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Israel Does Not Represent Us

by Levi Dayan


Photo: Stephen Melkisethian via Flickr


The forced evictions and displacement of Palestinian refugees living in Sheikh Jarrah is part of an ongoing settler-colonial effort in the West Bank, particularly East Jerusalem, by the Israeli government. The violence that has flared up over the settlements, as well as the settlements themselves, in many ways reflect the chasm between Palestinian self-determination and the Israeli “right to self defense.” East Jerusalem consists largely of Palestinian refugees who are denied the right to return to their original homes, while Israeli settlers are granted full permission under Israeli law to reclaim land owned prior to 1948. Despite the forced evictions violating international law, Palestinians in East Jerusalem must face an Israeli legal system stacked against them, and in the meantime, settlements are expanding at a dramatic rate.

Like nearly all matters of contemporary social justice, social media has played a pivotal role in the present discourse surrounding Palestine. The intensification of the settler-colonial mission in Palestine is real, but it is difficult to look at the present situation - as well as the military assault on Gaza in 2014 - without the lens of social media. Long ignored or essentialized in previous forms of media, Palestinians (as well as allies in the Black Lives Matter movement) have used social media platforms to reach an audience these forms had shielded them from. The outpouring of support for Palestinians has been genuinely inspiring, and the speeches that a handful of congressional members gave repudiating the violence in Sheikh Jarrah and the U.S. role in enabling said violence could represent a turning point. There is certainly no precedent for any member of congress, let alone a Palestinian woman with family in the West Bank, calling out the president of her own party to his face.

The social media presence of Palestinian activists, however, has also brought about a stream of bad faith smears against the movement. Referring to social media as an echo chamber, however true it may be, has become an overwrought cliche at this point. But just as social media can create a wall of confirmation bias, it can also fool people into fundamental misconceptions about the nature of this movement. Last month, music journalist Eve Barlow tweeted “did it free palestine when you generated more hate towards jews in the space of three days since before the holocaust?,” one of a seemingly infinite number of insane tweets she’s fired off in the past month, seemingly in the midst of a very public meltdown. A month ago, congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in the right wing tabloid New York Post titled “Here’s why I’m supporting Israel - despite the Twitter mob.” That headline may promise a devastating truth-bomb, but what follows is much of the same dreck regarding Israel’s “inherent right of self-defense,” hollow sentiments about as tired as “thoughts and prayers” and “this is one America.”

Torres wrote in his article that “Israel is under siege not only from relentless rocket fire at the hands of Hamas but also from an endless propaganda war that has taken on a new intensity here in the United States and elsewhere.” That’s a baffling statement on several levels, but the first clue that the “Twitter mob” isn’t exactly on the same level as Hamas is the person who wrote it. Torres, the first Black gay congressman along with fellow New York representative Mondaire Jones, is an ostensibly progressive congressman who served as a delegate to the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and currently holds one of the safest Democratic seats in the country. The fact that he is comfortable using right-wing talking points in a right-wing tabloid speaks to just how deeply bipartisan the rejection of Palestinian self-determination really is. And this is only a fraction of the daily trauma faced by Palestinians, at home and in exile.

Indeed, if you logged into Twitter or scrolled through Instagram stories in the past month, perhaps it makes sense that you would walk away with the impression that the movement to free Palestine is a powerful threat. But as many of the same people who lecture others about the “complexities” of this situation love to proclaim, Twitter is not real life. Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd, who have raised awareness for the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah through their social media accounts, may collectively have 300,000 twitter followers, but as one of the families targeted in recent court rulings, the pogroms that have ravished the communities in Sheikh Jarrah in recent months could force them from their homes with the backing of the Israeli police. The price they have to pay for exercising freedom of speech is not the fate of being cancelled by the Twitter mobs that Barlow and Torres so bravely suffered; it’s being detained by Israeli police for several fucking hours.

There is a crusade against free speech relating to Israel, but supporters of Israel — among whom include the current president, the previous president, presidents spanning decades, nearly the entirety of congress and the military, etc. — are not the victims. McCarthyism is yet another term that has been rendered meaningless by decades of overuse, but the ongoing campaign against critics of Zionism has been perhaps one of the most troubling instances of McCarthyism since the end of the cold war. If this seems like an over exaggeration, how else can you describe Canary Mission, a website which compiles the names and personal information of students and professors who dare to criticize Israel? What else would you call a list of personal information with the explicit purpose of preventing future employment? What do you make of a list of mostly Arab Americans, with their names and faces, that is used by the Israeli government to prevent these same people from seeing their families?

In late May Emily Wilder, a recent Stanford grad and news associate for the Associated Press, was fired for literally nothing more than having opinions in support of Palestine. This was the result of a smear campaign led on by the Stanford College Republicans and cheered on by Sen. Tom Cotton, who has made Facebook posts alleging a Jewish billionaire conspiracy to steal elections in Arkansas. Irony is no stranger to the Stanford College Republicans, who led a similar smear campaign against cartoonist Eli Valley that was supported by former NYT columnist Bari Weiss, a self-fashioned free speech crusader who in reality is just a narcissistic asshole. Wilder held a junior-level position covering her home state of Arizona, and it would be insane to suggest that a Jewish woman supporting Palestine has any bearing on a state 7,000 miles away, especially while Fox News yellow journalists drink wine and go on golfing trips with the elites they defend night after night. Of course, her firing had nothing to do with speaking truth to power; this was just the AP listening to the right-wing mob of white supremacists and, yes, antisemites, declaring a nation-state to be beyond reproach even from the people it claims to represent.

It doesn’t matter that both Wilder and Valley are Jewish, because Israel and its enablers have long had a word they can use to explain criticism from the people they claim to represent: “self-loathing Jew.” This is a term I always associate with Larry David, who, in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, responds to someone labelling him a self-loathing Jew by saying “I do hate myself, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish.” In reality, the term is used to invalidate even the most milquetoast criticism of Israel. Any anti-Zionist Jew is certainly familiar with the term, but more than perhaps any figure I can think of, the term is constantly weaponized against Bernie Sanders, the most high-profile Jewish politician in American history. Alan Dershowitz, friend and defense attorney for the late Jeffrey Epstein, called Sanders a self-hating Jew in an unhinged rant on Newsmax TV. It doesn’t matter that Sanders is a Zionist who met his first wife on a kibbutz in Israel; if he takes issue with Israeli government oppressing and killing Palestinians, he’s a self-loathing Jew.

However, while the term self-loathing Jew implies a litmus test used by right-wing Jews to marginalize Jews they disagree with, these sentiments may be even more common amongst right-wing gentiles. Recently, a host on Newsmax asked “if you are Jewish and you are a Democrat and you are living in America today, how do you support an administration that turns its back on your home country?” This statement echoes one made by President Trump that Jews voting for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” His response to this statement was to quote Wayne Allyn Root, a right wing conspiracy theorist and , who downplayed the antisemitism of this remark by stating that “Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world,” adding that “the Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.” According to Trump, Jewish people who vote for the Democratic party (which, despite the increased presence of pro-Palestine members of Congress, is still deeply complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians) are not real Jews, but Root’s Judaism, despite his evangelical beliefs and comparing of Trump to the second coming, is unquestioned. And in order to even begin to understand how that could make any fucking sense, there needs to be a discussion of Christian Zionism.

Christian Zionism is essentially the belief that present-day nation-state of Israel fulfills a biblical prophecy, in which the Jews rule the land of Israel until the second coming of Christ and the corresponding rapture, when - and here’s the kicker - the Jews must choose between converting to Christianity or an eternity in hell. This belief is, quite clearly, absolutely batshit insane, but also one held in some form by 80% of evangelical Christians, and the state of Israel is very well aware. As I will elaborate on later, American Jews are very, very much not a monolith, and it is unwise at best and dangerous at worst to ascribe the views of any one group of Jews - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, left-wing, right-wing, etc. - to Jewish people as a whole. That being said, while antizionist Jews remain a minority within the greater Jewish population, a significant number of Israel’s critics are Jewish. The state of Israel is well aware of this as well, and the Israeli government has made a conscious effort to side with Christian Zionists, even if it means alienating American Jews, who are predominantly liberal in their politics.

Ron Dermer, who served as the Israeli ambassador to the US until January of this year, stated recently “People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians,” mentioning that evangelicals compromise a far greater percentage of the US population than Jews, who are also “disproportionately among [Israel’s] critics.” This sentiment has been echoed by Israel’s recently ousted prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in a 2017 speech to the conference of the right-wing evangelical group Christians United for Israel stated “America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America, and Israel has no better friend in America than you.”

Unsurprisingly, the American religious right has more than returned the favor. In 2018, Trump moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite Jerusalem generally not being recognized as the capital internationally. For the opening ceremony of this embassy, in perhaps the most on-the-nose representation of the U.S.-Israel allyship imaginable, Trump tapped pastor Robert Jeffress and televangelist John Hagee (founder of the aforementioned Christians United for Israel group) to lead the opening prayer and the closing benediction respectively. Both men are vicious antisemites: Jeffreess once stated “you can’t be saved being a Jew” and claimed “not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism - not only do they lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell.” For his part, Hagee stated that the Holocaust was all part of God’s plan to segregate the Jews for their inevitable salvation - or damnation - at the hand of Christ. Speaking of the Holocaust, he stated “How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen.Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” While these two antisemites lead prayers for the so-called Jewish state, on the other side of the country IDF soldiers slaughtered more than 50 Palestinians.

Three years have passed since then. This ceremony, which should have been an outrageous scandal, was barely a blip in the news cycle. While the outpouring of support for Palestinians on social media could represent a turning point, it in no way represents a reckoning. As of the writing of this article, the media is still focused on yet another bullshit fake-outrage cycle surrounding Ilhan Omar, as if nothing has changed in the past few years. Antisemitism has been on the rise for years, especially in the post-2016 era, and it’s a real, terrifying thing. Members of my family work for my local temple, which has been targeted with threats in the past, and I worry far more often than I would like that what happened to the community in Squirrel Hill nearly three years ago could happen to my community as well. But to act as if Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis, and Linda Sarsour are the faces of American antisemitism and not Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, and, obviously, Donald Trump, is not just a flagrant denial of reality, but also an act of vile racism that will only get more Jews killed.

Critique of the modern Israeli nation-state is not antisemetic. In fact, criticizing Israel does far more to benefit the Jewish people than ignoring its crimes. As easy as it is to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism, any deeper look into the present-day realities of Israel shows a much less comfortable narrative than the post-Holocaust redemption stories that we as Jews are often given at a young age. When you consider that Israel acknowledges that right-wing rapture-baiting evangelicals are its greatest supporters while their American Jewish critics are self-loathing Jews, claims to be the Jewish homeland while discriminating against Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, and frames itself as standing in the way of a new wave of antisemitism while simultaneously supporting antisemitic world leaders like Viktor Orban and Donald Trump, and Israel starts to seem less like the Jewish homeland and more like one giant contradiction. But to call Israel contradictory is misleading. Judaism may be complex, complicated, and above all beautiful, but there is nothing complicated about modern Israel’s true religion: settler-colonialism.

Amidst all of the war, the bloodshed, and lives lost, the Jewish diaspora has only become less safe as Israel expands its borders. As someone whose cultural and religious connection to Judaism is as integral to my life, and as someone who has been to Israel, I can say with confidence that I feel as much of a religious and spiritual connection to the modern Israeli nation-state as I do to Delaware. I feel confident saying that not because I am a self-loathing Jew, but the opposite: I am a Jew who looks at our history and our religious tradition and sees solidarity with the oppressed and the destruction of hatred as its all-encompassing purpose. Judaism has taught me that while there is no purpose in suffering or oppression, there is purpose in struggling against both, and just as God helped the Jews overcome the Pharaoh, we as Jews must stand in solidarity with Palestine in their struggle against apartheid.

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