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When ‘J’ means ‘Jewish’ not ‘Justice’

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This is a companion article to Sandra Tamari’s piece, “The meaning of solidarity in the Palestine movement.” These pieces are part of an ongoing conversation in activist spaces about “Jews identifying as Jews”. We published Elisha Baskin and Donna Nevel on this issue recently. –Ed.

When “J” means “Jewish” Rather than “Justice”: On Zionism, Jewish Exceptionalism, and Jewish Supremacy in U.S. Palestine Solidarity Organizing

Zionism contends that Jewish people have a special connection to the Zionist colonization of Palestine (i.e., Israel).  Unfortunately, this “special connection” is often reproduced in certain Jewish-identified Palestine solidarity work in the U.S.  This happens when the focus of movement work is directed toward the needs, motives, beliefs, or histories of Jewish people, rather than the needs and situation of Palestinians.  In these cases, I shall argue, movement work exchanges its focus on justice for a focus on Judaism, shortchanging Palestinians—and genuine solidarity with them—in the process.

Undoubtedly, Jewish-identified Palestine solidarity activism does important work to undermine this “special connection.”  Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), American Jews for a Just Peace (AJJP), and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) drive a wedge between Zionism and Judaism, demonstrating by their very existence that not all Jews are Zionists (nor are all Zionists Jews).  This is of enormous strategic value, particularly in the U.S. context, wherein the presumption that Zionism and Judaism are co-extensive has a stranglehold on politics and public discourse.  The importance of this work has been affirmed, for example, by the Boycott National Committee in Palestine, which has endorsed the JVP-initiated campaign demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.  Omar Barghouti has named JVP “an important ally in the U.S.” that consistently resists “Jewish privilege.”

However, in the course of my time working in the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. (since 2006), I have seen Jewish-identified Palestine solidarity work often reproduce the notion that Jewish people have a “special connection” with the Zionist colonization of Palestine, thereby sidelining the needs and situation of Palestinians in order to focus on Jewish people, identity, or history.  This happens, in my experience, in three prominent ways:   

(1)    Jewish Values

All too often, in venues too numerous to mention, I have heard Jewish people cite the distinctiveness or importance of Jewish Values as their reasons for being involved in Palestine solidarity work.  Jewish Values refers to any number of things:  sometimes it references a specific Jewish ethical tradition or set of teachings, derived perhaps from Biblical or Talmudic sources.  Sometimes it is based on a more culturalist assertion about specifically Jewish commitments to social justice (e.g., tikkun olam).  And sometimes it is based on historical claims about the consistency or disproportionate participation of Jewish people in social justice movements generally (e.g., Civil Rights, labor, feminism, gay liberation, etc.).  Regardless of its content, however, it is all-too-common to hear Jewish-identified people lay claim to Jewish Values as the reason, motive, or purpose for their participation in Palestine solidarity work. 

In my view, this position mistakes personal reasons for joining this movement for the work of the movement itself, exchanging a focus on justice for a focus on Judaism.  Distracted by individual motives or personal beliefs, this activism becomes oriented toward the maintenance or upholding of Jewish Values rather than responding to the situation and needs of Palestinians (as evidenced by the enormous amount of work being done internally within Jewish communities – more on this in the final section).  Worse, Palestinian self-determination is championed because doing so exemplifies or otherwise fulfills Jewish Values.  In other words, being in solidarity with Palestine becomes the new meaning or content of Jewish Values.  This unwittingly instrumentalizes Palestinians or the Palestinian cause as important insofar as they can help to realize (or “heal”) Jewish Values (from Zionism). 

It also suggests that liberation or self-determination are uniquely or distinctly Jewish Values, which of course they are not.  Such advocacy engages in Jewish exceptionalism, reinforcing the idea that Jewish people – because of certain “values” – are exceptional, both in the sense that Jews are exceptions to the rule and exceptional, or a cut above the rest.  However, not only are Jewish Values neither synonymous with liberation nor uniquely related to liberation, but they are certainly unnecessary to claim as the basis for one’s Palestine solidarity work, especially when doing so re-iterates Jewish exceptionalism. 

Moreover, by insisting on Jewish Values as the reason for their solidarity with Palestinians, Jewish people actually re-inscribe Jews as central to this region and the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom when in fact they are not central to it – or, at least, no more or less central to it than any other non-Palestinian people.  (Remember, it is Zionism that requires an essential connection between Israel and Jewish people.)  When Jewish people assert specifically Jewish Values as the basis for their Palestine solidarity work, they re-instate the connection between Jewish people and Israel – even if this time in the form of a critique – that centers Jewish people and Jewish Values as the main pivot of a relationship of resistance to Israel and the Zionist project. 

I fully accept that many people are committed to the liberation of Palestine because of a personal commitment to Jewish Values.  But being critical of Israel and in solidarity with the liberation of Palestine are not distinctly Jewish values, nor should they be if this movement is to be truly liberatory. 

When Jewish people mistake their individual connections to Jewishness or Jewish Values for politically principled social justice work, they distract from the situation of Palestinians and re-instate Jewish people’s “special connection” to Israel/Palestine, short-circuiting solidarity and fortifying Zionism in the process.

(2)    Jewish Oppression

Paralleling the Jewish Values line is the Jewish Oppression line.  In this case, Jewish people invoke their historical experience of oppression as the reason for their intimate connection to Palestine solidarity work.  Occasionally, this historical experience of oppression takes the form of a broader narrative about Jewish people having been exiled and oppressed throughout their existence, despised and dislocated from everywhere they have lived.  Much more commonly, this argument relies on the Holocaust as the premier example of unthinkable oppression.  Regardless, the claim I most often hear made is that, because of Jewish people’s excruciating experience of oppression during the Holocaust, they are uniquely situated or obligated, as Jews, to undertake Palestine solidarity work.  This is because, for example, they are obliged to universalism by the uniquely post-Holocaust injunction, “Never Again.”  Or simply because their distinct experience of oppression obliges them to say no to Israel’s crimes. 

Connecting solidarity work to the Holocaust in this way unwittingly suggests that it is Jewish people’s unique relationship with exceptional oppression that especially situates them to work on Palestinian liberation.  Again, this mistakes personal connections and motivations for justifications of political principle, shifting the focus from justice to Judaism once again.  It also somehow manages to suggest that addressing the situation of Palestinians is important insofar as it addresses or speaks to Jewish Oppression.  This again re-centers Jewish people in a movement for Palestinian liberation, albeit this time through the lens of Jewish Oppression rather than Jewish Values.  Finally, it borders on a kind of Holocaust exceptionalism, whereby the oppression of the Jews is either exceptionally horrible or else more specifically and uniquely horrible than anything other people(s) have undergone throughout history, since it is precisely on this unique or distinctive horribleness that the claim to the special obligation to Palestine solidarity turns.

I fully accept that many people are committed to the liberation of Palestine because of familial or historical connections with the Holocaust.  I would again insist, however, that this connection remains a personal connection rather than an assertion of political principle.  Many people have many familial and historical connections with many oppressions that may (or may not) bring them to Palestine solidarity work.  From the perspective of the work, however, such connections are interesting but inessential.  Why, after all, is a connection with any oppression necessary to commit one to the liberation of Palestine?  More importantly, asserting specifically Jewish people’s connection to the Holocaust as the basis for Palestine solidarity work re-iterates the Zionist insistence on the essential relationships among the Holocaust, Israel, and Jewish people.  These connections should be disregarded in Palestine solidarity work, for certainly outrage at the Holocaust – much less the injustices of the Israeli state – do not and should not require a particular kinship or historical linkage with either.  Suggesting otherwise sidelines Palestinians once again, undermining solidarity and fortifying Zionism.    

(3)    Jewish Credibility

Finally, it is all too often the case that Jewish people – sometimes unwittingly and with good intentions, sometimes not – position themselves in the United States as uniquely credible reporters about the situation on the ground in Palestine.  This is due to a number of factors, I’m sure, not least of which is the proliferation of opportunities for (sufficiently moneyed) Americans to travel to Palestine on delegations or solidarity tours.  (This phenomenon is so common it is now a research area for academics.)  Upon return to the U.S., participants often wish to convey what they have seen and learned while they were in Palestine. 

The politics of solidarity tours is complex, to be sure.  I make no pretense of judging if they are “good” or “bad,” and could not do so without risking hypocrisy given my own participation in both a Birthright Israel program (in 2000) and a Birthright Unplugged program (in 2006), much less my current position as Outreach and Communications Director for Birthright Unplugged, wherein I have facilitated numerous delegations to Palestine. 

However, it is often the case that delegates’ well-meaning and heartfelt attempts to communicate what they saw in Palestine—especially when those delegates are Jewish—can unwittingly position both American and Jewish people as uniquely credible reporters about Palestine.  To be clear, this is often far from anyone’s intentions.  Nevertheless, in the U.S. context of vitriolic, racialized Islamophobia –itself exacerbated by the imperial frame within which all news about the “Middle East” unfolds and all popular culture takes its cues – some voices are inevitably deemed more “objective” than others.  And as we well know, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims (and all those taken to be such) are always already de-legitimized in U.S. public discourse.  Biased, irrational, violent, terroristic – even after decades of work on this issue, the possibility of a credible, mainstream Arab or Muslim or Palestinian voice gaining any traction as a public authority on Palestine remains remote.  Moreover, we are all-too-familiar with the insistence that, anytime a Palestinian or Arab or Muslim does speak publicly, and especially about Palestine, it is necessary to wheel in a Jewish and/or Israeli counterpart in order to “balance” the conversation. 

While it is crucial that people speak out about the truth of Israel’s illegal military occupation, indigenous dispossession, apartheid policies, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes, nevertheless if it is only or primarily Jewish people reporting such facts, Jewish people are re-centered as the authorities on Palestine.  This marginalizes Palestinian voices and leadership and reproduces the Jewish supremacy latent in U.S. public discourse that holds that only Jewish people can be objective, credible reporters about Israel/Palestine. 

Aside from distinguishing Judaism from Zionism, the other primary justification I hear of both Jewish-identified solidarity work and the three positionings identified above is the importance of moving the U.S. Jewish community and/or the mainstream Jewish establishment’s hard-line position on Israel.  Undoubtedly, fighting AIPAC and the Zionist lobby is important work.  However, in my experience, this is typically not the “Jewish establishment” people mean when they make this claim, but rather groups like Hillel or their own congregations and temple Boards. This narrower target makes sense, given that the Zionist lobby consists not simply of Zionist Jewish organizations, but also Zionist Christian Evangelical organizations and Zionist neocons.  Indeed, we would do well to remember that the Zionist lobby may not best be characterized as definitively Jewish.  Its more defining characteristic may rather be neo-imperialism, a quality that Zionist Jews share with non-Jewish Zionists.

For my own part, I’m skeptical that U.S. Jewish opinion has much sway over the machinations of the Zionist lobby.  Their opinions may matter more to the so-called “Jewish establishment,” but even presuming a major shift on Israel on their part leaves me unconvinced that this would significantly affect either the Zionist lobby or U.S. policy on Israel.  After all, neither actually cares about Jewish people, their welfare, or what they really think—this is far from their raison d’être.  To presume otherwise is again to presume that Zionism has something to do with Judaism or Jewish people, when in fact Judaism and Jewish people are instead used as ideological leverage to advance the Zionist lobby’s colonial and imperial policies.

At its best, Jewish people’s addressing the U.S. Jewish community’s position on Israel is a form of unlearning racism, a way in which Jewish people educate other Jewish people about Israel’s status as a settler colonial state rather than an emancipatory polity for Jewish people. 

However, this kind of work is also about personal commitments which, like Jewish Values or Jewish Oppression, may be important to individuals but are not productive bases or justifications for solidarity work.  Some people wish to make synagogues more welcoming spaces for dissenting views on Israel.  Young folks want to alert their elders that their generation is not committed to Zionism, even as they embrace Judaism (this is one animus behind the JVP project Young, Jewish, and Proud).  Others are interested in building new religious institutions and practices of worship that are spiritually meaningful but no longer complicit with Zionism.

All of these are admirable goals.  But they are not solidarity work.  Making internal change within the U.S. Jewish community may make U.S. Jews less racist, synagogues more open, families more communicative, and religious institutions and practices less Zionist.  But in order for solidarity work to be solidarity work, it must be responsive and accountable to the demands and situation of the oppressed.  And it really must be said that Jews are not oppressed in the U.S. (much less anywhere else).  They are certainly not the oppressed in this movement.  The oppressed here are the Palestinians, and our work for Palestinian liberation must be accountable to the demands and situation of Palestinians – in Palestine and throughout the world.  Working to change families, synagogues, and Jewish communities may make more room for individual Jewish people to live, work, worship, and play.  But changing the Jewish community is work that is addressed to Jewish people, by Jewish people, for Jewish people.  It should not be confused with work that aims at the liberation of Palestine.

I, too, came to this work with the belief that, as someone raised Jewish in a staunchly Zionist home, I had a “special connection” to the Zionist colonization of Palestine.  In particular, I felt I had an obligation to do Palestine solidarity work because everything Israel did was undertaken and justified “in my name.”  However, as I have spent more time in this movement and also begun to learn from the work of other activists, particularly those in the prison abolition and immigrants’ rights movements as well as participants in indigenous struggles for self-determination in the Americas and beyond, I have begun to understand the ways in which my belief in my “special connection” to Palestine is self-serving and itself a by-product of Zionist propaganda.  It is in the interest of Zionism that Jews everywhere understand themselves to be uniquely or distinctly connected to Israel – even if that connection is a critical one. 

While it is necessary and important to distinguish Zionism and Judaism, the role of Jewish people in Palestine solidarity work (if indeed any such “role” actually exists) is to confirm that Palestinian liberation is not a Jewish issue.  Jewish people must recognize that commitment to justice turns not on an exceptionalist Jewish connection to this region, country, or colonial project, but rather on the principled belief in the freedom, equality, and self-determination of all people(s).  Indeed, such commitment may help us to remember that we ourselves are settlers in North America, complicit with the colonization of indigenous peoples here, residing upon stolen land from which we launch our otherwise heroic critiques of Israel. 

The fight for Palestinian liberation is anti-racist work and a form of anti-colonialism.  It is part of an indigenous people’s struggle.  To suggest that Jewish people have a special connection to Israel/Palestine is to re-iterate a central Zionist contention that the settler colonization of Palestine is by, for, or about Jewish people.  Insofar as it is Zionism which we are fighting, we surely do not want to agree to that.   


Heike Schotten

Heike Schotten is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of, among others, “Reading Nietzsche in the Wake of the 2008-09 War on Gaza.

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19 Responses

  1. W.Jones on May 16, 2013, 3:19 pm


    You have a significant article and I agree with Mondoweiss that this is an important topic.

    It’s helpful to think of analogies. Missionaries can talk about the importance of Christian values in giving charity to poor nonChristian Asian peoples. And we all can talk about American values in helping the urban poor in America. But wouldn’t it become more difficult when we talk about the importance of American Christian values in helping poor Asian peoples?

    And doesn’t emphasizing American Christian values become even more difficult if the situation was not just any nonChristian country, but one in which America had a conflict with?

    And on top of that Heike, you have a situation where many Americans (like many people with Jewish nationality) would say they have universal humanitarian values (or even Church of Scotland ones. LOL)

    On the other hand, I think it’s very important to say “Not in Our Name”, and to undermine the thinking of conquerors (Protestant or otherwise) by showing that the religion’s underlying moral philosophy actually opposes abusing people.

    Rather my point is that you are touching on an important and challenging topic!

  2. seafoid on May 16, 2013, 4:43 pm

    I have a hard time taking Jewish Values­­® seriously. Unless it’s good networking. There is no Jewish moral identifier I can think of. If there were, Ariel Sharon would have had it. Our Son of a Bitch™ is fine but don’t tell me all the mitzvot have anything to do with anything. Otherwise chalk it all down to very sloppy brand management. What brand manager would have the gobshites in Elad holding a franchise?

    Tikkun Olam® was beaten to death in Hebron. Tikkun a stand would be far more useful . Why are so many Jews afraid to call out the Zionists for the charlatans they are ?

    The sad truth is that Zionism seized the land of Israel in the name of the Jewish people and the project is a failure. Spin it any way you like but Jewish sovereignty has been a car crash.

  3. annie on May 16, 2013, 5:34 pm

    the other primary justification I hear of both Jewish-identified solidarity…the importance of moving the U.S. Jewish community and/or the mainstream Jewish establishment’s hard-line position on Israel.

    i wouldn’t call this a waste of time but i think it’s secondary and should be treated as such. i think the focus should be moving the country together. just like any other policy issues like the environment or health care etc etc. it’s an american issue and impacts all of us. our focus on protecting israel no matter what shadows how we interact with other countries in the region, including wars.

    to engage the american people and encourage activists of all parts of society to strongly engage all parts of society should be the focus in our activism for justice in palestine. instead, when we place so many eggs in one basket by focusing on the one tiny community especially the most hard core in that community we hand them power they do not deserve. american jews are not more well placed than any other american to take on this issue. if i believed that i would have to believe my own work came secondary or had less impact because of who i am instead of what i do and how i do it.

    it is often the case that delegates’ well-meaning and heartfelt attempts to communicate what they saw in Palestine—….—can unwittingly position both American and Jewish people as uniquely credible reporters about Palestine. To be clear, this is often far from anyone’s intentions.

    guilty as charged. i specifically went there in hopes it would lend my activism more credibility. so i would be taken more seriously in my activism. to be able to say i saw it with my own eyes. tho, i certainly don’t think i am “uniquely” credible, at all. i like to think of myself as unique tho, i think that’s instinctual. anyway, that part is personal, not really relevant to my activism.

  4. maggielorraine on May 16, 2013, 6:00 pm

    I understand the thrust of this article but have lingering questions. I don’t see the problem with Jewish Values as a reason to engage in activism. I don’t see why anyone expects people who identify religiously to make their motivating animus “universal” political principles…why does it matter? What do you have to say to Islamic or Sikh feminists whose anti-sexist work is rooted in what they perceive to be their faith’s ethical tradition? What do you have to say to Christian humanitarians who believe they need to engage in social justice issues because of Jesus’ message? ‘Sorry, go home and try again’?

    And I also don’t see how saying something is one’s religious value makes any claim to exclusivity or uniqueness. Do unto others and you would have them do unto you is certainly not an exclusively Christian idea, but that doesn’t mean for some people it isn’t a central part of their Christian identity and the reason they work for justice.

    I see the “special connection” as a produced one that ideally shouldn’t exist but as a matter of fact it unfortunately does, because Jews are a target of Zionism in America, that is, the Zionist lobby/community feeds on the Jewish community as ammunition. I personally feel a “special connection” to combating pinkwashing as a gay woman, knowing that that connection is completely artificial and a result of the pinkwashing narrative itself. But since the San Francisco LGBT community is the target of many pinkwashing activities by the Israeli government and Zionist groups, being an active voice of dissent *as a member of that community* is very important.

    I really want to understand all of this more. There has been a lot of discussion and argument in some groups I’m in around these issues and I really feel like I’m missing something. So someone please reply.

    • piotr on May 16, 2013, 10:49 pm

      I very much agree with Heike. Everytime I hear “Jewish values” I think “another heretic is trying to hide the adherence to universal values”.

      In particular, the central premise of Israel project is that Jews should liberate themselves from galut thinking and redeem themselves by restoring the “special connection” with the Promised Land. In the process, a better kind of Jew is created, redeemed and elevated. Benighted Jews in Exile should shut up (unless they repeat what the elevated Jews say), contribute money and lobbying.

      Thus the notion of “Jewish values” is heavily contested, and the interpretation of the activists is very much in minority. As someone without religious education and with rather sketchy historical education, I have no idea who is a more correct representative of those value. And it really should not matter.

      But the issue is not as simple as that. The notion of universal rights is far from universal, for example it is heavily contested in USA as “outside the mainstream” and “radical”. Perhaps we need arguments that those rights are not altogether weird, for example they follow from Jewish Values. And Federalist Papers for a good measure.

    • W.Jones on May 16, 2013, 10:50 pm


      You asked: “I don’t see why anyone expects people who identify religiously to make their motivating animus “universal” political principles…why does it matter? There has been a lot of discussion and argument in some groups I’m in around these issues and I really feel like I’m missing something. So someone please reply.”
      What do you think about my post above dated May 16, 2013, 3:19 pm?

    • Ron Edwards on May 16, 2013, 11:40 pm

      Hi, and thanks for that post. I have no special claim to being able to answer you well, so this isn’t an “answer” so much as a fellow person’s thoughts overlapping or maybe worth looking at with yours.

      I think this has to do with the *use* of terms like “Jewish values” (or as you rightly put, any religion or formal identity one cares to name). How is the speaker using it – when is it said, and to whom, and with what particular force or content, in practice?

      Heike’s article distinguishes between the personal and political use of the term. If I were to name some identity (“Californian”) to describe my experience of my own views, that would be interesting only in terms of empathy. You might be interested as a fellow Californian; who knows, maybe the Monterey Peninsula experience is different enough from the Bay Area to make us go “H’m,” before continuing whatever conversation we were having. But in that case, I wouldn’t be using it as a source of authority or of special insight – after all, everyone was raised somewhere.

      Whereas given my age, I might curl my lips in at the mention of Ronald Reagan, glare, and say in a tight voice, “Listen, we Californians knew all about Ronald Reagan decades before the rest of you, and you can’t pull that ‘hero of the Cold War’ crap on me. The man was a master of milking hate and fear.” This time, I’m using my geographic identity as a source of privileged political knowledge, specifically as a privilege over the other person.

      In a recent exchange at Shalom Rav, I called someone out on her ploy to do this:

      It doesn’t have to be a negative thing, though. During our protest of the Mavi Marmara attack, one participant said (paraphrase from memory), “I’m also here today as a Jew, to say I am enraged that for a century these hooligans have insulted Judaism with their crimes.” This was uncharacteristic of him – a very secular guy – and I’m pretty sure a lot of the people there didn’t know he was Jewish until that moment. That was a political use of the identity as well, and a thought-provoking one. It wasn’t a claim to authority over the audience at all.

      I’m not surprised the dialogues about this distinction are going ’round and ’round. If people aren’t careful about which use they’re talking about, the discussion would certainly turn strange. If I’m understanding your post correctly, it’s possible that you’ve been seeing it mainly in the personal way, as a description of one’s own motivating ideas, without a transitive use. But someone else might hear statement differently, inferring the political and rhetorical use, or someone else might be defending such a use and incorrectly think that your statement supported their position.

      Well, I have no idea if any of that helped or made sense. Let me know.

    • American on May 17, 2013, 11:26 am

      ‘I really want to understand all of this more. There has been a lot of discussion and argument in some groups I’m in around these issues and I really feel like I’m missing something. So someone please reply.”……maggielorraine

      There is no problem in people speaking on their religious based values or identity……except if it’s ‘overemphasized ‘ ….or presented as unique or special –then it tends to separate them from other people’s values and give the impression they think theirs are better or they have values other people don’t.

      Another point… say….”I personally feel a “special connection” to combating pinkwashing as a gay woman, knowing that that connection is completely artificial and a result of the pinkwashing narrative itself. But since the San Francisco LGBT community is the target of many pinkwashing activities by the Israeli government and Zionist groups, being an active voice of dissent *as a member of that community* is very important.”

      I’m not gay but I am for gays rights to the same civil marriage benefits as straights. Since I ‘m not gay and have nothing personally to gain from supporting this and just consider it a matter of basic human rights equality, my voice is actually more credible than yours because you stand to personally benefit from your position and I don’t.

      This is one difference between speaking as ‘certain identity, religious or whatever, and taking a position on what should be universal values, not attached to any particular identity.

  5. Les on May 16, 2013, 6:39 pm

    “Exchanging a focus on justice for a focus on Judaism” sums up the problem.

  6. Keith on May 16, 2013, 6:53 pm

    “…and Jewish Supremacy in U.S. Palestine Solidarity Organizing.”

    Interesting phraseology. Is Jewish tribalism so strong that Jews are incapable of relating to non-Jews in anything other than a position of power? Is Jewish “tikkun olam” a useful camouflage to hide Jewish power-seeking? Is the Jewish collective capable of seeing beyond itself?

    • annie on May 16, 2013, 7:28 pm

      Is Jewish tribalism so strong that Jews are incapable of relating to non-Jews in anything other than a position of power?

      Interesting phraseology. what made you ask a question about an assertion not even made in the article.

      Is the Jewish collective capable of seeing beyond itself?

      and what jewish collective might that be? specifically. can you link to them?

  7. yourstruly on May 16, 2013, 10:45 pm

    Zionists claim that Israel speaks for all Jews.

    That claim turns many Jews & non-Jews into closet pro-Palestinians, unwilling to speak out lest they be falsely labeled anti-Jewish and suffer the consequences, thereof.

    Jews speaking for justice in Palestine & against Israel enable closet pro-Palestinians to come out.

    The more people who come out, the more powerful the justice for Palestine movement.

    The stronger said movement, the sooner justice for Palestine.

    Same goes for self-identifying Christians, atheists (name it) who come out.

    Yes, Palestinians should lead but right now they’re the subject of an official inquisition, so they’re not too eager to be in the spotlight. What will bring them out to the max is our taking on the inquisitors and demanding that the civil and human rights of Arab/Muslim-Americans be respected.

  8. seafoid on May 17, 2013, 1:24 am

    I think the lesson of Israel is that the Jews are the same as the goys when it comes to how to behave . And that fantasies about building Jerusalem , whether in England’s green and pleasant land or in E1, are for the most part deluded. As humans we find it very hard to avoid shafting people if the system makes it possible. A lot of religious comforting about progress and goodness is missing modern insights into how the human brain works. Nobody is sacred unless we all are. And history never ends.

  9. Shmuel on May 17, 2013, 3:04 am

    These pieces are part of an ongoing conversation in activist spaces about “Jews identifying as Jews”. We published Elisha Baskin and Donna Nevel on this issue recently.

    Phil’s interview with Ben Ehrenreich is also worth mentioning — particularly the final question and answer:

    Q. Last question, Ben. Let’s talk about the Jewish narrator. In 2006 the Times published a very important essay by Tony Judt in support of Walt and Mearsheimer’s LRB piece on the Israel lobby, and Judt later said that they asked him to insert in there, I’m Jewish. Judt told the story because he knew that Jews were privileged, and that the Times needed to send this signal to its readers. As the NYRB does by publishing David Shulman when it’s critical of Israel, as the New Yorker does when David Remnick is the authority. As Mondoweiss does by stating, we’re a progressive Jewish site at root. As JVP does. It’s a racket, we’re all in on it, and my question is, When do Palestinians get to hold the microphone. Aren’t you and I to blame too? Because if they were holding the microphone, a basic human rights issue like the right to resist that is so core to your piece would have been noncontroversial many many years ago. As it is, Americans have to warm up to the idea, and a Jew has to bring them this news. Comment?

    I’m glad you asked that question, and yeah, it’s super-problematic. It’s a specific instance of a bigger problem, that black and brown people’s stories can generally only be told in this society via the authority of a white narrator, that we–white people, in this case of Jewish ancestry–are tasked with the representation of black and brown and in this case Palestinian people, who in this dynamic are stuck in the passive role of being represented and are not allowed to interpret their own realities. So certainly we are complicit, and I don’t see any way out of that complicity except to use what privilege I have to tell stories that tear holes in the broader narratives which allow this arrangement to continue. And to do so with scrupulous attention to my own role in it, to the power differentials at play. This means, in other words, using the platform that I am unjustly rewarded with in order to step back and allow other people, who are systematically deprived of any platform, to speak. I think this is in the end what made so many people so angry about my Nabi Saleh article, that I attempted to give the people there an opportunity to speak without stepping in and interpreting for them and putting them in any of the usual boxes (militant, terrorist, Islamist, whatever) that function to silence and delegitimize them. That was a brand of treason, which I was happy to perform.

  10. notatall on May 17, 2013, 4:17 am

    Thank you, Heike. The notion of “secular Jew” makes no sense to me, but if some people think it describes them I suppose that is their business. If people want to debate what constitutes “Jewish values,” again, that is their business; I much prefer to talk about right and wrong. Lastly, democracy demands the abolition of the Jew as a political category, both in Palestine and within the Palestine Solidarity movement. How about Human Voice for Peace and People Against Zionism?

  11. Talkback on May 17, 2013, 10:05 am

    Sorry, WE should really focus on helping you, but it is more important TO US to focus on what motivates US to help you. And it simply doesn’t help you if WE follow OUR values to help you. I mean how could WE help you, if helping US helps you? And how could WE ever empathise with you, if what are going through remind US of what WE went through?

    So you see OUR dilemma? Before we don’t help US, there’s not way of helping you. Because it’s not about US, but about helping you!

    (BTW. You know, who WE mean by “US”. WE don’t want to say the “J-“word, because that fortifies Zionism because of an unexplained short-circuit.)

  12. American on May 17, 2013, 12:12 pm

    I agree with Heike about how the Jewish identity thing sucks too much air out of I/P objectives.
    But I dont know how you would unscrew it.
    Should Jews quit making it jewish,jewish,jewish…yes.
    But then, should Jews feel or should they have some special obligation on I/P because of the Jewish State…yes, since it is in their name.
    So I dont see how the two are going to be separated…it goes together like a horse and buggy.

    At this point I dont think it matters either.
    Non Jews in this waste as much energy complaining about Jews like the lib zionist trying to keep non Jewish voices quiet and out of US Isr policy as anti zionist Jews waste on protecting the Jewish value-identity thing.
    If non Jews spent half the time they spend on discussing things Jewish and examining it’s innards, on raising hell with their politicans on US-Isr-I/P instead it would be a better use of our time.

  13. yourstruly on May 17, 2013, 1:27 pm

    Thirty years ago Palestinians not only were speaking out but were in the forefront of their own liberation struggle. I know this because upon returning from Lebanon after the ’82 U.S.-backed Israeli invasion, it was Palestinians who invited me to speak at their rallies. Of course that was before 9/11, and Islamophobia and anti-Arabism were yet to take hold. Then, in the mid-eighties came the infamous FBI seizure of the LA Eight, which definitely had a cooling effect on Palestinian activism. What remained of said activism was further diminished by the post-9/11 attack on civil liberties. So to attribute all or even most of the decline in Palestinian visibility in the struggle here in America to non-Palestinians seizing the microphone, seems to me to be historically incomplete. Sometimes when the going gets tough for oppressed people and they’re unable or unwilling to step forward, it may help their cause for surrogates to enter the fray. Certainly that’s the case now for the Guantanamo prisoners and, come to think of it, for the two million others incarcerated here in the USA.

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