My Israeli Zionist education is hard to shake off, even after years of pro-Palestine activism. One aspect that was easy for me to miss, until recently, is the underlying feeling of being a new, proud Jew in relation to diasporic American Jews and their tiresome complexes. Get over it already! Speak out loudly against the occupation, instead of whining on about your fears. Be proud of who you are, and tough - just like me!
Over the weekend Haaretz carried an interview with feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan. According to her research, “in childhood [girls] have an autonomous voice and are far more aware of that voice than boys are, whereas in adolescence they are more aware of their body and their voice starts to stammer. The older they get, the more I hear 'I don't know.' They forgo their voice and choose relationships in order to be accepted and loved."
Gilligan doesn’t talk about Palestine, but the interview is entitled “raise your voice” - which is probably pro-Palestine activists’ central message to American Jewry. In doing this work I’m coming to realize that our primary challenge may not be the vocal right-wingers, but reaching those who “don’t know,” those who have lost their voice. This has happened to many women, many less educated Jews, many younger people who are told they are too naïve, and to all those who’ve heard that by virtue of being American Jews, not having experienced life in Israel/Palestine, they can never know what it’s like – what I call the Israeli Experience Mystique.
I used to think these messages came from the establishment, big organizations like AIPAC. But the trenches run deep within families. The vicious criticisms people receive for speaking out can come from their parents or their closest neighbors. Behind all the talk of a-political dialogue there is genuine terror of taking a stand, which will lead to being attacked and isolated. We have so many dedicated queer activists in our ranks because they have often survived this nastiness when they came out, and they are no longer afraid.
The cure for ‘not knowing’ is more than exposing people to the facts. It requires building very powerful networks that can help people withstand personal attacks from those closest to them. And to build them we must reach out to Palestinians. Being a student, and having close friends in academia who are women, I don’t feel discrimination against them is something that is going to benefit me as a man – I don’t think of myself as sharing interests with sexist professors who want to keep the other gender in its place. Similarly, the more Palestinian friends and colleagues I have, the less I feel ending the occupation or implementing the right of return is an issue of “our” interests vs. “theirs. “We” now includes my closest friends, the people I hope to live with in the mixed neighborhoods we will have all over Israel/Palestine - after apartheid ends.