Matthew Taylor writes:
When North American Jews gathered in New Orleans for their annual General Assembly earlier this week, the mainstream Jewish establishment unveiled a new initiative to counteract the growing international condemnation of Israel’s policies of occupation and land theft. The big plan: delegitimize the delegitimizers.
The Jewish Federations of North America announced at the conference that over the next three years they will invest $6 million to launch an “Israel Action Network.” Based on speakers’ comments at the GA, the strategy seems to be to tar and feather virtually anyone who supports any form of boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS ) as a “delegitimizer” who is participating in an alleged plot to “destroy the State of Israel.” Instead of spending millions to persuade Israel to change its path, the JFNA prefers to shoot the messengers.
Meanwhile, a few days before the assembly, the U.S.-based advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP ) convened a gathering of young Jews from the U.S. and Israel to explore difficult questions that the mainstream leadership seems eager to avoid, such as: How does the occupation delegitimize Israel? When Israel bulldozes Palestinian homes, uproots olive trees, and builds roads designated for settlers only, is that consistent with the Jewish value of respecting your neighbor?
This young group of Jewish activists seems to be an embodiment of Peter Beinart’s recent essay in The New York Review of Books, which explored why Israel’s oppressive policies cause young American Jews to feel alienated. “[Many American Jews have] imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture … a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights … They did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel,” Beinart wrote in his piece, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.”
Emily Ratner writes:
There’s no getting around it: What we did during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was shockingly rude. We interrupted a head of state, repeatedly, shouting from the tops of chairs into a darkened hall of largely like-minded people, who most likely thought their space was safe from the ever-increasing disruptions of “Israel’s delegitimizers,” as some would call us. Worse still, we did this in my community. Neighbors, co-workers, professors, and fellow students were in attendance, or they’re otherwise finding out what we’ve done. My cheeks are still burning at the thought of what’s to come. And, of course, there’s family. Family. Family.
But each time I think about the hurt I’ve caused with my actions, I’m reminded of the hundreds upon hundreds of New Orleanian Palestinians who have marched this city’s streets, demanding justice in a nation that isn’t listening. I’m reminded of the dozens of Palestinians who stood outside of the Jewish Federations General Assembly on Sunday, braving the cameras of Israeli and US security, facing the very real possibility that because of their protest they’ll be permanently denied entry the next time they attempt to visit their homeland. Their demonstration was featured for fifteen seconds on a single local news channel, and those Palestinian protesters have far more to risk than I do. I am ashamed of the hurt I have caused people that I love, but I am overcome with the bravery of the millions of Palestinians who struggle daily to carve justice into a global structure that finds their very existence inconvenient and inappropriate. I am doubled over by the reality of more than sixty years of displacement, of the state-sanctioned murder of so many mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers; of homes destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Of checkpoints. Of landlessness. Of criminalized identity. Of siege. And I am pulled to my feet by the steadfastness of the people who are at the heart of this struggle. From the Palestinians who remain incarcerated for the crime of protest, who have found themselves barred from home forever for the truths they’ve spoken, who have been shot down by soldiers as they held a rock, a Palestinian flag, a child.