As Israel’s war on Palestine rages on, a wide range of pundits and politicians continue to frame opposition to the Israeli government’s actions as anti-Semitic or as endorsing terrorism. Supporters of the movement for Palestinian rights have always had an uphill battle, but the current jingoistic and repressive atmosphere is dramatically steeping the climb, as they have to both make their case for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza to protect civilians while also scrambling to assure the public that they’re not motivated by a hatred of Jews.
Progressive Jews in the United States have long worked to show that Jewish people are not a monolith and do not collectively operate in unequivocal support for Israel. Many of these progressive Jews believe that the Israeli government weaponizes Jewish victimhood to garner support for the occupation, violence against Palestinians, the continued theft of Palestinian land, and the ongoing system of apartheid. To break from this dynamic, progressive Jews and left-wing Jewish groups have sought to undercut propaganda justifying these acts by building communities and organizational structures — often based on a deep love of Judaism, Torah, and ritual — and by being visible, carrying out nonviolent campaigns in solidarity with Palestinian groups, and by disrupting business as usual.
In response to the Israeli government’s overwhelming violence against Palestinians in recent weeks, Jews around the country have been organizing with groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow (INN), local chapters of Never Again Action, and socialist organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), to call for a cease-fire and to say “not in our name” and that they refuse to let their grief be used as an excuse to massacre and ethnically cleanse Palestinians. I have been part of this organizing work because I believe there is no conflict between my Jewishness and my support for the liberation of Palestine (including an immediate end to the bombing and resource-hoarding). Rather, to me and so many Jews in the United States, the two are intertwined, because I take the lesson we were all supposed to learn from the Holocaust — that of “never again” — to heart. It means never again not just for Jews, but never again for anyone.
Following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,300 Israelis, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and saw more than 200 taken hostage, the Israeli government has launched a devastating bombardment (dropping more than 6,000 bombs) and siege on Gaza that has killed nearly 6,000 people, a third of whom are children, while cutting off vital supplies such as water, food, electricity and fuel to the population. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has justified these actions by proclaiming, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed…We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,”
Since this violence broke out, there have been a number of high-profile and Jewish-led demonstrations protesting the Israeli government’s actions. On Oct. 16, Jewish protesters blocked entrances to the White House demanding that President Joe Biden support a cease-fire resolution introduced by Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), both DSA members, in an action organized in part by JVP and INN, in which more than 30 demonstrators were arrested. Two days later, on Oct. 18, nearly 400 Jews and allies, including about two dozen rabbis, occupied the rotunda in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. calling for a cease-fire. Protesters were singing, chanting and praying as they were arrested (I was one of those arrested at this action).
On Oct. 20, more than 100 people were arrested in New York while calling on Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to support a cease-fire in an action sponsored by the New York chapter of JVP. On Oct. 23, Jewish groups in Chicago organized an unprecedented coalition that motivated hundreds of people to protest the Israeli government’s violence and led 50 people to risk arrest while blocking traffic at a major downtown intersection at rush hour. They were demanding Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth support a cease-fire while chanting, among other things, “never again is now.” And on Oct. 25, more than 100 Jews and allies held sit-ins in the offices of Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, demanding they back a cease-fire and address the root causes of Israeli occupation and apartheid.
DSA members have made more than 100,000 phone calls to members of Congress asking that they sign on the House cease-fire resolution. And there have been many more rallies, marches, demonstrations, and sit-ins all over the country, led by both Palestinian-led organizations like Adalah Justice Project, Al-Awda and the Palestinian Youth Movement, as well as by Jewish groups who support Palestinian rights.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has slammed pro-Palestinian activists and organizers, including the New York City chapter of DSA, as being anti-Semitic. Adams accused DSA members of “carrying swastikas and calling for the extermination of Jewish people,” even though there’s been no proof whatsoever of that charge. (The chapter did post on social media about a pro-Palestine rally on Oct. 8 where a swastika was reportedly seen, but otherwise had no involvement in it.) A recent exposé by Political Research Associates also revealed the disturbing phenomena of neonazis and white supremacists showing up to pro-Palestine rallies aiming to sow further division, yet politicians like Adams and Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) cast DSA as a hate group while letting white supremacists, a major threat to our safety, skate by largely unnoticed. While some members have publicly clashed with DSA over its position on the conflict, many other members are doubling down on their support for Palestinian rights, including many Jewish members.
A member of New York City DSA, Oren Schweitzer, along with a member of North New Jersey DSA, Jake Ephros, co-organized an open letter titled “Not in Our Name! Jewish Socialists Say No to Apartheid and Genocide,” which has now been signed by nearly 400 Jewish socialists (including myself, as well as two members of the In These Times staff, Ari Bloomekatz and Sam Fine). The letter states, “Make no mistake: opposing Israeli apartheid and the impending genocide in Gaza are just, right, and not anti-Semitic. We are proud to be Jewish, socialist and pro-Palestine. As Israel carries out the same crimes once committed against our ancestors, we declare not in our name!”
Schweitzer was driven to author the letter in part due to his own Jewish identity and family history. He told In These Times that he and Ephros had seen “massive amounts of outrage toward DSA’s pro-Palestine stance… Apartheid and genocide are not Jewish values, in fact, fighting against ethnic cleansing and justice for all is one of the most Jewish values imaginable. My grandfather escaped the Nazi holocaust and many of his family were exterminated in the camps. I stand with Palestinian liberation because in their struggle I see my own family’s struggle for freedom, peace, and security.”
Elliot Lewis, a Jewish member of New York City DSA and a signatory on the letter, told In These Times that “it’s pretty deep in my Jewish and socialist ethics that when any people are being oppressed, we have a duty to fight for their freedom. And [DSA] has condemned Hamas’ attacks on civilians, and also has condemned Hamas. We just also condemned the violence that Israel has been carrying out over the last 75 years. It’s a pretty reasonable position, but our opponents and people acting in bad faith are trying to smear us.” (Lewis was also one of the arrestees at the demonstration outside Gillibrand and Schumer’s office.)
There’s a long and rich history of Jewish anti-war activism, along with Jewish socialism and even Jewish non-Zionism and anti-Zionism. In the heat of the Vietnam War, many Jews stood up to oppose U.S. involvement, and the majority of Jews in the United States were against the war in Iraq as well. For generations, Jews around the world have been involved in the fight for socialism, as illustrated by the General Jewish Labour Bund in the early 20th Century. And while many mainstream Jewish organizations gloss over this history, there have always been anti-Zionist Jews who believe that our homeland is wherever we are.
Over the last few weeks, there have been many social media posts and op-eds written by Jews who feel ignored or forgotten by the Left, or who feel like they have to choose between their progressive politics and their support of Israel. But there’s a growing movement of progressive Jews who believe the occupation and system of apartheid do not make Israelis or Jews safer, who believe in Palestinian liberation, and who never consented to a genocide being executed in our name. As someone who has been involved in the movement for Palestinian rights for nearly a decade, I can say first hand that it has grown exponentially — which was never more clear to me than when I got arrested last week with hundreds of other Jews. But no matter how many times we say we’re Jewish, and how those values and history are exactly why we support the fight for a free Palestine, we’re called traitors.
In Hebrew School I was taught to understand the importance of practicing both Tikkun Olam, the mandate to repair the world, and chesed, loving kindness. Razing buildings that house entire families, cutting off access to water and electricity, bombing churches and hospitals, shooting children: none of that is loving kindness. Many Jews also frequently quote the portion of the Talmud that says, “whoever kills one life kills the entire world, and whoever saves one life saves the entire world.” Any Jew who takes our teachings seriously should support a cease-fire and engage in loving kindness and any effort that might save even one life — because for each life we save, we help save the entire world.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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