Why I Joined The #JewishResistance

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Last weekend, I joined over one thousand young Jews in Washington, D.C. to protest the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at their Annual Policy Conference. We marched, chanted, and sang outside of the conference — and some of us even risked arrest — to demonstrate that AIPAC does not speak for all American Jews, as it claims to. AIPAC, as the largest pro-Israel lobby in the United States, has done more almost any other Jewish organization to continue Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

I protested AIPAC’s support for the occupation not in spite of my Judaism, but because of it. As a young Jew who cares deeply about social justice issues both in the United States and across the world, I know that my commitment to social justice is tied to my Jewish identity. Jewish tradition and teachings are rooted in the history of resistance, resilience, and justice. Jewish history is littered with revolutionary figures who fought both anti-Jewish oppression and stood in solidarity with other oppressed groups — from Doña Gracia Nasi, who illegally harbored Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s to Joe Slovo, who worked to bring down South African Apartheid in the 20th century.[1]

But in many Jewish communities, pursuing social justice stops at a hard line: Israel. The Jewish establishment expects students to unquestioningly support Israeli policy. On campus, AIPAC supports efforts through Hillel and other organizations to obfuscate the painful realities of the occupation. AIPAC trains Jewish students to be uncritical advocates for Israel and to silence critics by conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.[2] It is the political influence of major Jewish institutions like AIPAC that enable Hillel international to adopt “Standards of Partnerships” on Israel-related programming, which prohibit local Hillel chapters from partnering with any speakers or organizations — including Jews — who support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.[3] In this way, Jewish institutions stifle students who criticize Israel, isolating and ostracizing those of us who stray from the rigid party line.

Like many progressive Jewish students, I have felt cast out from the Jewish community because of my views on Israeli policies. While on a Birthright trip to Israel through Northeastern’s Hillel, I attempted to start a conversation about the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. I was told by our trip leader that we would not being discussing the occupation (my words, not hers) or any other aspect of the conflict because, “This isn’t a trip about the conflict. This is a trip about Israel.” (Her words, not mine.) When Jewish institutions prevent young Jews from engaging in critical and complex conversations about Israel, the Jewish community becomes complicit through silence on the 50-year occupation of Palestinian land.

The consequences of decades of silence and complicity are severe. AIPAC’s support for the endless occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem has made life for Palestinians a daily nightmare and continues to undermine Israel’s security. And when AIPAC applauded the confirmation of David Friedman, a far-right supporter of settlements and opponent of the two-state solution, as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, it showed that it does not represent the American Jewish community, 61% of whom support a two-state solution.[4]

While claiming to be bipartisan, AIPAC has cozied up to the Trump administration and its officials because of their supposed pro-Israel policies. However, AIPAC’s silence on both President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dismissal of the rising tide of anti-Semitic hate crimes following the election was a clear indication that AIPAC will go to any lengths to ensure pro-Israel policies — including ignoring mounting anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Furthermore, AIPAC and other mainstream Jewish institutions continue to deepen divides between the Jewish community and other oppressed groups in the name of Israel. Jewish institutions distanced themselves from the Movement for Black Lives after the architects of the platform advocated for a boycott of Israel.[5] Recently, Ohio State University’s Hillel expelled an LGBTQ Jewish student group after they co-sponsored an event for Syrian refugees with Jewish Voices for Peace, an organization that supports BDS.[6] Most glaringly, AIPAC funded and supported the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that has been described as an extremist anti-Muslim group and that was instrumental in crafting Trump’s Muslim ban.[7]

As the Israeli government and the United States government move to the right, the Jewish establishment has fallen in line behind them, alienating a growing number of young Jews who oppose both Israel’s occupation and the Trump administration’s hateful rhetoric and discriminatory policies. In its complicity and silence, AIPAC has failed to be the moral leadership the Jewish community needs in this moment. As a movement of young American Jews, the #JewishResistance is taking on this moral leadership, building a strong, diverse, and liberated Jewish community.

Standing in solidarity with over a thousand young Jews outside of AIPAC, singing songs of resistance and hope in Hebrew and in English, I began to imagine what a liberated Jewish community could look like. One that roots itself in Jewish tradition, justice, and solidarity, rather than fear and isolation. A community that knows that our liberation is tied to the liberation of all people. The #JewishResistance stands against the occupation, against anti-Semitism, and for freedom and dignity for all. Like the words we sing in Hebrew and in English, “Olam chesed yibaneh/we will build this world with love.”

Sources

[1]  Bodian, Miriam. “Doña Garcia Nasi.” Jewish Women’s Archive. March 2009.; “Remembering Joe Slovo, 20 years on.” Brand South Africa. January 7, 2015.
[2] “College Training Opportunities.” AIPAC.
[3] “Hillel Israel Guidelines.” Hillel International.
[4] “A Portrait of Jewish Americans Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews.” Pew Research Center. October 10, 2013.
[5] Ndugga-Kabuye, Ben, and Rachel Gilmer. “Invest-Divest.” Movement for Black Lives. 2016.
[6] King, Danae. “Ohio State Hillel Drops Jewish LGBT Student Group.” The Columbus Dispatch. March 21, 2017.
[7]”AIPAC paid $60,000 to group that peddles anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency. March 15, 2017.; “Center for Security Policy.” Southern Poverty Law Center.

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