In May 2018, a group of more than 50 British Jews – old and young, Orthodox and progressive, Zionist and non-Zionist – gathered in London’s Parliament Square to mourn the Palestinians killed by the IDF in Gaza. Through songs and prayer, including the recitation of the mourner’s prayer, Kaddish, we expressed our sorrow over the conflict engulfing Israelis and Palestinians. Drawing on the values of compassion and justice instilled in us by the Jewish community, we called upon British Jewish leadership to condemn Israel’s siege of Gaza and the occupation.
In the aftermath of that protest, we were vilely abused, harassed, and threatened by members of our community. Our fellow Jews accused us of desecrating the sanctity of the Kaddish while in the same breath threatening violence and wishing us dead.
We were no longer the present and future of the Jewish community, despite being active in synagogues, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (British Jewry’s main representative body), youth movements, and charities. We were now Kapos. Traitors. Scum. What was missing in that heated debate was mention of Palestinians, Israel’s occupation, and the siege on Gaza. Those, once again, were swept under the rug.
That experience drove us to found Na’amod: British Jews Against Occupation in July 2018. We were galvanized by the British Jewish community’s complicit silence on Israel’s transgressions against Palestinians and the severity of abuse levelled at anti-occupation Jews.
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For generations our community leaders have sat comfortably on the sidelines, cheering for a team that employs dirty tactics of occupation: demolishing Palestinian homes and taking their land, building illegal Israeli settlements, and violently suppressing Palestinian protests.
Our community has been morally corrupted by this complicity. As children we were taught “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” (Justice, justice you shall pursue), yet no mainstream British Jewish organization has pursued justice by taking unequivocal action against Israel’s occupation.
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Plenty have paid lip service to “peace,” but this is simply not good enough. We want to see action. Although it may be painful for British Jews to challenge a state to which they feel deeply connected, the right path is not always the easiest. If our communal leaders will not willingly change, we must force them to decide: Will they support a system which deprives Palestinians of their dignity and human rights? Or will they support freedom and equality for all Israelis and Palestinians?
Na’amod has formed a proudly broad British Jewish synagogue. We welcome religious pluralism, with representation from almost every British Jewish denomination. Some organizers are halachically observant; others are entirely secular. Our members are affiliated with numerous Jewish organizations, and we do not take a common position on BDS, Zionism or borders. We embrace this political diversity and welcome anyone who identifies with our aims. Through direct action, protests, and education, we will challenge the dominant narrative peddled by Jewish leadership (such as the Board of Deputies) – a narrative which normalizes occupation and Palestinians’ oppression – and push for alternative voices to be loudly represented within our communal institutions.
Across the pond in the United States, IfNotNow has led the way in building a mass movement of committed Jewish anti-occupation activists since its foundation four years ago. Although we are influenced by their work – our recent information campaign targeting Birthright participants at a London airport was inspired by similar action from IfNotNow – we are entirely independent.
In some ways, Na’amod has an easier task than IfNotNow. British Jews give much less financial support to the occupation and our leading institutions are not quite as doggedly hawkish as their American counterparts. Our community is relatively small, meaning that leading establishment figures are more likely to have interacted with individuals within Na’amod - especially in London. It is simply harder to dismiss someone as a hateful irritant when they teach your child Hebrew at synagogue.
Na’amod is part of a growing global movement of Jews opposed to our communities’ complacency and complicity; anti-occupation movements exist throughout Europe and in South Africa, Australia and Canada. Diaspora Jews must act together in actively challenging our leaders and ensuring they unequivocally oppose the occupation. Only a global effort will succeed in holding Israel to account for what it does to Palestinians in our name.
Those who uphold the status quo will attempt to silence, smear, and ostracise us. They will seek to have us expelled from our youth movements; barred from our synagogues; dismissed from our jobs in Jewish organizations. They will do this because they cannot dismiss us as an irrelevant fringe movement; we are active and engaged members of the community.
British Jewry, like other diaspora communities, is not immune to progress. Na’amod is part of the next chapter on the road to freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.
Sonia Resnick is an organizer with Na'amod: British Jews Against Occupation and an incoming post-graduate student at Oxford University. Twitter: NaamodUK