I recently read an account from one of my ancestors of a pogrom around the turn of the century. She described the terrible violence of Jewish home demolitions by Christian villagers: “Everything is burned or sacked … so many families sleep on the street now. They destroy a future when they destroy a house. I don’t know how we’ll begin again.”
Later in the same day, I came across this quote from a Palestinian victim of home demolitions in Gaza: “I never thought the day would come when they’d destroy my house. They destroyed the future. How can I start all over now?”
Jewish Americans are told that support of Israel is required of their Judaism. Jews support Israel, because Israel is Jewish. Criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, because Israel is Jewish. Israel is unfairly targeted by the media, international governing bodies and nonpartisan human rights groups, because Israel is Jewish.
For me, this relationship has always felt uncomfortable. There is a distance between my Judaism and the Judaism espoused by the Israeli right. In fact, the very things that make us Jewish — a commitment to Jewish values, a belief in Jewish teachings, a connection to a long history of practice and struggle — are undermined by Israel’s actions. If Judaism is about questioning, why can’t we question or criticize Israel? If Judaism is about protecting the vulnerable and opposing violence, why do we donate to the Israeli Defense Forces when so many Holocaust survivors live in dire poverty? If Judaism is about protecting our community, why does Israel welcome anti-Semites like Steve Bannon? If Judaism is about repairing the world, why do we oppose calls to stop home demolitions?
Three times a day, we recall our liberation from slavery in Egypt: “Once we were slaves in Egypt, now we are free people.” The centrality of freedom in Judaism is the basis for the Jewish tradition of solidarity with all oppressed people: “Do not oppress the stranger … for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Throughout history, Jews have fought for human rights and racial justice because we understand that we will only be free when ALL are free. Dorothy Zellner, one of several Jewish leaders of the American civil-rights movement and a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions advocate, explains why she feels compelled to act for Black and Palestinian rights: “As a Jew, I feel a Jewish obligation to stand up for the oppressed.”
Issue 2 calls upon our university to divest from corporations complicit in human rights violations. These corporations commit war crimes and uphold mass incarceration. They are barriers to justice and peace. We cannot look the other way as our tuition dollars fund home demolitions, regardless of whether the victims are Jews or Palestinians. We cannot turn our backs on the cruelly incarcerated, whether the victims are Palestinians or Black Americans. We cannot sacrifice the long tradition of Black-Jewish solidarity simply because it feels inconvenient. We cannot ignore our call to repair the world, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
Olam chesed yibaneh: Vote YES on Issue 2 to build this world with love — hand in hand with our Black and Palestinian siblings.
Fourth-year in economics and political science
President of Jewish Voice for Peace – Ohio State
Vice president of B’nai Keshet, a group for LGBTQ Jews