Why we Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine

  Liza Behrendt leads the mic check as “occupy the occupiers” disrupts venture capitalist Steven Pease’s Presentation on his book “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement.” (IMAGE: video Still)

The virtual ink was barely dry on our “Occupy the Occupiers” declaration when Marc Tracy weighed in on Tablet’s Scroll blog. At the end of an article where he defends Occupy Wall Street (OWS) from charges of Anti-Semitism, he gets to our declaration and reverses course. Suddenly he displays nothing but defensiveness regarding the Jewish institutions that repress the very sentiment of dissent that OWS expresses.

First of all, we are not violating the “no demands” ethos of OWS by calling for more democracy in our community. The declaration is our own and we will not be submitting it to a General Assembly. We can think of no better tribute to the OWS movement than to heed its call and occupy our own institutions. As Jews who have been allies and a part of OWS, we were inspired to issue our own call for accountability and power redistribution within the Jewish community. As organizers, we have been inspired by efforts to translate the OWS movement into culturally specific contexts, such as Occupy the Hood, which has mobilized around “Stop and Frisk” and other policies affecting communities of color.

This movement’s power lies in its broad appeal to anyone oppressed by the economic status quo. OWS is about much more than banks, and the economy doesn’t stop at U.S. borders. We honor the OWS message by casting light on and holding our community accountable to a substantial economic problem: the occupation of Palestine yields huge profits for American corporations and has absorbed over 33 billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The Jewish institutions that we “occupy” are engaged in the active silencing of those who care about these economic implications, particularly those looking to discuss economic activism in the form of boycott, divestment, and sanctions targetting Israel’s occupation. To answer Tracy’s question, Hillel leads this silencing on college campuses: see the Brandeis Hillel’s exclusion of Jewish Voice for Peace this Spring.  Coauthor Liza Behrendt was part of this student chapter that wanted nothing more than to join the center of Jewish life on campus, but failed the litmus test for Israel loyalty.

As for the Federations, our point is not that 99% of Jews oppose having a Federation, or even the occupation. It is that the leadership and the funders promote a narrow agenda, on many issues besides Israel and Palestine.  The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has extensively researched how power dynamics in the Jewish community restrict organizational agendas across the political spectrum.

And was it unnecessary to occupy a small Birthright event? Only if you are fine with ongoing corporate domination of our community. Tracy fails to mention that the event was part of a “Wall Street” series in which various 1%-ers hold forth to Jews our age, further dominating the agenda. It was so necessary, in fact, that here’s betting you will see more of it. And when you do, it will hardly drown out the message of Occupy Wall Street, which last we checked is doing just fine. It will only make it bigger and stronger.

To learn more about Young, Jewish, and Proud and Occupy the Occupiers visit their website here.

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