Being Jewish-American and Pro-Palestine
As a Jewish-American teenager, there is a significant amount of pressure on me to be pro-Israel. Both Jews and Americans are expected to stand by their Israeli allies, regardless of war crimes, and simply “voice disapproval” for “some” Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza, while ensuring that our actions do not back up these words. Fellow Jews have called my support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement “worrying,” “scary,” “disheartening,” and “uncomfortable.” Meanwhile, as an American, I am expected to support Israel as the “democratic anchor” of the Middle East.
This expectation—that I will stand by my Jewish and democratic brothers regardless of their actions—and the criticism that my failure to meet this expectation inspires, is nothing short of religious and ethnic tribalism. According to the wide consensus of the Jewish-American community, I should put the mere fact that I am a Jewish-American above the fact that I am a human who wants to see other humans treated as such.
And yet, aside from being Jewish-American, I am also a liberal—in the literal, rather than partisan, sense of the word. And my liberal ideals tell me that I must part ways with traditional Jewish-American expectations, that I must condemn the hideous actions of the Israeli government, that I must denounce Zionism as a hateful and harmful belief. Today, my goal is to help convince other small-L liberals—regardless of religion, nationalism, or partisan affiliation—that the right thing to do is to condemn the government of Israel, and to back up that condemnation with action.
Nelson Mandela once said that "no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails." It is in honor of this anti-apartheid hero that I must begin my denunciation of Israel with its prisons. Since 1967, approximately forty percent of the Palestinian male population has spent time in Israeli prisons and jails, according to the human rights group Adameer. Additionally, 10,000 women and 8,000 children have been jailed. The Israeli government would argue that these prisoners are terrorists and criminals who pose a legitimate danger to the security of Israel. But this is verifiably false, as Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (unlike Jewish settlers) are tried in Israeli military—rather than civil—courts, with conviction rates of 99.74 percent.
Once in prison, the situation worsens. In addition to years-long denial of family visitations, Palestinian prisoners have been known to be subjected to extensive, sometimes life-threatening, beatings and deliberate medical negligence by the Israeli Prison Service. These inhumane practices have led to the deaths of over 200 Palestinian prisoners since the start of the occupation. When it comes to interrogation, the practices are even more hideous. According to a recent report by the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Hamoked, the following practices are common methods of interrogation:
[s]leep deprivation, sometimes for days at a time; being bound hand and foot to a chair, with movement restricted for hours on end; being subjected to shouting, swearing, threats, spitting, and indignities; exposure to extreme cold and heat; little and substandard food; being denied the possibility to shower or change clothes for days and even weeks; incarceration in a small, foul-smelling cell, usually in solitary confinement, for many days.
As a liberal, it is my responsibility to stand up against cruel and unusual punishment. If what was described above is not cruel and unusual, then it is difficult to imagine what is. And yet, as a Jewish-American, I am expected to support these practices (if not with words, then with actions). I refuse to allow myself to support a government that partakes in these clear violations of human rights. I refuse to allow my money to go to organizations or corporations that support said government. Somehow, this makes me an anti-Semite, a self-hating Jew—and yet, I would also never support a government like Iran or Saudi Arabia, like Syria or even Turkey. Does this make me an Islamaphobe? We encourage Muslims to take a stand against conservative extremism; why do we encourage Jews to take part in it?
As an American and a liberal, I am also expected to support international democracy. But I am not so sure that Israel is a democracy. A recent United Nations report officially declared that Israel is an apartheid regime, and for good reason: Palestinians beyond the Green Line are not allowed to vote in Israeli elections, according to +972 Magazine. This means that over 3.8 million people living in Israeli-governed or -occupied territories are denied political representation; this is one in three people living in these territories. Almost every single one of these people is Palestinian. Since 1965, Americans have supposedly stood firmly against clear violations of voting rights and a denial of political representation based on race or ethnicity. Yet Americans seem perfectly happy to allow these violations and denials to occur beyond their borders. If neoconservatives are really so committed to the international expansion of democracy, then why do they support the undemocratic regime of Israel so fervently? If, as a liberal, I am supposed to show my support for international democracy, then my firm rejection of the legitimacy of the Israeli regime is doing just that.
Some would argue that this denial of voting rights is not a denial at all, that no occupying force allows the citizens of its occupied territories the right to vote. Israel, therefore, does not have the responsibility to ensure those living under Israeli rule the right to vote if they live in areas that the international community has not recognized as Israel. While this has truth to it, it also brings us to the heart of the issue: the occupation itself.
Fifty years ago today, Israel launched military action as a pre-emptive strike against the perceived threat that the country’s Arab neighbors posed. Six days later, they had multiplied the amount of territory under their control by four times. Aside from the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt with the Camp David Accords in 1978, Israel maintains all of the land it conquered. Despite the fact that the UN condemned Israel’s imperialist land grab and refused to recognize the stolen territories with Resolution 242, and despite the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically bans “any annexation…of the whole or part of [an] occupied territory” as a violation of international law, Israel is never punished for these actions: they remain the largest recipient of United States foreign aid; they are allowed to maintain their “secret” nuclear arsenal; and they are arguably the only country with a United States free trade agreement not endangered by the current administration. (This is true even though we run a trade deficit of $8 billion dollars with the country—something President Trump surely despises, if he is the least bit principled.)
When my government refuses to stand up for human rights, it is time to take matters into my own hands. That is how apartheid ended in South Africa. By supporting the BDS Movement, citizens have the ability to make up for the shortcomings of their government. As a Jew, I am expected to stand up against this movement—if I disagree with some Israeli actions, I am expected to voice my disapproval while continuing to send monetary approval to the government of Israel. I am not expected to turn words into actions, to partake in civil disobedience, for this would be “anti-Semitic.” But I refuse to make a choice: I am both a Jew and a human, and being the former should not mean sacrificing the latter. That is why I stand with BDS.