“We unequivocally oppose Zionism because it is counter” to “our vision of justice, equality and freedom for all people.” –From “Our Approach to Zionism,” by Jewish Voice for Peace.
For 22 years since its founding, Jewish Voice for Peace declined to take a position on Zionism, not wanting to cut itself off from virtually all of the American Jewish Community. Beginning in 2014, after Israel’s horrific Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, JVP began a nation-wide discussion that recently culminated in a statement rejecting the ideology that has produced a nation-state that not only privileges Jews over all other residents, but systematically discriminates against and oppresses Palestinians inside the Green Line and in the Occupied Territories.
“Palestinian dispossession and occupation are by design. Zionism has meant profound trauma for generations, systematically separating Palestinians from their homes, land, and each other. Zionism, in practice, has resulted in massacres of Palestinian people, ancient villages and olive groves destroyed, families who live just a mile away from each other separated by checkpoints and walls, and children holding onto the keys of the homes from which their grandparents were forcibly exiled.”
JVP also emphasizes Zionism’s harmful effects on Jews:
“Many of us have learned from Zionism to treat our neighbors with suspicion, to forget the ways Jews built home and community wherever we found ourselves to be. Jewish people have had long and integrated histories in the Arab world and North Africa, living among and sharing community, language and custom with Muslims and Christians for thousands of years.
“By creating a racist hierarchy with European Jews at the top, Zionism erased those histories and destroyed those communities and relationships. In Israel, Jewish people of color – from the Arab world, North Africa, and East Africa – have long been subjected to systemic discrimination and violence by the Israeli government. That hierarchy … prevents us from seeing each other – fellow Jews and other fellow human beings – in our full humanity.”
Finally, JVP notes that Zionist interpretations of history have influenced Jews to think of ourselves as alone, perpetually under attack, fearful and untrusting of others, and instead to put our faith in “a bigger gun, a taller wall, and a more humiliating checkpoint.” It concludes:
“[W]e choose a different path. We learn from the anti-Zionist Jews who came before us, and know that as long as Zionism has existed, so has Jewish dissent to it. Especially as we face the violent anti-Semitism fueled by white nationalism in the United States today, we choose solidarity. We choose collective liberation. We choose a future where everyone, including Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, can live their lives freely in vibrant, safe, equitable communities, with basic human needs fulfilled. Join us.”
As a JVP member since the 2014 Gaza operation, I am very proud of this Statement. It mitigates, at least to some extent, our Jewish shame in dispossessing Palestinians of their homes, land and villages; in our crimes of continued occupation and control in the West Bank and Gaza; in our confinement of millions of the other indigenous people of Palestine in refugee camps, and in the other myriad humiliations we have imposed on Palestinians for more than half a century. It helps restore in my Jewish heart and soul a modicum of pride, knowing that a small but growing cohort of Jewish people of all ages, colors, genders and sexual orientation have chosen to honor the moral, ethical and religious values that make us “Jewish” at our core, and for which we were “chosen”, and stood for, before we discovered the corrupting seductions of power and the “bigger gun.”
This rejection of Jewish ethno-nationalism comes at an opportune time, when nationalisms of all stripes are making it more difficult for us to come together as a global community to address existential threats like climate change and control of weapons of mass destruction. A resurgence of American nationalism – MAGA and America First – has caused the United States (1) to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and the landmark global coalition working to curb emissions that are indisputably heating the planet, (2) to pull out of the Iran Deal that promised to keep nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands, and (3) to threaten to pull out of NATO, an alliance which has helped avert war in Europe for the last 73 years.
Even those treaties and alliances, however, are woefully insufficient tools to bring the global community together to solve our global challenges. We lack a global political system equal to that task. Creating one will require us to rapidly increase the pace at which we recognize that we are, at our core, one people, united not just in DNA, but in our hopes, dreams, aspirations for us and for our progeny, “to live our lives freely in vibrant, safe, equitable communities, with basic human needs fulfilled.”
Zionism, and every other ethno-nationalism that keeps human beings in separate silos, can only help dash those aspirations. JVP’s rejection of Zionism is implicit recognition that the time for us to come together, to unify ourselves politically as one human race, is now, before it is too late.