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Solidarity with Palestinians, yes– but why not solidarity with Jews?

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I’m struck by the hysterical tone of Hirsh Goodman’s piece saying that Israel must go to war against critical information. You’d think Goodman would be more worldly. He grew up in South Africa, was a reporter for many years, and is married to a New York Times correspondent. Yet he defends the murderous flotilla raid and the onslaught of Gaza in 08-09, and is angry that Israel is not getting its message out so as to maintain its image in the world, and its lifeline of international support. 

The obvious response to Goodman is that this battle is lost. The world is tired of Israel shaping the news, the world is tired of miraculous battles with "terrorists" in which nine non-Jews are killed and all the Israelis survive, and the dispossession doesn’t stop. Even in the U.S. public opinion is now in play. Every day in the West Bank, Jewish colonists run over Palestinians on the Jews-only roads, or Israeli soldiers shoot young Palestinians, or evict families from their homes. That’s what the world is focused on.

Still: Goodman feels the walls closing in. Almost all Israelis seem to feel the same way. 

I spend a lot of my day doing Palestinian solidarity, trying to put myself in another people’s shoes. So what about solidarity with the Israelis? At a time when many people are clearly demonizing Israel (other states do bad stuff too; I was in Egypt last year, oppressive), why am I not on the side of the people I grew up calling my own, the Jews, and with them the Israelis, so many of them similar culturally to me? 

This is a genuine challenge, morally, spiritually, politically.

I first heard it a year ago in Gaza. A psychotherapist said to my group, Please, please put yourself in the minds of the Israelis, you who are their friends. We are imprisoned but they are not free. They are gripped by fear; how else can you explain their wanton destruction of our society. Something must be done for these people– and the therapist was calling on us to reach out to them and try and heal them.  

The therapist felt, as I feel, that only greater bloodshed is likely to result until the Israelis overcome a psychosis. As Matthew Taylor wrote,

During my travels in Israel, I found many of the Israeli Jews I interviewed to be intensely scared to their deepest core, behind all of the bluster and tough talk about not giving an inch to the Arabs. We must remember: understandable, justifiable fear of anti-Jewish oppression was the most powerful motivating factor for the project of political Zionism from its inception 130 years ago, and I argue that fear still is the primary motivating factor whether it’s justified fear or not

In a word, Hirsh Goodman.

The reason I do Palestinian solidarity is that there is no question about who is suffering and who isn’t in Israel and Palestine. It is a grotesquely unjust situation with respect to human and civil rights, reminiscent of American slavery in the unfairness and the benediction granted the unfairness in Washington. Back then, I would have been a writer for an abolitionist newspaper; I’m proud to be doing this work.

As a Jew, I believe the only way to save my fellows from the despair of what Israel has become is not to justify Israel’s actions, it is for American Jews to reclaim their tradition of liberalism and fight the Israel lobby in this country and convey their social/political understanding to the Israelis.

I use the word psychosis because Israeli society is conditioned by the Holocaust and the 6 million and the belief that Jews can trust no one else. As Norman Mailer said, Hitler’s bitterest achievement was reducing Jews to the concern, Is it good for the Jews?

But not Mailer. And this is the sad truth about Zionism: it distilled distrust. Its nationalistic appeal sorted out Jews who were fearful about antisemitism from those who were not. It sorted out those who believe that Jews must look out for Jews from those who favor integration in western societies. It sorted out the ethnocentric, Is-it-good-for-the-Jews types, from Jews who think it’s OK to marry non-Jews. And in that division, the fearful took power. They moved to Israel or manned the barricades of the Israel lobby, and the integrators married non-Jews or wrote books about jazz and checked out. The fearful were granted power by the rest of the community. It is no coincidence that Leon Wieseltier, one of the stalwarts of the Israel lobby in this country, is someone who has at times embraced paranoia (I think he called it anxiety) and was a member of the Jewish Defense League when he was in high school. Richard Perle and David Frum ("victory or Holocaust", sending us to Iraq) are probably just as bad. Jeffrey Goldberg concluded as a young man studying the Holocaust and the American response that the diaspora was the "disease" and Israel was the cure, and so he moved to Israel and served in a prison that oppresses Palestinians. All these men think that Jews must rely on themselves. And with that understanding, they are isolating the Jews of Israel from the world.

So I accept the charge. I am part of the Jewish community, and feel solidarity with the Jews of Israel. And the best thing I can do for them now is to convey to them firmly but kindly, this is not the way to deal with other people, and many, many Jews have reached that understanding. You are isolating yourselves from the world, it is time to listen. Please.

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