Earlier this week, amidst taking shots at the seriousness of Jewish millennial organizing against American Jewish support for the occupation, Rabbi Eric Yoffie posed an important question.
Why, he asks, in his op-ed (IfNotNow Is So Noisy About the Occupation. Why Is It So Quiet About Israel's Right to Exist?) does IfNotNow not take a position on whether Israel should "exist": his and the Jewish establishment’s parlance for whether Israel should be a Jewish nation-state.
As a Reform Jew who attended Hebrew day school, URJ camps, NFTY, and worked as a Jewish communal professional – likely one of the members of IfNotNow who Rabbi Yoffie considers "serious", though I reject the notion that there are "serious" and "not serious" young anti-occupation Jews – I wanted to address the rabbi’s question.
IfNotNow does not take a position on whether Israel should be a Jewish state, because not all members of IfNotNow agree on an answer to this question.
We come together as Zionists, anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, post-Zionists, and many people who don’t know what they’d call themselves, and work across these ideological differences because there is a crisis in our community and a crisis in Israel/Palestine: the occupation.
For more than 50 years, the Israeli state has maintained a system of dehumanization, violence, and control over Palestinians. This system, what we and Rabbi Yoffie both recognize as the םcccupation, is a moral disaster for the Israeli Jews who enforce it and a daily nightmare for the Palestinians who live under it.
Our communal institutions have, at best, failed to adequately resist this system and, at worst, actively encouraged it with money, political support, and propaganda.
Growing up in close-knit Jewish spaces, I observed the corrosive effects of our community’s support for the occupation firsthand.
Casual racism towards Arabs and Muslims, and distorted narratives of "The Conflict" were a constant background hum: even Rabbi Yoffie’s claims that "the cccupation started because of Arab attacks on Israel," and "Most of the occupiers try to be humane in their approach to those whose lives they control" fall into these tropes of Israeli innocence and Arab aggression, belied both by the historical record and by Breaking the Silence testimonies.
And when the values I was taught - of social justice, that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the image of God) - conflicted with these narratives, I was told that "it’s complicated," with the expectation that I would then discard my questions and cast away my concerns, an expectation that did not extend to the other complicated, difficult topics core to my Jewish experience.
Our communal leadership’s silence and weakness in the face of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people is not complicated. By refusing to take a unified stance on Zionism but allowing American Jews of many ideological backgrounds and opinions to organize together, IfNotNow grows stronger and gets us closer to a day when the occupation ends.
When we recognize that American Jews are neither an extension of Israel, nor that we can dictate to Israelis and Palestinians how they will share their common home, we can address our own community’s failures and end our corrosive support for the occupation.
As an individual, I believe that a two-state solution is the preferable one, but organizing with IfNotNow has made me question the assumptions I was taught by the community that raised me.
While I may not agree with one-state supporters or anti-Zionists that a binational democratic state is the best solution, I want to be clear: holding those views does not make one an anti-Semite. Especially now, as white nationalists march in the streets, chanting "Jews will not replace us," we cannot afford to abuse the term.
The IfNotNow members and supporters that disagree with me about Zionism, the question of statehood, and BDS are Jews who care deeply about the future of the Jewish people and seek a repaired world.
Meanwhile, the Zionists within IfNotNow have shown that not everyone who believes in a Jewish nation-state in Israel seeks a system of endless bloodshed and oppression, that there are Zionists who are willing to put their voices and sometimes bodies on the line for freedom and dignity for all.
I am proud to organize with IfNotNow. It is a powerful force in which young Jews are building a joyous, liberated community. Jews marginalized by traditional Jewish institutions, Jews working within those institutions, and many in-between are coming together in the name of freedom and dignity for all.
While Rabbi Yoffie may be willing to wait endlessly and quietly for the Occupation to end - and when it does, claim he opposed it all along - we refuse to wait, instead choosing to speak loudly and often and transform the future of our community in the process.
Alex Langer is a member of IfNotNow. He grew up in Toronto and lives in New York City.
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