The Democratic convention held a panel on the “shared” struggle of Muslims and Jews last Thursday that observed the party’s red lines– Let’s not talk about Israel. It featured two liberal Zionists alongside two Muslims, and the subject of Palestinian human rights came up only fleetingly. The focus was the urgency of defeating Trump and of battling white nationalism, antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Rabbi Sharon Brous of Los Angeles warned that the Israel-Palestine issue could turn the Democratic Party into a “circular firing squad.”
Jews and Muslims can work together to end the Trump era’s ideology of systemic racism and bring in “a beautiful and just multiracial society,” Brous said. But Republicans are trying to drive the two communities apart.
“The next two months will be very ugly…. we have to be very careful not to be dragged into a shadow war that is brought about by those who are invested in dividing what is otherwise a deeply unified party that is working right now to end the scourge of this administration and of our time … we cannot hold this conversation on the terms of the people who benefit most when we turn on one another…
Asked to elaborate, Brous said that autocratic forces in the U.S. aim at using the Israel Palestine issue to divide Jews and Muslims.
Read Timothy Snyder and Masha Gessen. What is happening right now is straight out of the autocrats’ playbook. We turn communities against each other, so that there’s no time to look together at what our shared values are and our shared interests are and work twoard a better future together. I think all of us need to reject a zero sum game here. It is absolutely not only possible but is also incumbent upon all of us to recognize the rights and dignities of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, for example. Those things are not inherently contradictory to one another. To understand from each of our own history the need for self determination of the other people. Because we understand what it feels like to be from a people that has had no home and has never been seen and fully embraced and accepted by the rest of society.
Brous seems to be reflecting concern about Russian influence. Gessen has written that Trump is modeling his governing style on Vladimir Putin’s autocracy. Snyder has written that Trump is trying to install a dictatorship, and is a Russian tool.
Brous urged the left to “really reject the playbook that’s before us. It’s so obvious. If you turn the left into a circular firing squad, we don’t have any energy left in order to fight against the people who are putting kids in cages. We don’t have to play that game. We don’t have to accept the rules of the game that want to turn us against one another.”
Brous is a leader in liberal Zionist circles, where the two-state solution is an article of faith even though no one can say when a Palestinian state will ever be established. Brous has written that Israel is a “miracle” though it has a terrible rightwing government, like the United States, and the occupation is deplorable. It is “possible to instill a love of Israel while exposing its faults,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2018. “Israel holds a multitude of truths. It is a Jewish state, yet moral leadership tends to come not from its official rabbinate, but from its artists, academics and activists. It is a proud, striving democracy that fails to uphold basic democratic norms for many under its control. It is a young nation of exemplary ingenuity, imagination and frankness that has failed to use that same creativity and honesty to seriously deal with what sovereignty means when one profoundly traumatized population holds great power over another.”
The two Muslims on last Thursday’s DNC panel welcomed Jews as partners in the struggle against white nationalism. Moderator Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council praised the DNC for giving the mic to Muslims. “Five or ten years ago we wouldn’t have had this panel, we wouldn’t feel included.”
Hedab Tarifi, a Palestinian-American activist in Southern California who is also connected with the Muslim Public Affairs Council, praised Bernie Sanders’s message that the U.S. should treat Palestinians with respect but said Jews share this goal.
She said, “Jewish and Muslim American faith leaders and communities working together have a lot to do and can do to bring social justice and peace here in the United States and in Israel and Palestine…. I as a Palestinian American… support Palestinian rights to live free in a country of their own.”
Dylan Williams of the Israel lobby group J Street said that his organization sees the “occupation of the Palestinian territory” and “the national rights of peoples, whether it is the Jewish people or the Palestinian people” as social justice issues.
In deploring the forces that are trying to “cleave” and “pit” the Jewish and Muslim communities, Rabbi Brous seemed to include the left when she praised a Los Angeles dialogue group, New Ground, that brings together Jewish and Muslim teens “to start to see each other before they develop a kind of sophisticated learned hatred of one another. Instead to become friends… so they can work through the difficulties in a generative empathic way.” That seems to be a reference to campus activism against Israel.
(New Ground director Aziza Hasan has said that Muslims and Jews need to be able to “agree to disagree” about Israel.)
Thanks to Liz Rose and James North.