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American Jews must resist Trump and the occupation at the same time

Can American Jews’ relationship to Israel accommodate the truth that Palestinians deserve the same freedom and dignity that we want for ourselves as Jews and for our Muslim, immigrant, black and brown neighbors here in the United States?

By Emily Mayer

Protesters demonstrate against Trump's Muslim ban, Boston, January 29, 2017. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills)

Protesters demonstrate against Trump’s Muslim ban, Boston, January 29, 2017. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills)

There is currently a surge of activism churning through the American Jewish community. Since Trump’s election in November, American Jews have been taking action against a president who received only 24 percent of their votes, the second-smallest proportion of any religious or racial demographic in the country, after African Americans.

Last month, 20 rabbis were arrested protesting the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban, also referred to as a Muslim ban, and 2000 more signed onto a statement supporting refugees. Major Jewish organizations such as the National Council of Jewish Women and American Jewish World Service added their names to the list of sponsors of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Even the Anti-Defamation League, which rushed to congratulate Trump on his win, has spoken harshly of the administration and its choices.

While American Jews seem united in their dissent, the boundaries of this new wave of “Jewish resistance,” as some have called it, are still undefined. Are American Jews just resisting certain policies of this administration? Or are they resisting Trump, and all he represents? And, most difficult of all, what does ‘resistance’ look like when it comes to the now 50 years of occupation, and this administration’s seeming support for its continuation?

Many leaders in the Jewish community would prefer to avoid this last question, and oppose Trump while supporting the current Israeli government. But such an approach is sure to fail. We must oppose Trump’s exclusionary, racist, and unjust policies.

But if we cannot muster equally vigorous opposition to Israel’s occupation, built on the same logic of racial discrimination and authoritarianism, we will render ourselves useless the struggles here at home. And that is why I and thousands of other Jews are bringing the Jewish resistance to the doorstep of the lobbying group American Israel Policy Action Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C.


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Why AIPAC? Under a veil of bipartisanship and a message of neutral support for Israel’s current government, AIPAC has done everything in its power to maintain, strengthen, and perpetuate the occupation, even when it means acting against the whims of the Israeli government itself and getting into bed with anti-Semites and Islamophobes.

Although AIPAC formally supported the Oslo Accords, it actively sabotaged it with congressional bills that gutted both the spirit and logistics of the agreement, including the first iteration of the bill to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The group spends millions of dollars every year making it politically impossible for any elected official to disavow the occupation, creating an atmosphere in Congress that is a far cry from the views of the American people.

AIPAC has welcomed to its conference stage notable extremists such as Christian evangelical John Hagee, who once called Hitler a “hunter” sent by God to drive the Jews into Palestine, and Stephen Emerson, a key manufacturer of the Islamophobia industry. Recently, AIPAC gave $60,000 to Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim propaganda machine and the inspiration for Trump’s Muslim ban.

And they have done all this while presenting themselves as the consensus voice of the American Jewish community on Israel — a portrayal to which most American Jewish institutions have been all too willing to contribute. This year, even as it is becoming harder and harder for AIPAC to claim bipartisanship, synagogues around the country will send delegations to the conference.

Every major American Jewish leader will feel compelled to attend. Students from universities around the country will be applauded from the stage. Many of these attendees are heavily subsidized. But many will pay the astonishing ticket price of $500 — AIPAC, after all, remains the political powerhouse of the Jewish community. And that is why the entire community is responsible for the pro-occupation policies its most important political institution encourages.

While Jewish institutional leaders will flock to AIPAC this weekend, the lobby and the politics it represents threaten the community they claim to represent and hope to grow. This threat can be seen in four ways.

The first and second have already been noted — the threat such pro-occupation policies represent to those who live under occupation and those who administer it. Much has been made of the third — that AIPAC’s influence within the Jewish community pushes away a generation of young Jews who, like myself, sense a fundamental disconnect between the Jewish values we were taught and a community which rallies 10,000-strong when Israel kills 1,500 civilians in Gaza.

American Jews from IfNotNow march at an anti-occupation protest, San Francisco, October 9, 2016.)

American Jews from IfNotNow march at an anti-occupation protest, San Francisco, October 9, 2016.)

The fourth reason that AIPAC is a threat to our community is a consequence of the unique crisis provoked by Trump’s election. We will not be able to maintain or grow our ranks in the burgeoning anti-Trump resistance — perhaps the most important political fight of our time — until we rid ourselves of the belief that Palestinian rights are the price we must pay for Jewish safety.

Until progressive Jews face squarely the question of Palestinian rights, every step we take towards solidarity will be accompanied by two steps back towards isolationism. The recent debate on Zionism and the Women’s March, and the controversy over the Movement for Black Lives policy platform last summer, are just two of the most recent instances in which clashes over Israel resulted in Jews retreating from relationships, coalitions, and movement-building.

On the face of it, conflict over BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) was at the center of both controversies. But in both instances Jewish outcry failed to note an inconvenient truth. At the core of these debates is not a question of tactics, but rather a litmus test of humanity.

Until our community is explicit in its opposition to an occupation that denies millions basic political, civil and human rights, we will continue to be asked how we can fight for equal rights here at home while remaining silent as the occupation grinds on. Can American Jews’ relationship to Israel accommodate the truth that Palestinians deserve the same freedom and dignity that we want for ourselves as Jews and for our Muslim, immigrant, black and brown neighbors here in the United States? Are we willing to fight for it?

We must confront the unfortunate fact that we cannot simply wish away our community’s support for the occupation or hope that our activism on domestic issues makes up for it. Until we win over the majority of our community to see ending the occupation as within our own self-interest as American Jews, we will not only continue to be divided from those whose solidarity we need in this moment, but we will also forfeit the idea that Jewish tradition and Jewish history obligate any particular commitment to justice.

We have a historic opportunity before us — to create a Jewish community that is consistent in standing up against anti-Semitism and in standing up for the rights of all people, Palestinians included. A Jewish community that can trust our allies to fight against anti-Semitism and can be trusted to show up in full force for the rights of all of our neighbors. But to seize this opportunity, we must win back our community from an ideology that makes us believe that our own freedom, and that of Israelis, can be won without the freedom of Palestinians.

By showing up to resist AIPAC we can begin to recover the moral integrity of the American Jewish community, speak out for the rights of all, and claim our space as Jews in the foremost political challenges of our time. I invite you to join us.

Emily Mayer is a founding member of IfNotNow, a movement led by young Jews to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation. She lives in Brooklyn, NY where she is a movement strategist and trainer.

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    1. R5

      Israel = Trump…Israel = Trump, let’s hear it guys! Don’t think, just chant! We need to blame Israel for the actions of the American government because…intersectionality y’all. And TRUST us, is not anti-Semitic at all to blame the Jews…err, Israel because “ZIONISM”! It’s a totally different word! #zogisoktosaywhenyouarealeftist

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      Since when do asylum seekers in US have a leadership out to murder you in your beds merel because of your religion?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tony Riley

      Emily seems unaware that 972 magazine provides a safe environment for anti-semites.

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      This call for “resistance” against the US and Israel reminds me of the Beatles “you say you want a revolution”. Overthrow the system! Maybe “progressives” should ask themselves why so many Americans were embittered after 8 years of Obamaism and why israeli voters gave up on the ‘peace process’ after so many suicide bombings, terror tunnels and rockets targeting civilians. I see that JVP’s celeb speaker Rasmiah Odeh accepted deportation from the US and being stripped of her fraudulently obtained US citizenship. “Progressive” web sites say that she didn’t, perish the thought, confess she lied about being a terrorist, but rather she capitulated so the supposed racism of Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a “Zionist” prosecutor. This, of course, denies the whole basis of the American justice system…so this is her version of “resistance”…everyone outside the “progressive” tent is scum and need to be resisted. No such thing as “democracy” or the “will of the voters”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The will of the voters? Trump lost the popular vote by three million. And I am convinced would have lost the electoral college were it not for the machinations of Comey (why didn’t he tell the public he was investigating Trump’s Russian connections at the same time he dropped the empty bombshell about Clinton 11 days before the election only to say “never mind”?) and were it not for the blatant interference of the Russians in the American election?

        Trump’s popularity rating stands at 37%, an historic low for a president at this point in his term, and in recent polls American were evenly divided on *impeaching* him! And that was before the latest debacle! If you think “so many Americans were embittered after 8 years of Obamaism”** you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait till two years of Trumpism. Our great “winner” already massively failed on the health care overhaul (but will now fall back on making the Affordable Care Act fail by sheer obstruction) and the tax overhaul failure awaits. His entire administration is not ready for prime time and he is a buffoon. The mid-term elections are going to be fascinating.

        ** Those “embittered” were either ideologues, or were fed up with government doing nothing because the Republicans set out from day one to do only one thing: obstruct Obama any which way they could no matter what the issue, or were working class whites who were genuinely embittered and confused but neither the Republicans or the Democrats ever got that or had or were doing a thing for them, and the Republicans now certainly won’t.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bernie X

      Emily. Have you ever traveled to the West Bank or Gaza and spoken face to face with Palestinians, heard their views?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Micah Friedman

      Emily, thank you for your hard- organizing on behalf of the liberation of all people, Jews and Palestinians alike! We need the strong moral leadership that If Not Now is providing in this critical time!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Susan

      We need smart resistance that really works. I think much of the current resistance won’t end the occupation one day sooner, It just makes people feel smug and self-righteous. It makes me roll eyes and think no wonder the left never gets anywhere in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        What are your suggestions?

        Reply to Comment