Tomorrow night in Cambridge it’s my honor to give a talk about the American love affair with Zionism and how to break it off, in honor of a great woman who was a mentor to me and countless other folks who engaged on the Israel/Palestine question: Hilda Silverman, who died in 2008.
Details about the talk are below. First some words about Hilda.
Hilda gave me and many other activists strength and guidance. She was well ahead of almost every Jew I know who is engaged on the conflict. Here is a beautiful reminiscence by Alice Rothchild:
Hilda quickly distinguished herself as an extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful, moral voice who was able to maintain a strong sense of her own Jewish identity and a painful awareness of the Holocaust while articulating a consistent and powerful critique of Israeli policy. In a 2002 op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hilda wrote, “I am a Jew with a profound consciousness of Jewish victimization through history. But for me, victim and victimizer, oppressor and oppressed are not mutually exclusive categories.”
As a younger activist trying to find my way in the bewildering maze of history, politics, trauma, and conflicting narratives, Hilda’s voice was a critical part of my education. In the book, Culture and Resistance, Edward Said told this story: “It was in 1988. There was a Tikkun conference in New York…I, and my friend Ibrahim Abu-Lughod were on a panel with Michael Walzer. At one point, in a moment of exasperation, Walzer said, ‘All right, you’re going to get your state, so I think it’s important to stop thinking about the past. You go have your state, we’ll have ours, and that’s the end of it.’ At which point, a woman in the audience, who I’ll never forget – her name was Hilda Silverman – got up in a state of rage, railing at Walzer, saying, ‘How dare you tell a Palestinian that he should stop reminding us of the past, when you and I belong to a people that is always reminding the world of how much we suffered, and asking people never to forget? How dare you tell a Palestinian to forget?'”
Though she warned me not to adopt her as a mother figure before checking with her own children, Hilda was loving and nurturing to me at a time when I needed that emotional support about this issue, though she never hesitated to correct me. She had depth. You could not throw her, she combined passion and intelligence with humanity and humor. She could relate the Armenian Genocide to the Nakba and the Holocaust, without reducing any of those episodes. For instance, she wrote of the ADL’s efforts to trivialize the Armenian genocide:
Most of us who identify as Jews have a deep and visceral understanding that at many times and in many parts of the world—and today still in *some* parts of the world—we have been considered expendable. I think the extraordinary passion and rage of the Armenian community in recent weeks has shown that this is a community mobilized to say, in effect, “neither we as a people nor our history are expendable”; and I have watched with awe and a profound sense of appreciation the stunning impact that their words and actions have had.
And when I praised her as exemplar of universal values, for her criticism of Elie Wiesel for not going to Gaza, she wrote back with wisdom and self-awareness:
I’ve … come to feel that actually *none* of us can truly live in terms of universal values, however deeply held. One simply could not get through the day. We all pick and choose where to put our time and energy and passion and, to varying degrees, try to block out the rest. I think that some choices are more morally defensible than others, though, and I still think that Elie Wiesel is a hypocrite (unlike me and thee, of course!).
Now here is some info about the talk:
The Hilda Silverman Memorial Lecture
Community and Ideology: What Will it Take for American Jews To Walk Away from Zionism? A talk by Philip Weiss Creator and co-editor of the popular blog Mondoweiss Philip Weiss is a New York writer who, in the wake of the Iraq war, began to examine issues of Zionism in Jewish life and in the American power structure. In 2006, he founded a website, Mondoweiss.net, devoted to these questions and, inspired in part by Hilda Silverman, began reporting on the conditions of Palestinian life in the occupied territories.
Tuesday, April 16, 7:30 pm
First Church Cambridge, Congregational
11 Garden St. Donations welcome
Sponsored by American Jews for a Just Peace Boston and co-sponsored by the Palestine-Israel Task Team of First Church in Cambridge, Congregational
My talk is going to be about how I came to a very late awareness about the importance of Zionism in American political life, and about what it will require to divorce the American Jewish community from this ideology. For I believe that the American Jewish community’s commitment to religious nationalism has exercised considerable sway over American political culture.