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Why I single out Israel

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At least a couple times a week ever since I became involved with Palestinian solidarity activism, I have been asked: of all the disagreeable governments in the world, why do I and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement single out Israel for such harsh criticism? This is not only the most common anti-BDS argument, but one that has been used to counter movements for human rights in countless contexts, serving as the last defense when the movement’s complaints cannot be denied and they must instead be minimized.

Yet despite the frequency with which it is utilized, I actually find it to be one of the least difficult arguments to address.

For me, singling out Israel is hardly a choice. Although I am far from being a victim of its crimes, Israel has always held a centrality in my life that no other country has. In Hebrew school as a kid, I went from building Kibbutzes out of sugar cubes at 7 to army crawling in the playground as a part of a mock-Israeli Defense Forces training at 11. At 12, I went with my family on a Jewish Federation-led tour of Israel that struck me as such a dutiful, common occurrence among my upper-middle class Jewish community that I didn’t even consider it a vacation.  Living in a politically engaged family and community, arguments about foreign affairs at social and family events have always been a big part of my life, but no country is praised, derided, and argued about as much as Israel.

So when I began to grow into myself as a politically-oriented young adult and interrogate the mainstream liberal Zionist narrative that had been chosen for me as a progressive American Jew, the contradictions I found were not just disturbing, but life-changing. And as I searched for ways to leverage my privilege to help the less fortunate, I found BDS, a movement initiated and led by Palestinians. For them, there is no question of singling out Israel: they did not ask for their lives to be controlled by the Israeli military, nor did they ask for their parents and grandparents to suffer the wrath of a Zionist settler-colonial force in their land.  Their struggle is life and death, and when they call for an international boycott of Israel they do so with the belief that their liberation can be achieved non-violently.

Gradually, I realized that the country I had been raised to consider my own was in no way that.  I realized, too, that there was no way to opt out of my connection with this country, for even if I never traveled to Israel again, a spot was being reserved for me, no questions asked, in this country that has designated itself the true home of the Jews. At this point, Israel didn’t suddenly enter my life as my foremost concern, my way of interacting with it simply changed, and I had new perspectives to offer in the arguments that were already taking place.

I do not single out Israel any more than the rest of the American Jewish community. But because I do so in a radically different way– holding the Jewish state to the standards of universal human rights rather than defending its repeated, grievous errors– I stand out as obsessed. The people who say that I am singling out Israel are the same ones that lobby our government to continue to provide an exceptional amount of military aid to Israel. They are the same ones who literally worship the Israeli flag that hangs on the Bima of their synagogue. When Zionists work so hard to center Israel in the Jewish community and shower it with praise, can they blame me for using just as much energy to hold it responsible for its crimes?

I would never deny that I single out Israel- I am a progressive and an activist for many causes, but my energy at this time in my life is devoted to the Palestinian struggle. And through my Palestine work I have come into contact with so many people singling out other things and places, like police, prisons, systematic racism, the US government, and North Korea. These people are ready to help, and need my help in their projects, but none of our work could be done if we did not have our tireless focus on our respective issues. Indeed, no deeply ingrained systematic injustice such as Israel’s occupation and continued colonization of Palestinian land can ever be countered without a group of activists’ near-obsessive pursuit of justice. Which is why, as an American Jew, I am proud to say that I single out Israel.




About Noah Mlyn

Noah Mlyn is a Brown University sophomore who was a 2016 summer fellow for Jewish Voice for Peace

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18 Responses

  1. Ossinev
    September 14, 2016, 2:07 pm

    A cogent and powerful piece which as the author knows will of course be dismissed as typical self loathing by the why only us (sob) Zionists in the US.

    He may like to listen to the comments of the “moderate” Amos Oz during a BBC Newsnight programme to get some idea of the scale of self delusion in the Zionist community which he is up against.

    Note that even Amos Oz effectively says that criticism of Zionism is equivalent to Anti-Semitism ( even he is inadvertently playing the”conflation card”). Note at the end of the interview he speaks about BDS and the comparison with Apartheid South Africa. He refers to “BDS” type actions as being the appropriate “prescription” for SA but that a different prescription is needed for Israel. I waited with baited breath for Kirsty Wark the interviewer to ask the blindingly obvious follow up question such as ” in that case what do think the appropriate prescription is ?”. No question of any kind – instead an abrupt end to the interview. Almost as if someone behind the camera had signalled to Wark some sort of “cut” gesture. Very weird – unless of course you believe in ZioBBC conspiracy theories.

    As for Amos Oz himself I have only read one of his books but the reading I have done about him suggests that he falls within that category of Israeli Jews who started out with genuine hopes and visions for “a Light unto the Nations” for his new state but has ended up deeply ashamed of what his state and what the majority of his fellow Israeli Jews have become.

    Sadly unlike Gideon Levy etc he can`t quite summon the courage to state the obvious.

  2. pabelmont
    September 14, 2016, 2:21 pm

    Great article. I like best the argument that American Zionists themselves “single out Israel” (for praise, social support, giving, political support, etc.) but object when you also single out Israel, this time for criticism, BDS activism, etc.

    Now if you were in no way a Jew (or a Palestinian), it would make less sense. But as a Jew raised in Zionism, it makes every sort of sense. The teachers, the dominant and dominating community wanted you be obsessed with Israel, and so you are.


    • Citizen
      September 15, 2016, 8:03 am

      A 3 second breaking news strip ran across the MSNBC News/Info channel screen yesterday evening, broadcasting US “$38 billion deal with Israel to be spent on US-made military arms.” No commentary. You don’t have to be an ethnic Jew or Palestinian to find this of news of great interest, if you have even a modest awareness of the history of the I-P conflict, and US government involvement in it, and, as Anne Coulter pointed out, in this election season, all candidates trumpet constantly their intense loyalty to Israel even though the Jewish community is 2% of US demography, and that the give-away is the biggest in US history, to a state the size of NJ, and that Israel has been biggest recipient of US foreign aid for decades now, and you have modest awareness of the roll of AIPAC and the neocons in our foreign policy with the geo-strategic Middle East. Similarly, given the origin of the 9/11 hijackers, and the fact all the Mossad arrested then, were quickly released back to Israel, the breaking news 9/11 survivors have been given the judicial green light to sue Saudi Clan….etc is also of great interest to any American interested in informed consent and justice.

  3. Blake
    September 14, 2016, 3:03 pm

    Well said. I shall link them to your piece every time I am asked the same in the future.

  4. hophmi
    September 14, 2016, 10:31 pm

    Lol. That’s not a “Jewish Center.”. That’s a Modern Orthodox day school.

    • echinococcus
      September 17, 2016, 11:41 am

      It is a school center, but not Jewish, Hoppmi?
      A Modern Greek Orthodox day school, perhaps?

  5. Crusty
    September 15, 2016, 8:48 am

    My other reason- As a citizen of the United States, a country which has a “special relationship” with Israel, it is incumbent upon me to single out Israel for the money that doesn’t go for education here, and the blood that my tax money buys over there.

  6. genesto
    September 15, 2016, 12:34 pm

    Excellent article and argument by Noah. My response to that tired old question of why I single out Israel is two-fold. First of all, as much as I’d like it not to be, it IS personal with me since I am of Arab descent and I see Zionism as a cancer to be wiped out not only for the sake of the Palestinians but for that of ALL Arabs and Muslims who have suffered due to Zionist-led attacks on our cultural and religious heritage. The second answer I have is that I, and my progressive friends, care about ALL human rights issues worldwide and choose our focuses based on our individual passions. However, I love Noah’s comeback question asking why the Zionists single out Israel over other nations. Of course, we all know the answer to that question. But it does serve as a powerful retort.

  7. Talkback
    September 15, 2016, 1:04 pm

    The reason why I single Israel out is because of the way its supporters treat me when I single it out.

  8. yourstruly
    September 15, 2016, 9:55 pm

    Does either major party presidential candidates realize that the first one to come out against this 38 billion giveaway to Israel wins in November? Especially so if she or he links her/his opposition to said giveaway to the redirection of the 38 billion dollars to life enhancing pursuits such as tuition free higher education. Come on candidates, there’s a presidency to be won; besides, you have nothing to lose except the hold that Israel-firsters have on you, and good riddance!

    • ritzl
      September 15, 2016, 11:45 pm

      Great point yourstruly. It sure seems like Trump is uniquely positioned to do just that, but for some reason he isn’t likely/won’t pull the trigger on it. It’s like he doesn’t actually want to win.

      But then Hillary could also win easily if she would just be honest about stuff, and especially if was sincere about wanting to stop the evisceration of the middle class. But she isn’t either.

      Weird election. Both candidates [knowingly] putting forth the worst possible positions/personae and asking for votes. Both going to great lengths to show/demonstrate the gaping chasm between the peopke they represent and the people they say they represent. I hope voters take note and vote third party and REALLY throw it all up in the air with about a 35% NEITHER vote.

      The signs of the proverbial system actually coming apart at the seams are there this time. One can only hope that something politically buildable happens in 2016.


  9. DaBakr
    September 15, 2016, 11:13 pm

    Another rich Jewish kid raised as progressive consumed with guilt. Congratulations. You may have answered the question for the very small community of like-minded Jews but you haven’t answered sht as for why the rest of the euro/muslim/arab blocks in the UN and the world have the same obsession you have

    • silamcuz
      September 17, 2016, 12:44 am

      The only group Israel seem to hate more than the Palestinians are justice-minded Jews like the good author who wrote this article.

  10. hammersmith
    September 16, 2016, 7:50 pm

    I “single out” Israel too, but for me it is because of the various bad actors among the nations/governments of the world, for none other is the U.S. as directly responsible. As an American and a taxpayer, I feel complicit.

  11. hammersmith
    September 16, 2016, 9:04 pm

    I believe it is unfortunate that anyone would fail to be respectful of Jewish individuals who have the humanity to see what is wrong in Israel and who have the courage to call out the errant nation.

  12. silamcuz
    September 17, 2016, 12:25 am

    Jewish people have the right to single out a fascist regime that has hijacked their faith and identity and using them to raise havoc and mischief for its own amusement. Jews are in control of their own narrative, and they will no longer stand idle to Israel’s continued bastardisation of the Jewish culture and religion.

    • annie
      September 17, 2016, 7:23 am

      Jewish people have the right to

      everyone has the right to the right to “single out a fascist regime”.

  13. echinococcus
    September 17, 2016, 11:50 am

    No need to “single out”. This is the only continuous invasion, a conquest in post-colonial times, the last colonial implant, the last bastion of Apartheid, the cause of the most significant international war focus, the most significant extension of US imperialism. It’s as absurd to question a “singling out” of the Zionist entity as it was for German-Italian nazifascism in the prewar.
    It might be seen as a singling out by those here who recognize any legitimacy to any Zionist presence in Palestine.

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