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Jewish allies cannot dismantle Israel’s racism by benefiting from it

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Can leftist Jews really be part of the struggle for justice for Palestinians—a justice that hinges on an end to the violation of our basic human rights, including the Right of Return of refugees—by making Aliyah to the country that privileges them, simply because they are Jewish?  In her groundbreaking essay, which remains relevant decades after she first wrote it, as an address to white liberal feminists, Audre Lorde asserted that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

Yet a handful of American Jews—and in all likelihood Jews in other countries, even though I am not aware of specific cases—persist in their endeavor to somehow dismantle Israel’s formative racism by benefitting from it.  The latest case that made the news is that of Julie Weinberg Connors who, upon being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport last year over her anti-occupation activism, initiated the process to become Israeli, so as to avoid such hassles in the future.  Weinberg Connors, who is originally from Boston, had moved all possessions to Israel over a year ago, and initiated the process of making Aliyah after being interrogated at the airport. “Part of my decision was based on concerns about my ability to stay here without deportation, and that exact fear was confirmed so I feel it’s even more important now,” she told Haaretz in an interview one month before she was approved for Israeli citizenship. “It also reinvigorated my commitment to pursuing a life of justice and understanding.”

The case of Weinberg Connors, who claim that she is motivated by “justice and understanding,” rather than Zionism, rekindled a conversation between pro-Palestine activists that many of us have been having for years, as we keep hearing of supposed “allies” who persist in making the most of  their privileged status, even as Israel’s denial of the basic rights of the Palestinian people takes on ever more egregious forms: the weekly attacks on refugees on Gaza marching for return and an end to the siege, the demolitions of private residences and businesses in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, settlement expansion, and the recent official enshrinement of apartheid, with its further disenfranchisement of Palestinians in 1948 Israel.  When the entire Israeli state structure hinges on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, how does a supposed leftist ally justify joining that state as one of its privileged members? How does one reconcile a commitment to justice and understanding, with availing oneself of benefits denied those whose plight one allegedly supports? How does one presume to go about dismantling the master’s house, from within, when one is only allowed into that house based on privilege?

Earlier this year, another Jewish-American leftist activist, Code Pink organizer Ariel Gold, had also declared she would consider making Aliyah when she was denied entry into Israel.  At the time, I wrote an OpEd critical of that decision (which, to the best of my knowledge, Gold has not followed through on), and Gold’s utterly disingenuous response completely ignored the fact that I was not calling her out on her activism, but on the purpose of her visit: enrolling at Hebrew University for a summer course in Jewish Studies. I specifically mentioned that in so doing, she was crossing a picket line, violating the guidelines of the BDS movement, for self-enrichment. Such cavalier use of one’s privilege is particularly painful to Palestinians who are denied entry to participate in a conference, visit with relatives, or even attend a parent’s funeral.  Additionally, Gold’s love of an Israel that hovers above its ugly reality, untainted by its horrific crimes and human rights violations, reveals her willingness to benefit from Zionism. “The land of Israel and Palestine is incredibly meaningful and sacred to me. It’s hard to believe I might not be allowed into a place that is so important to me,” Gold wrote, thus acknowledging, albeit without intending to, that her motivation is self-centered, rooted in Zionism, rather than altruistic, an impulse to act in solidarity with the oppressed, whatever the cost.  And her claim, in an OpEd where she directly addresses my criticism, that “activists on the ground in Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nabi Saleh are clear that they appreciate and want international activists to visit and join in protesting, filming, and building joint campaigns,” totally fails to take into consideration that I, like most Palestinians, am not critical of Americans “visiting” and joining in protests, but of Jewish Americans making Aliyah.

Like the privileged white feminists Audre Lorde, a black lesbian feminist, was taking to task, Jewish American “leftists” who avail themselves of their privilege for self-serving purposes are reluctant to genuinely engage with the Palestinians they claim to support.  They may, and most do, pay lip service to the oppression of the Palestinian people in the homeland and the global Diaspora, but they continue to center their own “inconvenience,” even when they do not acknowledge that. They can be critical of Israeli actions, while holding on to the idea that Israel is not a country for its citizens, but for all Jews, wherever they may be.  Why else would US citizen from Boston feel she should be welcome with arms open, and no questions asked, as if she were merely entering her own country, upon arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport? And they selectively focus on what serves their desires: “Palestinians want Americans to join in protests,” while ignoring what would hinder their satisfaction: “but don’t cross a picket line, don’t enroll at Hebrew University, and don’t make Aliyah.”

Indeed, as Palestinians continue to be considered a “demographic threat,” and with Israel deploring the fact that it is no longer attractive to young Jews globally, making Aliyah sends the wrong message.  Where will the new Israelis live? What example are they setting? Do they grasp that their tax money will be used even more directly to shore up an unjust system? Will they have children who would not even question their belonging, because Israel is where they were born, the country their parents loved enough to immigrate to?  And will they, having made Aliyah, have any grounds for challenging the racist Law of Return?

Circling back to Lorde’s essay, she asks:  “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”  Similarly, Jewish Americans leftists should understand that making Aliyah–availing themselves of the tools of a racist system—cannot bring about the necessary change: justice for all. Because the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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6 Responses

  1. annie on December 4, 2018, 5:11 pm

    we’re either in a palestinian led movement, or we’re not. i utterly fail to see how taking advantage of a zionist policy that privileges only jewish people does anything other than strengthen that same policy.

    ok, a road block has been put in our way as activists who support palestinian rights, but still nothing as draconian as palestinians have to live with, or go through to visit. but taking advantage of ones jewishness to find a way around that road block, means one is choosing to be in a privileged position (mobility, access) within the activist community. that just seems wrong.

    making aliyah is precisely what the government wants them to do. not that different than joining an army to be a “good” soldier and help from within. i find it mindboggling and just plain wrong.

    • Keith on December 4, 2018, 6:13 pm

      ANNIE- “we’re either in a palestinian led movement, or we’re not.”


  2. eljay on December 4, 2018, 7:46 pm

    I don’t see a problem with “making aliyah” if the point of doing so is:
    – to become an “insider” (thereby circumventing obstacles presented to an “outsider”); and,
    – to secure the privileges bestowed upon the supremacist class of the supremacist state; not for personal gain but in order,
    – to fight (ideally and hopefully more effectively) for justice, accountability, equality and respect for human rights for everyone in I-P.

    • Stephen Shenfield on December 4, 2018, 9:57 pm

      That might be the initial intention in some cases, but how is it likely to work out in practice? Does it mean serving in the IDF? Let’s have some accounts by people who have tried to do this.

      • eljay on December 5, 2018, 7:39 am

        || Stephen Shenfield: That might be the initial intention in some cases, but how is it likely to work out in practice? … ||

        I agree that intentions differ from actions. My point (more or less) was: If the intentions are good but the actions differ / stray from them, criticize the actions (and the actor) but not the good intentions.

        || … Let’s have some accounts by people who have tried to do this. ||

        I agree. It would be good to know how well – or how poorly – this tactic works.

  3. Misterioso on December 5, 2018, 10:52 am

    Wise words from Miko Peled:

    “From the River to the Sea” The Inevitable End of Settler Colonialism in Palestine” By Miko Peled, MintPress news, Dec. 4/18

    JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — “The call ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be Free’ brings out the worst in the Zionist spokespersons. From CNN and Fox News to the various Zionist trolls and spokespersons around the world: ‘Aha!’ they say, ‘The true face of these anti-Semites has been exposed.’ Panic seems to strike as they assert that this is ‘a call for genocide of the Jews.’ But the assumption that a free Palestine calls for the expulsion or killing of Jews is one that is made mostly by Zionists who can see Palestine only as a place where one side rules over and kills the other, but never where all people live in peace. Furthermore, it has become basic strategy to always cry ‘anti-Semitism’ when the Zionist narrative is challenged.

    “Where should the Jews go?
    “After a lecture I gave at University College of London alongside Dr. Azzam Tamimi, where I discussed the merits of the One State from the River to the Sea, I was asked by a Jewish student, ‘Where should the Jews go?’ My reply was, ‘Why do you want them to go?’ That was a reaction similar, though far less loud, to the reactions to Marc Lamont Hill’s speech at the United Nations, and both are indicative of the same thinking: a free Palestine means death to the Jews. However, the vision of a free Palestine (from the River to the Sea, where else?) is one of a country in which all people live free as equal citizens under the law. If anyone who lives there now does not want to live in a state in which all people are governed by the same laws, then perhaps that will not be the place for them.

    “Where else?
    “If Palestine is not from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea than where is it? Even if there was once an argument in support of the Two State Solution — or, in other words, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital — Israel killed it. For over fifty years, or since the war of June 1967, consecutive Israeli governments had made it clear through statements and creation of facts on the ground that the entire country is Israel and belongs to Jews and is for Jews to settle. No part of the country has been spared the spread of Zionist settler colonialism, violence and restrictions.

    “Israel turned the Gaza Strip into a concentration camp. Its residents, through actions of the State of Israel and no fault of their own, are mostly homeless refugees with soaring levels of poverty and unemployment. Clearly, the Gaza Strip in its present condition is not fit to be part of any state, and the first condition in any agreement must be the lifting of the siege, rebuilding, and rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants.

    “The West Bank no longer exists. It is now called Judea and Samaria and — like the Naqab, Al-Jaleel, and most other parts of Palestine — it is littered with settler colonies built at the expense of Palestinians and in violation of Palestinian rights. The areas in which Palestinians still reside are in fact small prisons with economic and political limitations that make life practically impossible. Travel for Palestinians between different parts of what used to be the West Bank is restricted at best and is at times impossible — and this includes even the so-called president of the Palestinian Authority, who requires a permit from Israel in order to travel within the areas in which he has authority.

    “East Jerusalem, like its Western half, has been ravaged by settler colonialism to a point where in some areas Jerusalem has become unrecognizable. Unlike in West Jerusalem, where the ethnic cleansing was absolute and not a single Palestinian family remains, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem has not yet been completely successful. However, towns and villages like Bir-Nabala, Qalandia, A-Ram, and others — areas that are adjacent to the city and that were once flourishing business and residential districts — are now ghost towns as a result of the Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign.

    “Calling out Israel
    “The arguments in favor of a partition of Palestine and the creation of two states have always been weak and impractical. This was particularly true after 1948 when Israel was established on 78 percent of Palestine and Zionist settler colonialism was internationally legitimized and accepted. However, the final nail in the coffin of the partition idea was hammered in by the Zionists themselves after 1967 when the remaining 22 percent of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, was taken by Israel.

    “The building of settlements, destructions of towns, villages and neighborhoods was immediate and it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that this conquest was irreversible. The discussion on a Two State Solution at that point only allowed Israel to build new, Jewish only settler-colonies in the newly conquered lands, claiming that if one day there will be a peace agreement they will consider removing them.

    “Palestine never ceased to exist from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and even the renaming of the country as ‘Israel’ has not changed that. At the same time, the discussions of partition and a Two State Solution did not slow down the seven-decade-long Zionist rape and pillaging of the country. So today, when discussing a free Palestine, as Dr. Marc Lamont Hill did, one has no choice but to mention all of Palestine, from the River the Sea, and yet Dr. Hill still received a barrage of criticism from all directions.

    “How it will end?
    “The question as to how the Zionist regime and settler colonialism will be brought to an end is an important one to discuss. The clearest and most practical vision to date seems to be that, as in South Africa, the Zionist state will have no choice but to capitulate. This will happen largely as a result of the success of the BDS campaign, political isolation, and on-the-ground Palestinian resistance. Every Israeli prime minister, from this moment on, must know that he or she is likely, like De Klerk in Apartheid South Africa, to announce the end of the apartheid regime in Palestine, unconditionally release the Palestinian prisoners, and call for one-person-one-vote elections. This will lead to the creation of a legislature and a government that represents all people who live between the River to the Sea.”

    Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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