When I write about the Jewish state, I am forced to write about Jews. Although there is controversy among Jews themselves about Jewish identity, the fact remains that Israel manifests itself in Palestine as Jewish, both in the sense of “Jewish nationality”, an invention of political Zionism whose early leaders were atheists, as well as in the religious sense – in as much as any religion shapes its followers’ identity and culture, even those who call themselves secular, and in as much as Jewish Orthodox religious law is implemented in Israeli government policies.
To decry Israel’s Apartheid, i.e. Israel’s continued dispossession and oppression of Palestinians, is to point to complicity – in this case of Jews, those who identify with the Zionist Jewish state in one way or another.
The trademark of the left is to defend collectives (blacks, gays, women, etc.) and especially Jews, given their history. But as Corey Robin blogged recently about French collaboration with the Holocaust, “The left should defend collectives, yes, but for God’s sake, let them be collectives based on justice rather than purity, and let them be collectives other than the French—or any other—nation.”
Making collective references to Jews in connection with Palestine is problematic, because such references are largely unflattering. It is fine to say, for example, “Jewish voice for peace”, but to say “Jewish voice for mayhem” is forbidden. Israel and its apologists understand that very well and use it to their advantage. So-called liberal Zionists bandy about the term “Jewish and Democratic”, when “Jewish and Nazi”, jarring as this might sound, is more apt as a descriptor of the Jewish state. They cynically use the anti-Semitism card at every turn to stifle criticism.
Pro-Palestine activists, on the other hand, also use the anti-Semitism card to stifle speech, but out of genuine, and I believe, misguided fear that such collective or even individual references to Jews will cause the spread of anti-Semitism. To them, the word “Jew” is an epithet, and evokes nasty tropes. They deny that the Jewish state is Jewish and use some denotations as camouflage of sorts: Zionists, “settlers”, “right wing extremists”. And everybody buys into the lie that the problem is just a “tiny group” of Jewish extremists who “represent nobody but themselves,” as Israel’s minister of education Naftali Bennett once said.
Recently, head of Jewish Voice for Peace Rebecca Vilkomerson wrote in Haaretz: “Jewish communities, in both Israel and the U.S., can’t keep declaring prejudice and victimization when confronted with difficult truths.” Jews today all over the world, and especially in the United States, are in a position of strength, certainly one that is not threatened by anti-Semitism wherever it may rear its ugly head. In contrast, anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia are rampant and continue to be fueled by Jewish organizations.
The fear of a surge in anti-Semitism among Western pro-Palestine activists increases when Jewish supremacy in Jerusalem is on ugly display for the world to see. I believe driven by such fear, some are quick to analyze the return of Muslim worshipers to al-Aqsa mosque (erroneously in my view) as a result of effective “non-violent resistance” or “civil disobedience” on the part of Palestinians. They feel that, given the imbalance of in power, the use of violence by Palestinians is counterproductive. But the uprising would never have taken place had it not been for the Palestinians who bravely gave their lives in martyrdom for the cause, killing Jews in the process. The two -armed resistance and civil-disobedience – work hand in hand. And it is Palestinians, not Jews, who are being killed, tortured and incarcerated on a daily basis.
An ongoing strategy used by successive Israeli governments is to continue the transfer of Palestinian land and property as well as Palestinian heritage into Jewish – not evangelical Christian – hands. In the news we hear reports of the Greek Orthodox Church selling land and Ottoman-era artifacts to Jewish investors or of Israel moving archaeological relics from occupied East Jerusalem to the western part of Jerusalem in violation of international law. And this is done with worldwide Jewish support.
The goal is to consolidate, expand and preserve the Zionist Jewish state. Jerusalem plays a big role in ancient Hebrew myths – myths that the Zionist narrative uses to legitimize its political and religious grip on Palestine. But both Christianity and Islam are derived from Judaism and regard Palestine as the Holy Land.
Today, Jerusalem plays a polarizing function in the resolution of the problem of the Jewish colonization of Palestine. To get the picture, all one has to do is watch footage of Jews celebrating Jerusalem Day in the Old City, in which the underlying extreme racism of the Zionist Jewish state is on parade for the world to see.
We need to worry, not just because of potential fanaticism and anti-Semitism on the Palestinian side, but certainly because of fanaticism exhibited on the Jewish side – and by that I don’t mean just the government. The bottom line is that the Holy Land belongs, first and foremost, to its native Palestinian Arabs of all religions, and then spiritually to the whole world – not to Jews worldwide – colonizers and immigrants!
In watching the brave campaign by Rabbi Alissa Wise and Jewish Voice for Peace to protest Israel’s ban on BDS activists entering the country (with Rabbi Wise being the “first Jew” to be barred from entering the Jewish state because of the BDS ban), it is important to also be able to state bluntly that at the heart of the Palestinian problem is the continuing Jewish immigration and “settlement” of Palestine – Jews on Palestinian land and property, literally, replacing Palestinian Arabs. American Jews don’t have a birthright to Palestine, but many of them believe they do.
Palestinians not only do not have the “luxury of a non-politicized existence”; they don’t have the luxury of existence as equal citizens, in their own homeland, with Jews or the luxury of return to it, while Jews worldwide are offered “specialized aliyah absorption programs”.
Harry Clark, who has written about Zionism and Jewish identity “controversially”, says:
Today, American Jews, under the impetus of Zionism in Israel, have adopted the ‘Zionism of Jewish peoplehood,’ which exalts ‘the Jewish people’ without requiring aliyah… a Volkism palpable in anti-assimilationist efforts in Jewish education, the racialist alarm over the ‘threat’ of intermarriage, the insistence on difference, distinction and separation, and overt anti-gentilism..Zionism is [also] colonial settlerism in Palestine, of the sort that seeks to transform the indigenous society, replace it entirely with a different people and language and institutions.
When Jews acknowledge Jewish complicity in the tragedy of Palestinians, they are not being “self-hating Jews”, nor are they simply admitting “guilt” in order to be punished. Rather, as Vilkomerson titled her essay in Haaretz, “Own It to Fight It: Yes, We U.S. Jews Are Complicit in Violence against Palestinians and People of Color.” And as Rabbi Brant Rosen says, admitting complicity is for the purpose of controlling systems of oppression when they can still be controlled:
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon: When you write [in a lamentation for Jewish liturgy]: “I championed the cause of the oppressed yet benefited daily from their oppression.” Does this mean that you think we ought to feel guilt over systems of oppression that we can’t control?
Rabbi Brant Rosen: I’m not sure that feeling guilt ever accomplishes anything. I’d say it means we ought to admit our complicity in systems of oppression while they still can be controlled.
I do fervently hope and pray that the Jewish state can still be controlled. But who is to control it? Perhaps Jews can.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.