupied land. To a certain extent, I benefit from the attempted genocide and continued disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples. This country wasn’t built with my benefit in mind, and my enslaved Black ancestors didn’t come here willingly, but I still reap the benefits of a heavily industrialized nation. I struggle in solidarity with Indigenous people here; it would be morally reprehensible of me to deny solidarity to Palestinians.
Worse, unlike my ancestors being enslaved to build the occupying nation I now live in, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is being done explicitly for my benefit, and in my name. Zionism is the nationalistic effort to establish a Jewish homeland — on top of Palestine. Its supporters, Zionists, work hard to conflate being Jewish and being Zionist. They claim any opposition to Zionism is anti-Jewish; my silence on this issue is seen as tacit approval, especially now.
The United States is heading into presidential elections; between now and November 2016 there will be primaries and months of campaigning. With the current state of US politics, that means months of pro-Israel rhetoric, with many candidates clamoring to show the most support. In a pretty public example, Hillary Clinton sent a letter to dozens of prominent — and wealthy — Zionists on July 2nd 2015, just one week ahead of the July 9th 10 year anniversary of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In the letter, presidential-hopeful Clinton declared the BDS counter-productive, and promised to gather bipartisan support against any attempts to “undermine Israel and the Jewish people.” Again, by conflating Judaism and Zionism, Jews are positioned as necessarily invested in Israel, and under attack by any effort to assert Palestinian human rights. Instead of seeing BDS as a Palestinian-created movement to gain global support against a colonizing force, the movement is presented as an anti-Jewish conspiracy led by Hezbollah and neo-Nazis.
Of course, one problem that BDS has is the shield it provides to those who actually do have anti-Jewish sentiment. Every time there’s an increase in Israeli violence against Palestinians, there’s a global rise in anti-Jewish violence. In 2014, synagogues, businesses, and homes were vandalized and destroyed, and Jews across Europe were threatened, assaulted, and murdered. Anti-Jewish violence hasn’t gone away, despite the promise of “Never Again” that followed World War II, but it also didn’t originate then. This violence goes back literal millenia — unlike Zionism, which is only a single century old.
Efforts undertaken by non-Jews to push back against the violence of the Israeli state often unwittingly harbor people who hate Jews. But that doesn’t make BDS illegitimate: the kind of people taking advantage of the movement to spread hate would find some other way to do it if BDS didn’t exist. That aside, BDS is important. In fact, it’s vital: BDS is global solidarity for Palestinians, from all who recognize the Israeli state as the violent colonization that it is.
It’s lonely out here for a Black Jew, especially one devoted to social justice and global equity. And by lonely I mean openly hostile. But I’m steadfast in my stance: in order to live up to my social justice ideals and to uphold my duties as a Jew, I must advocate for dismantling the Israeli state.
A writer, educator, and activist living in Portland, OR, Tessara Dudley writes poetry and personal essay from the intersection of working class Black queer disabled life, and hopes their art will help to build a better world. They can be found at http://tessaradudley.com
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