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This Jew can’t support Israel

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Ellen Davidson holding a sign at a a vigil for Palestinian rights. (Photo: Carl Strock/The Indypendent)

Ellen Davidson holding a sign at a a vigil for Palestinian rights. (Photo: Carl Strock/The Indypendent)

This article originally appeared in The Indypendent, an award-winning New York City-based free newspaper and online news site.

Growing up in my Jewish family, it was a given that Jews supported civil rights, opposed the Vietnam War and believed in education, science and progress. This didn’t make it easy to be a teenager in a small working-class town in central Pennsylvania, an area not known for either diversity or liberal views at the time. Israel was a distant place where survivors of the brutal European Holocaust struggled to live in peace, occasionally beset by terrorists and attacking armies from the surrounding countries.

When I went to college, naturally, I became active in the late-1970s campus movement for divestment from South Africa. Somewhere along the line, I realized that Israel was the only country in the world that violated the international arms embargo on the apartheid state, and that Israel was on the wrong side of all the struggles for freedom and national liberation I supported, that it backed dictatorships in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and elsewhere.

The more I learned about Israel, the more I realized that what I had been taught growing up was a lie. But I also discovered that, even in the progressive movements in the 1980s, the issue was contentious. I spent my twenties working at the Guardian radical newsweekly, a paper that staunchly supported Palestinian rights; periodically we would lose a significant segment of our readership due to our alleged “anti-Semitism,” and we would receive occasional bomb threats from the Jewish Defense League, a nasty organization whose members would physically attack participants in pro-Palestine demonstrations.

This kneejerk labeling of critics of Israel as “anti-Semitic” (or in my case, a “self-hating Jew”) made me even more firm in my conviction that it was the special obligation of U.S. Jews to stand against racism in Israel. As more of us demanded equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine, it became harder to smear supporters of Palestine as “anti-Semitic.” The needle on this debate has moved considerably since the 1980s, when just to say the word “Palestinian” was considered inflammatory, even in some left circles.

These days, as Israelis rampage through the streets of Jerusalem calling for killing all Arabs and Gaza is once again bombarded in a storm of collective punishment, the racist underpinnings of the Jewish state become harder to ignore. This is drawing larger numbers of people into pro-Palestinian protests on the streets of this country.

Indeed, at a July 13 vigil I attended in Woodstock, New York, there were many faces I had never seen before. But not everything has changed. A hostile group of tourists walked by and began berating us for our stance. “You should try talking to some Jews,” said one man. “We are Jews,” two of us answered simultaneously. “Then you’re fucked up,” he snapped.

In the past decade, I have made a point of traveling to Israel/Palestine, so that I can both show my solidarity in person and bring back firsthand accounts of the conditions in the occupied territories and within the formal borders of Israel. I have never encountered anything but warm welcome from the Palestinians I encountered.

When I return, every time I speak as a Jew of personally seeing demolished Palestinian houses, military checkpoints, the concrete wall separating communities from their farmland, the overcrowded refugee camps built as temporary solutions 60 years ago, I like to think that it widens the crack that has been opening up in the U.S. Jewish community, leaving just a little more space for honest discussion of what is being done in our name.

Ellen Davidson

Ellen Davidson is an activist reporter and photographer. She began her work in journalism on the staff of the New York Guardian radical newsweekly at the age of 19 after being active in the anti-apartheid divestment and Latin/Central America support movements in college. She is on the board of The Indypendent, a New York City-based award-winning newspaper.

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13 Responses

  1. amigo on July 20, 2014, 11:10 am

    Ellen Davidson, God bless you and keep you safe.Do not give in.

    Yesterday in Dublin some 5000 people who support Human Rights and peace made their voices heard as did hundreds of thousands of others around the world.

    They shouted, ” Free , Free Palestine.

    And ,

    We are all “Palestinians”.

    A thought,

    To quote JFK !.

    Ich bin auch eine “Palestinian”.(slightly edited).

  2. seafoid on July 20, 2014, 12:29 pm

    American jews may support civil rights, oppose war and believe in education, science and progress but Sabras don’t. They believe in victimhood, revenge, the land, racial superiority and the end of history. And education is for losers says Yossi.

  3. Citizen on July 20, 2014, 1:02 pm

    @ seafoid

    Problem is that many American Jews who believe in all you say, have a brain fart when their ethical principles and morals are applied to Israeli conduct and principles.

    • tree on July 21, 2014, 1:51 am

      Meanwhile, Ali Abunimah linked to Peter Beinart on Facebook: (with the comment, “Peter Beinart looks into the abyss and sees a yellowed photograph of himself looking back…”

      What frightens me about the organized American Jewish community at times like this is not that our leaders are hawks. A genuine, self-reflective hawk would have a higher threshold for Israeli military action than me, but would have some independent criteria for when the moral and strategic cost of continuing the war grew too high. The Shin Bet leaders interviewed in the Gatekeepers are hawks of this sort. They were willing to take very tough actions to protect Israel but also capable of recognizing when such actions became self-defeating. What frightens me about the organized American Jewish community is that it has no independent standard at all. Whatever the Israeli government does is, by definition, moral. Whatever the Palestinians do is, by definition, immoral. It’s an utter abdication of one’s own faculties–and completely contrary to the way American Jewish leaders act toward their own government. When Avigdor Lieberman, a man who wants to exile many Palestinian citizens of Israel from the country, became foreign minister, they shrugged. When Bibi renounced the two state solution, they said nothing. The more ghastly the photos from Gaza become, the more adamantly they insist that Israel bears no responsibility for them. Can anyone say, with confidence, that there is any action the Israeli government could take that American Jewish leaders would not seek to justify? I can’t, and that terrifies me.

  4. ahhiyawa on July 20, 2014, 2:42 pm

    This is how the end begins, at the sinews of civil society that’s the engine and driver of the evolution of governance & policies in western societies. This is not happening for Palestinians as rapidly as some would prefer, but neither had the liberation of other oppressed peoples been achieved in a day.

    No oppressor state can survive without the patronage of a great power, and the US has supported many tyrannical states only to see that support diminish and many of them fall. Marcos/Philippines, Shah/Iran, Afrikaner/S. Africa, Somoza/Nicaragua and many others.

    Israelis and Zionists proclaim the world is against them, but that’s a self fulfilling prophecy due exclusively to their own arrogance and aggressions. The fanatical justifications for today’s mass murders is strengthening and expanding BDS and the movement for justice for Palestinians that Ellen Davidson and other activists champion in the “Vineyards of liberty” of the grand American Experiment. Israel cannot win that debate.

  5. oldgeezer on July 21, 2014, 1:22 am

    Well said. Very well said.

    “… it was a given that …”

    Yes. That’s what makes this whole situation so surreal at times.

  6. Nevada Ned on July 21, 2014, 5:40 am

    Ellen Davidson, thank you very much for your poignant article.

    All of us have a moral obligation to oppose the Israel/US oppression of the Palestinians.
    But Jewish voices that are critical of Israel are especially valuable.

  7. jim.galindo on July 21, 2014, 6:59 am

    Just read an opinion from the American Conservative on sympathies in the US towards Israel. A pretty nice break down of how Israeli sympathy sits in the US and a sound observation about the phrasing of the question. Its interesting the divide amongst the public while congress is unanimous in how it votes on voicing support for Israel. You would think representation would be the same.

  8. wes on July 21, 2014, 8:37 am


    The jewish people have come to the crucial point in our history.
    the all or nothing.
    israel and judaism are one.there is no cannot be a jew and not support israel.
    millions of jews have died for judaism,are we to let this continue,century after century.when will we say no more.
    well there are those jews who have said no more.
    Ellen you have stood up for all the other oppressed but not yourself.

    • CloakAndDagger on July 21, 2014, 10:10 am


      you cannot be a jew and not support israel

      So the jews on MW are not jews. Good to know. That fact must have been missed in the translation of the Torah.

    • Talkback on July 21, 2014, 10:12 am

      you cannot be a jew and not support israel.

      That’s antisemitic.

    • lysias on July 21, 2014, 10:30 am

      The jewish people have come to the crucial point in our history.
      the all or nothing.

      Hitler had a phrase for that: “das harte Entweder Oder”. You seem to be thinking along the same lines.

      israel and judaism are one.there is no cannot be a jew and not support israel.

      From that, it would follow that Jews have a moral duty to renounce Judaism. Do you really want to say that?

  9. eljay on July 21, 2014, 9:03 am

    >> israel and judaism are one.there is no cannot be a jew and not support israel.

    1. Which governing body of Judaism has made the determination that there is no separation between Israel and Judaism?
    2. Why is there no separation between your sentences?
    3. Why and according to whom can a Jew be a Jew only if s/he supports Israel?

    >> millions of jews have died for judaism,are we to let this continue,century after century.when will we say no more.

    1. Millions of people have died for many reasons.
    2. The entire world has said “no more”.
    3. Why do you hate question marks?
    4. The answer to injustice against all people – including Jews – is justice and accountability. The answer is never the creation of an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist state.

    >> Ellen you have stood up for all the other oppressed but not yourself.

    She is standing up against people like you who suggest she can only be a Jew by supporting Israel. You are her oppressor.

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