To my fellow American Jews

Israel/Palestine
on 44 Comments
Jewish communal organizations participate in a 2009 march for civil rights in Washington DC.

Jewish communal organizations participate in a 2009 march for civil rights in Washington DC.

I am writing this to my fellow American Jews. Well, to some of them. For a specific type of American Jew, actually. To those whose parents or grandparents were socialists and started unions before marching with Dr. King in Alabama. To those who despised George W. Bush and marched against the invasion of Iraq. To those who knocked on doors for causes they believed in while telling their children “be the change you want to see in the world”. To those who read poems at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs about “first they came for the…and I did not speak out because I was not a…” To those who instilled in me the unshakeable conviction that we must always stand on the side of the oppressed, even when no one else will.

Because of you, I am loud and I shout. But I’ve noticed you are growing quiet – almost silent – as an injustice is taking place in Palestine. I think that I know why. I think that as Operation Protective Edge marches onward, you feel your convictions clashing. You, more so than me, were raised to believe that Israel is something it is not: a democracy, with values just like yours, amidst a sea of aggressors. But with each passing day, it becomes harder and harder to close your eyes to a glaring reality.

I want to share with you the way I see things. Maybe it will be helpful, maybe not.

Let’s start with Gaza. Since July 8, at least 230 Palestinians have been massacred (what else can you call it when one of the world’s most powerful militaries drops bombs all day and all night on a population and locks down the borders so that they cannot flee?). Eighty percent of those killed were civilians, including at least 40 children. Israel consistently strikes non-military targets including mosques, hospitals, rehabilitation centers for the disabled, schools, UN compounds and beaches where children play.  During Operation Cast Lead they targeted these places when they knew hundreds of Palestinians had fled there to take shelter after Israel shot missiles at their homes. Since the beginning of this recent crisis/escalation/renewed cycle of violence/massacre only one Israeli has died. 

Israel likes to claim that it is acting in self-defense. Putting aside the fact that, according to laws of armed conflict, Israel does not actually have the right to self-defense against a population that it militarily occupies, I still find this a hard pill to swallow. While Netanyahu claims that Hamas has disrupted the ‘calm’ of the last few years, I’ve lived in Palestine and I can tell you that there was no calm. At least not for Palestinians. There is a constant, nagging, never-ending violence. This didn’t start with three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their schools in settlements through an Israeli military controlled area. Before there were those Israeli teenagers, there were two Palestinian teenagers who were shot in the chest and in the back as they milled around in front of a store in the West Bank. Their murders were caught on camera and yet there was no justice. And there was the systematic and institutionalized arrest and detention of approximately 8,000 Palestinian children since 2000. And there was Israel’s torture and mistreatment of hundreds of Palestinians who went on hunger strike to protest their detention without charge or trial. And there were Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, sewage water, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition at weekly non-violent Palestinian demonstrations against settlements. And before that there was the construction of a Wall that cuts through Palestinian land and isolates families from one another. 

I know that you were raised to believe that Israel exists to protect Jews and Judaism. But Israel is killing my Judaism. It is killing the Judaism you raised me with. How can I reconcile “stand with the oppressed” with supporting an army that drops white phosphorous gas on children? How can I “question everything” while believing New York Times headlines that blame Gazans for their own deaths? “To remain neutral is to side with the oppressor” – you taught me that. To grow silent is to turn my back on our Judaism – a Judaism that speaks of community and love and healing the world. I refuse to do that. I hope you will too. 

About Beth Miller

Beth Miller is a program coordinator at an international law non-profit. She lived in the West Bank for a year and a half, working on child rights and the rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. She received her M.A. in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethavedon

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44 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    July 17, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Can we have a lot less of this?

  2. Susie Kneedler
    July 17, 2014, 1:28 pm

    Beth, thank you for your great work, wisdom, essays, and your appeal here to us all: I hear your voice calling to all consciences and faiths–and skepticisms, too–and answer, “Thanks!”

    • Dan Crowther
      July 17, 2014, 2:18 pm

      Was it an appeal to “us all”? Was she calling to all “consciences and faiths”?

      Methinks not.

      • Mooser
        July 17, 2014, 3:58 pm

        Gee, I don’t know, maybe because there is undeniably an extra pressure on Jews to engage in at least magical thinking about, if not outright conformity with Zionism the article was written as an appeal to American Jews.
        Why let Zionism have it both ways? If Zionism can appeal its case to Jews as a group, based on some implicit promise of positive results, why can’t those who think Zionism is wrong, or at the very least could be worked out better appeal to Jews as a group based on the negative (in this case conflict with the religion) consequences?

        It’s about time more people starting questioning whether Zionism is, indeed “good for the Jews”. They hi-jacked that as an unquestionable thing, that Zionism is in whole or in its parts “good for the Jews”. And of course, as usual, they won’t give it back unless they get paid a ransom.

      • Dan Crowther
        July 17, 2014, 8:44 pm

        What if all the the BS about “standing with the oppressed” etc etc is all just that – a bunch of bullshit? A good smokescreen; witty PR?

        American Jews could become fervent anti-zionists tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter – the hard core in the elite aren’t going to change their stripes and they’re who matters. Any identity group has it’s hierarchy, and the hard core right wingers are at the top of the pyramid. And that’s before you take into account the Imperial considerations of the US. This is a systemic issue; zionism, while a part, is not the only factor; zionism had to be empowered by external powers. People may argue that those powers were coerced or bribed or what have you, but the fact remains, the western Imperial powers all thought creating Israel was in their interests.

        If you clowns want to say there’s “extra pressure on Jews” to renounce zionism or whatever, that’s fine – I think that’s absurd, this situation isn’t the fault of everyday American Jews, and by “appealing” to them, that’s the implication. I’ll also say there’s a certain arrogance in talking past the many non jewish readers here, but that’s par for the course; I find it both interesting and sad that many of the jewish cats here, wanting so badly to “change” things go about it in the most stereotypical of ways: with a inter group conversation, pretending the other 99% of the world isn’t there. Seems to me thats a long standing pattern in jewish history and it hasn’t helped, to say the least.

      • ritzl
        July 17, 2014, 9:55 pm

        Aren’t you erring too far in the other direction, Dan?

        Phil, reviewed a book here: link to mondoweiss.net which documented that Jewish-led labor unions were mobilized by the Israeli ambassador to get funding for Israel in ’74. To me, labor leadership includes “ordinary Jews.” So, at least in that case Israel had its bacon saved by ordinary Jews. If there had been more intra-Jewish disagreement at that level, at that time, we may not be in the current catastrophe. Israel may well have been contained then and now, as flowed forward.

        I know it’s problematic to “what if” history to make a point. And you’re right about a confluence of interests being in play (leaving the “who’s the driver” game for another time). I guess I’d just use that one really big example of a pivotal point in which ordinary Jews played a huge role within that confluence. Flake off some that support and Israel doesn’t get its resupply in ’74.

        Maybe you/one can NOT say that grassroots Jewish disaffection with Israel would have made (or will make) all the difference in the world then, but I think you/one CAN say if what these guys are trying to do takes hold in the Jewish “community” it will change the basic dynamic considerably. It transforms the mix of required interests to make the Israel blank-check machine work.

        The question to me becomes whether or not there is a replacement for ordinary Jews within that mix. There may well be in the Christian Zios, but who knows?

        Great comment. Interesting stuff.

      • Jeylan
        July 18, 2014, 12:55 am

        Yes Dan you are correct but how better to absolve Jews and illustrate the point yuou are making then by showing the world you are not in solidarity with Israel.

      • Mooser
        July 18, 2014, 2:03 pm

        “Any identity group has it’s hierarchy,”

        Really? Would you like to describe for me the “hierarchy” of Judaism?

      • Dan Crowther
        July 18, 2014, 2:33 pm

        We’re talking about societal hierarchies Mooser. Jews as an identity group definitely have a hierarchy.

  3. Jenin Younes
    July 17, 2014, 2:27 pm

    beautiful piece, Beth. I have shared it on my facebook wall and hope to reach some people with it.

    • Susie Kneedler
      July 17, 2014, 4:42 pm

      Mooser, thanks again for returning: I learn every time you speak.
      Jenin, thanks for joining us, too. I hope that your dad and family are well.
      And of course I have to add how dearly I hope all Palestine could be well and safe.

      • Jenin Younes
        July 17, 2014, 5:08 pm

        Susie, thank you for your kind words.

  4. lonely rico
    July 17, 2014, 3:35 pm

    I answered Dan Crowther’s initial comment, perhaps somewhat tastelessly, so it may remain unpublished. Perhaps just as well.
    But I do want to add my own “beautiful piece, Beth”. I am moved by your wisdom and humanity. Thank you.

  5. Citizen
    July 17, 2014, 3:41 pm

    Good piece, but the main mass of narrative in the US mainstream media and by US government spoke folks is that HAMAS instigated this latest round of violence by murdering three Israeli teens, and Israel is only defending its children against rockets. That’s always the story on page one, so to speak. Beth’s facts and consequent story are buried , when they appear at all to the US public, on page ten. It always helps to own the main media and US government, the first, literally, the latter, by virtue of having the most focused money to pour into the US campaign finance system.

  6. Bob_Salad
    July 17, 2014, 4:05 pm

    I was involved in a heated online discussion today with someone who questioned why Jewish voices, which speak out against Israel’s crimes, should take credence over, say, Catholic voices.

    Here’s my response:

    No. Absolutely not. It’s of paramount importance that greater credence be given to the Jews who speak out in criticism of Israel, else there’s a very serious danger that the context and narrative shifts from being perceived as an Israeli-Arab conflict to being perceived as a Jewish-Arab conflict. The dissenting Jewish voices are the only thing equalizing the potential rise in global antisemitism.

    Further, Jews who speak out must be given a higher authority as they are the ones who (1) have most to lose from any subsequent anti-Semitic blow-back and (2) so that they can distance themselves from the actions of Israel i.e. the ‘not in my name’ position. If we don’t ‘hear’ Jewish dissent, then the perception becomes one where all Jews are wrongly perceived as being both complicit and implicated in the actions of Israel.

    To the dissenting Jews; stay loud and keep shouting.

    • ritzl
      July 17, 2014, 7:11 pm

      @Bob_Salad- Agree with your sentiment, but the assertion that dissenting Jewish voices should take precedence (I think that’s what you meant) universally is premature.

      Certainly dissenting Jewish voices should be amplified to the greatest extent possible within the Jewish collective, and broadcast loudly and universally, but I’m not deferring my morality to any one or group that has been and/or is still so heavily constrained by communal “us-them” tradition. Collectively speaking, intra- Jewish dissent needs to reach and demonstrate a breadth, independence, maturity, and most importantly, a durability in all the above before it can lead on this issue, imho. This is not meant harshly or dismissively. Just the opposite in fact.

      Intra-Jewish dissent has to show its effect and resilience within its “community.” Otherwise its too reversible to invest a lot in for the rest of us. What happened to Judge Goldstone is a perfect personal example, and J-Street’s timidity and subsequent cram down is the perfect organizational example (tepid as their aspirations were to begin with). On the positive side, Mondoweiss is a perfect example of demonstrated durability.

      Having said that, Ms. Miller’s efforts are courageous and righteous. If I ever get the chance or avenue to support her, I will in a heartbeat.

      FWIW. Peace.

      • Bob_Salad
        July 17, 2014, 11:17 pm

        To clarify, greater credence.

    • American
      July 17, 2014, 10:06 pm

      @ Bob_Salad

      First, Beth did good in appealing to Jews.

      But you make the narcissistic mistake of saying a possible rise in anti semitism or iow the welfare of the Jews is the most important reason for her appeal.

      That does not sit well with non Jews and others for the reason that the anti semitism ‘cover/excuse’ used by zionist and the forced catering to this fear by the world is exactly what has enabled zionism, Israel and the situtation the Jews are in today.

      I dont blame non zionist Jews for wanting to protect themselves from blowback on Israel but when you put it as just opposing Israeli crimes for your own sakes and not for the actual victims it turns people off.

  7. xanadou
    July 17, 2014, 4:24 pm

    Ms. Miller says: “Israel is killing my Judaism”. I hope not. Israel and Judaism are two very separate concepts with a tenuous connection.

    Israel is a fascist country gradually being destroyed by racism, apartheid and ignorance of its brainwashed citizenry. Israel has used Judaism as a prop to further the interests of a psychotic group of zionists who are abusing Jewish history to further their own ambitions for personal wealth and power. Zios have NOTHING in common with those Jews and their understanding of Judaism who have worked, even died, while working on issues of Civil Rights and other social events, often without pay, and in their spare time, with no noisy fanfare or self-adulation.

    Present-day israel has usurped and corrupted a myth of a non-existent ancient entity of a region sparsely populated by illiterate pagan goatherders, a myth adapted from other civilizations proclaiming a kingdom of David, etc. Israeli archeologists, Finkelstein and Silberstein in their “The Bible Unearthed” show that Judaism originated around 500 BCE in Judea (hence Judaism, not isrealism), a tiny ME region that had never achieved self-determination. Judaism, however, has survived into the present b/c of massive proselytising efforts of Jewish travelling rabbis, such as Yoshua (aka Jesus), as described in Shlomo Sand’s book “The Invention of the Jewish People”. During those years, Judaism had progressed from a parochial cult to a powerful religion by adopting and adapting to the changing times and mores.

    Read both books, and see what Judaism really is: a powerful religion with roots in a vast and diverse region and humanity, including Arabs, including Palestinians of the distant past, who had converted to what they believed offered them richer spiritual sustenance. Perhaps the racist israeli ashkenazis should be reminded that they are all converts with origins that reach no further than the 10th century of the Common Era.

    Ms. Miller, your Judaism is not the farce corrupted and perpetuated by revolving-door israeli politicians. The sooner Jews accept the ghastly truth about israel and its corrupting influence, the sooner Judaism will be allowed to return to its true purpose: to give comfort and spiritual succor to its adherents. Also, to cleanse and save the memory of the too many Jews who had died at the hands of Nazis, whose (Nazis) genocidal psychosis now informs the israeli army of aggression and mass murder. Those Jews died not for Israel. They died b/c of the same racism that informs israel’s ongoing, 67 y/o genocide, but exercised by murderers who had corrupted their own faith (“Gott mit uns”). That puts those dead on same page as the dead, displaced and disowned modern-day Palestinians.

    Israel was not a Jewish entity in Antiquity. It is high time that Jews reclaim their true heritage and understand that modern day “israel” is a cruel hoax. Judaism is not tied to a piece of dirt. Jews who worship wherever they live are not a diaspora. They are like people of other faiths who happen to live in a variety of lands and elect to worship in their own, privately chosen way. Become like them and never again will Jews be singled out for wholesale destruction.

    • tokyobk
      July 17, 2014, 7:12 pm

      I agree with much of what you say, certainly the overall point, but remember that Jews were singled out for wholesale destruction -before- the modern state of Israel. And, I think its unintended but there is an implication that the deeds of Israel (or any other particular act in the name of Judaism) creates a pretext for the destruction of all Jews. In fact, if Israel went a way tomorrow there would still be some people griping about the Jews though they would have to return to their slime holes, not having the huge cover provided for them by aggressive Jewish nationalism.

      • DaBakr
        July 17, 2014, 8:54 pm

        @tkbk
        while I am certain we would disagree on many fundamental ME issues involving Israel I find your voice here as one of the few that keep me coming back with the full intention of learning something I did not think I knew about websites like MW. I hope that doesn’t diminish you in the eyes of your fellow compatriots here. In your views I do not see any blind hatred or hysterical sense of outrage. If you feel those things you keep them in check and private where they belong. This is an attribute that can be respected by friend and foe alike.

      • Mooser
        July 18, 2014, 2:00 pm

        “And, I think its unintended but there is an implication that the deeds of Israel (or any other particular act in the name of Judaism) creates a pretext for the destruction of all Jews.”

        Doesn’t Israel have (and illegally, too, no inspections, no control) enough nuclear bombs to wipe out a big portion of the world, maybe more? Well, tokyobk, you can’t blame people for wanting to protect themselves from international criminals.

      • Mooser
        July 18, 2014, 2:08 pm

        “And, I think its unintended but there is an implication that the deeds of Israel (or any other particular act in the name of Judaism) creates a pretext for the destruction of all Jews.

        I’m sure that’s something you worry about every day.

    • Marnie
      July 18, 2014, 1:13 am

      I agree. Judaism and Israel are not joined at the hip. Judaism is about God and all of humanity (to me) and Israel is real estate, period. Love of God and to love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others, etc., is the prime directive (my opinion). The rest is politics.

  8. Susie Kneedler
    July 17, 2014, 4:45 pm

    Oh, no: “The Guardian” reports that “Israeli military begins ground offensive in Gaza – live updates”
    link to theguardian.com (Sadly, the URL says the opp.: “gaza-crisis-humanitarian-truce-due-to-start-live-updates.”)
    What a terrible day, after many.

  9. Kay24
    July 17, 2014, 4:58 pm

    Nothing like a suspicious downing of a passenger plane, carrying hundreds of people, to cover your war crimes. Convenient time for a ground war eh?

    My heart goes to all those unsheltered, unprotected Palestinians, who have had to endure the indifference of the entire world, and who keep paying with their lives.
    I am afraid for all of them.

    • lysias
      July 17, 2014, 5:01 pm

      Today’s events could very easily lead to a world war, as the centennial of World War One approaches.

      • Susie Kneedler
        July 17, 2014, 5:20 pm

        Thanks, lysias, for saying what many of us fear and can’t even bear to whisper.

      • ritzl
        July 17, 2014, 7:18 pm

        Yep, SK. Secret alliances become interlocking politics a century later. The same only different. And we can all see “it” coming in real time on the net, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to be done about it. To me, it’s a bit like the time dilution that happens during an accident.

        Fear is right. And a big dose of helplessness (I just got off Twitter, if that tells you anything.)

      • DaBakr
        July 17, 2014, 8:47 pm

        yes they could. and just think-when a Danish cartoonist published cartoons offensive to muslims worldwide there also was speculation that a new WW was emanate. However-rest assured that just as Israel will never be the first to introduce nuclear arms into any conflict neither will they be the primary cause of any new WW which will lie exactly at the feet of those who would perpetrate such an act of worldwide warfare. Israel will not be the sacrificial lamb that staves off the hand-wringing and anxious minions of liberals who still believe that war can be held off if humanity would simply embrace one another with compassion and humanity. Cynical? yes. but also optimistic. Best of luck overcoming your worst fears.

      • Mooser
        July 18, 2014, 1:45 pm

        “Today’s events could very easily lead to a world war, as the centennial of World War One approaches.”

        Well, in that case, there’s really only one question to ask, isn’t there?

  10. yonah fredman
    July 17, 2014, 6:04 pm

    Why is the Hebrew in the poster in the photo misspelled replacing three yods with apostrophes? Why are Jews who support human rights so ignorant of Hebrew and of Jewish sources? Have they chosen values over knowledge? Could be. Values are more important than knowledge. If one has to choose, they made the right choice. But one does not have to choose. And if they wish to make a dent in the consciousness of those who value knowledge (even if those who value knowledge over value it) their ignorance will not help them to make that dent.

    • DaBakr
      July 17, 2014, 8:48 pm

      @yf
      what makes you think that because they are Jews they are particularly knowledgeable?

    • Mooser
      July 18, 2014, 1:49 pm

      Good work, Yonah! That’s right, there’s too many Jews, and we don’t need any sub-literate ones hanging around!
      Thank God the Zionists realize there is much more to being a Jew than just claiming one is a Jew! We have to keep the riff-raff out.

      Of course, it’s all Hitler’s fault. Remember how Hitler rounded up the Jews in Germany, sent them to luxury resorts, plied them with wine, and made them breed? And now there’s just too many of us, and we need to get rid of the dead-weight.
      Right, Yonah?

  11. seafoid
    July 17, 2014, 6:25 pm

    To my fellow American Jews

    Don’t go back to Masada (with the lemmings)

    You”ll wind up in some death factory
    Sitting around all by your self

  12. ritzl
    July 17, 2014, 7:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing your path, Ms. Miller. Great article. I hope many follow your lead.

  13. RoHa
    July 17, 2014, 7:36 pm

    Maybe it’s time to read Moshe Menuhin again.

  14. yonah fredman
    July 17, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Israel fought a war in 1948 during which many Palestinians were exiled to Gaza (many of them merely miles from their former homes). In 1967 Israel captured Gaza and occupied it militarily “to the last inch” (boots on the ground). Some time in the 70’s I imagine Israel established its first civilian settlement in Gaza. (Probably earlier, because I believe the first settlement was something that had existed before 48 and usually like in the case of Gush Etzion, the children of those who left previous Jewish settlements in 48 wanted to return to them in 67.) In 2005 Israel pulled all the settlements out and attempted to turn a “to the last inch” occupation into a siege. (Maybe something better than a siege was possible. Who knows what Sharon could envision as a best case scenario. He was a man of action and he was not about to leave the chess board without leaving his mark. Events led to this siege. Choices: some understandable, some bad, led to the situation of the current siege.) Is this siege illegal? Is it amoral? The besieged people, what rights do they have? Is their historical precedents that can help?

    I think there is a lack of good will and a lack of smarts and a lack of adult supervision (Hamas and Likud and IDF are acting like irresponsible kids and there is no teacher to bring order to the situation.) I think this was true in 2005 and has not improved since.

    Israel has handed over responsibility to the generals. Maybe they did that in 67 when Eshkol was forced to appoint Dayan and maybe that was the moment when it changed. Tough to tell the exact moment. (Ben Gurion told the soldiers what to do, but after Ben Gurion came Eshkol and then the soldiers told the prime minister what to do.) In any case how would soldiers deal with a situation like this: answer: with guns. And ultimately it ends up looking like this.

    We, my generation of Jews who care about Israel, are handing over to the next generation a worsened situation.

    As an American it is a shame that the US congress (in particular, but not only) is for sale and so there is no US supervision and a weak president like Obama does not help matters.

    (Obama’s weakness is a combination of America’s weakness post Iraq and Afghanistan and 2008 financial crash and his own inexperience. Hillary has experience. But it could be that would make no difference. The crew here prefers Obama’s instincts though he could not follow through, because he did not have the political power to fulfill his instincts, the crew here prefers him to Hillary’s realpolitik.)

    • Mooser
      July 18, 2014, 1:57 pm

      “Israel fought a war in 1948 during which many Palestinians were exiled to Gaza (many of them merely miles from their former homes). “

      Yonah, that’s what I keep on telling people when they complain about all that stuff which happened to Jews in Germany. I mean, many of them were only moved a few miles from there own homes, to places with better sanitary facilities, too.

  15. DaBakr
    July 17, 2014, 8:40 pm

    @beth

    socialist relatives, check
    heard the poems, check
    father marched with King, defended CR/immigrant workers, check
    the ‘aliyah’ thing, check

    helpful? no. cigar.

  16. joer
    July 18, 2014, 8:15 am

    Personally, I’m not religious, but I have not been able to participate in any Jewish community activities at all for years-mainly because of the whole Palestinian thing. At its heart, since we are supposed to be a religious community, moral issues should be confronted, especially ones of life and death-but in this case the hard liners cheerlead for the Israeli military…and the “liberals” equivocate and bemoan man’s inhumanity to man. And then we learn the proper way to light candles and hear a lecture about how interesting we are. Now I am not talking about all Jews, I am relating my experiences with mainstream religious and community institutions. A lot of Jews who are outside of that scene are very hip to what is really going on.

    Although I do not equate my discomfort at going to a Purim party with a family having their home blown up, these two hashtags are related:

    #FreePalestine

    #FreeJEwsFromZionism

  17. Mooser
    July 18, 2014, 1:44 pm

    Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if almost all the pleadings to “my fellow American Jews” end up being (unintentionally, I am sure) another form of Hasbara. The idea is to give Americans the idea that the Jewish community in America is organised in some way for political and moral activism. That is ‘don’t worry, we can take care of this among ourselves’, which is horseshit.

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