Friday, April 30, 2010

You Got Feelings, I Got Feelings - An Open Letter to My Jewish Community

To my Jewish community,

Last night I sat in a room filled with passion as I watched the UC Student Senate listen to arguments on its very modest proposal to divest from two U.S. companies which sell arms to the Israeli military. As I listened to Palestinian students pour out their stories of the abuses and humiliation and terror endured by their families, I was moved sometimes to tears. As I listened to Jewish, Muslim, secular, Christian, queer, African American and many other kinds of speakers argue that this is nothing more than a call for justice, I was filled with hope and pride. But as I listened to you talk about your fears and feelings of victimization, I was filled with sadness and despair.

One after another of you got up to say that you feel targeted because of this resolution. You feel unsafe, you feel unwelcome.

You asserted that the green stickers worn by those of us who supported the resolution somehow made you feel attacked. Those green stickers bore the names of the people who had sent in messages of support, and were meant to remind the Senate how many people each of us who was there represented.

One of you complained that we who were wearing green stickers never asked him how he feels about Palestinians, or about a Palestinian state.

As I sat there, feeling alternately moved and hopeful, and sad and despairing, I thought of what I wanted to say to you, and wished I could make you hear it.

If I could, this is what I would say.

I am sorry that you feel attacked. I am sorry you feel threatened by our simple desire to end a 60-year-old injustice. I am sorry that our green stickers somehow make you feel silenced. But this debate is not about how you feel. It is not about how you feel about Palestinians, or how I feel about you, or how either of us feels about Israel.

It is about what we are doing with our money, or in this case, simply what the University of California is doing with its money. And what they are doing, whether you want to admit it or not, whether they know it or not (though by now they certainly must) is profiting from the sale of white phosphorous, an internationally banned weapon, to a military that has shown itself willing to use that banned weapon in densely populated civilian areas – a war crime.

You say that you oppose this resolution not because you don't oppose war crimes, but because we, the divestment movement, reject the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, which you persist in describing as a "democratic Jewish state." It is true, I do not believe that a Jewish state can be democratic, any more than an Islamic state or a Christian one can be democratic, and I believe in democracy, so I reject the idea of a Jewish-only state. But in fact, this resolution said nothing about that, and nothing in its language was intended to reward or punish Israel for characterizing itself as a Jewish state, or even to address the newest attempt to curtail freedom of speech for Arab citizens of that so-called democracy, known as the Nakba Law. There are people who are supporting this resolution who believe in two states and who do not accept the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. You can support this resolution and still believe apartheid is the way forward.

If it is true, as you allege, that there is any connection between the divestment resolution and swastikas on Jewish students' doors or rocks thrown through the windows of a kosher bakery in Oakland, that is completely unacceptable. The people who took those actions certainly do not speak for, and have no place in, the movement for divestment from Israeli war crimes. But you have presented absolutely no evidence that any such connection exists. It is much more likely that these acts of hatred are part of the general rise in racism and white supremacy that is rampant in our country. Why do you focus all of your fear and outrage against Muslim and Arab communities and critics of Israel? Why aren't you busy demanding the resignation of Russell Pearce, the Arizona state assemblyman who both authored the state's hideous new anti-immigrant law, and circulated a letter complaining about "the inerrant nature of the Jewish 'Holocaust' tale"? If you decided to make that your struggle, I think you would find that every green-sticker-wearer in that room was happy to join in coalition with you.

If you feel isolated and marginalized, it is only your actions that are causing you to feel that way. You say that it is anti-Jewish sentiment, masquerading as criticism of Israel, but hundreds of Jews sat in that room feeling otherwise.

You have an answer for that. You say that we are not "real" Jews, that you and only you can speak for the Jewish community. Unlike your claims about what we mean to communicate by wearing green stickers (which, for those who were not there, said things like "Another Jewish mother for human rights. Divest from war crimes."), I am not simply interpreting your words. This is a quote from the talking points which members of the Zionist Jewish organizations circulated in advance of the meeting two weeks ago: "There will always be dissenters; they don't represent the voice of the Jewish community. WE are the voice of the Jewish community at Cal…." Numerous speakers seized onto this talking point and made that claim, that those of us – many more of us in fact than there were of you at the debates at Cal – are not part of the Jewish community.

How do you think that makes ME feel? I grew up in an observant, Zionist family. It was also a family very committed to human and civil rights. As I grew up, I realized that some of these values were inconsistent, but I did not reject Judaism or my Jewish identity. Most of my family disagrees with me about a lot of issues in regard to Palestine, but we are still family and Jewish culture remains a very important part of my life. Now you tell me that I must choose between my Jewish identity and my identity as someone who believes in human rights and equality for all. How is this any different from members of my queer community who have been told they must choose between the LGBTQ parts of their identity and their religious or cultural identities? How do you think it makes me feel when you stand in front of a room full of people and assert that the entire Jewish community is unified in its support for a country that has killed over 1,400 children in the last nine years?

In the war of feelings, you, my sisters and brothers, are doing more harm to Jews than the people you accuse of anti-Semitism.