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American Jews, which side are you on?

Rather than sit uncomfortably within the tired anti- or pro-Israel paradigm, we are building a reality in which American Jews who disagree with the occupation can take comfort in their Jewish identity.

By Shira Yudkin Tiffany

IfNotNow activists form a human chain outside the Washington Convention Center to protest the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Washington D.C., March 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

IfNotNow activists form a human chain outside the Washington Convention Center to protest the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Washington D.C., March 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Rows of police demarcated the sides outside the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. Two human chains of protestors in matching t-shirts bound themselves together to the doorways to the Washington Convention Center. Beyond them were barricades and a sea of mostly young, largely unaffiliated Jews, cheering on the action in Hebrew.

These were not your average AIPAC protesters.

While the Jewish community has been puzzling over the antidote for the growing disinterest in Israel among American Jews, these protesters have found their own medicine. A thousand Jews from across the country came together on Sunday for a protest organized by the Jewish-American anti-occupation group, IfNotNow, against AIPAC’s continual support for Israel’s policies of military rule over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

At first glance, there were two sides — the world inside AIPAC, and that outside of it.

At second glance, behind IfNotNow stood protesters from CodePink, Neturei Karta, and ANSWER. A cluster of beefy men wielding giant Israeli, American, and Kahanist Jewish Defense League flags sulked in the back in counter-protest, becoming particularly agitated at the sight of a Palestinian flag unfurled the length of a building. Once standing in front of the giant Palestinian flag with a cluster of Israeli flags proved futile, the JDL and their friends began beating two protestors with their flag poles.

The scene outside AIPAC conventions has historically been the same. Flag wars. Anger. But this year, the songs American Jews learned at Jewish summer camps — the ones that instilled values of social justice in an entire generation — became the soundscape for IfNotNow’s protest.

The loudest chants were Hebrew songs remixed with social justice standards. “Esh tamid tukad al hamizbeach” (“The eternal fire on the alter will never go out”) was alternated with “Which side are you on, my people?” a tune that originated with the United Mine Workers and was later adopted by the greater American Labor movement.

Activist from IfNotNow march outside the Washington Convention Center to protest the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Washington D.C., March 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Activist from IfNotNow march outside the Washington Convention Center to protest the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Washington D.C., March 26, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Some of the Israeli flag bearers chanted back at IfNotNow, “Which side are you on?” This sounded like a series of accusations. Are you on team Israel? Are you a Jew who falls in line? Are you a self-hating Jew?

IfNotNow is doing to AIPAC in the street what J Street did to them on Capitol Hill when it was founded: offering a new space that brings in people who are Jewish, yet don’t see their values expressed within the halls of AIPAC. By drawing a line between AIPAC and the Jewish Resistance, IfNotNow have asserted that their resistance is Jewish. They are reclaiming a community hijacked by mainstream acquiescence to the occupation.

IfNotNow may be polarizing the Jewish community to choose AIPAC or the Jewish Resistance – but they are also presenting a third-way for protest: they are neither nationalist nor violent. They are constructing something new.

Rather than sit uncomfortably within the tired anti- or pro-Israel paradigm, IfNotNow is building a reality in which American Jews who disagree with Israeli policies can take comfort in their Jewish identity. They’re creating a reality where they can stand up for themselves and for others. As the occupation continues, IfNotNow will reclaim and re-imagine Judaism, and as they do so, they will also reinvent the game of protest.

Shira Yudkin Tiffany is a member of IfNotNow in Boston. She grew up in Wilmington, Delaware where she graduated from Albert Einstein Academy Jewish Day School and Gratz Hebrew High. She is a member of the Boston Worker’s Circle and Moishe Kavod House in Boston.

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    1. Grandpa Frost

      What a bunch of brainwashed, delusional, semi-literate morons. They don’t know a thing about either Judaism or the reality of the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Let me clear it up for you. If those behind you are CodePink and Neturei Karta then you support the destruction of Israel. That makes it pretty simple. You are anti-Israel. This isn’t an “accusation”. It is the truth. So, you are on the side of those that wish to destroy the Jewish state and cause the rather predictable loss of life, limb and property to the more than six million Jewish residents in that state. I do wonder how many Jews would choose your side, and how they are able to live with themselves. I presume the only practical way is to insist to themselves that the Jews deserve all the pain and punishment that you would like them to suffer. So, self-hating Jews is probably a reasonable approximation of this phenomenon.

      Jews who reinvent Judaism to be analogous to progressivism will be progressives but they are not going to be Jews for long. I saw a cute joke recently.

      Q: What is the difference between Donald Trump and a progressive Jew?

      A: Donald Trump’s grandchildren will be Jewish.

      You like it?

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      A “proud Jew” believes that a Jew has distinct values, otherwise he is just part of a mass of humanity. So what does it mean that “as a Jew I oppose the occupation”? Is it because Judaism supposedly “opposes the occupation”? What is this Judaism? What are its sources? The Bible? Did any of those who quote the Bible as supposedly opposing the occupation ever actually read the Bible? What does the Bible say about the enemies of the Jewish people? What does it say about the Jewish connection to Eretz Israel? Does it say Jews have to capitulate and hand over territory in the country to their sworn enemies? Does it say Jews should commit suicide in order to be pure stateless cosmopolitans as some “rabbis” are now claiming?
      Yes, I know that certain rabbis like to cherry pick a few verses from the Prophets, but anyone who quotes the Prophets in order to curse their fellow Jews who are building Israel and condemn them for defending themselves against a ruthless Jihad has NEVER actually read the Prophets in their entirety.
      Thins were simpler a century ago. “Progressives” like the Bund and the Communists said that Judaism is obsolete, religion is nonsense and they didn’t want to be bothered by it. For some reason, today it is fashionable to take a very small piece of Judaism and to try to build the entire “progressive” agenda around them without looking at the totality of Judaism is INTELLECTUALLY DISHONEST.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This bible quoting is a super-tired anti- or pro-Israel paradigm, if you ask me. If you want to honestly look at the totality of Judaism then you will have to look not only at biblical or temple Judaism, which you seem to confine yourself to since it serves your purposes, but also rabbinic Judaism, and not just the rabbis you cherry pick. Not just the written Torah but the oral Torah, the Tanaim and the Talmud, Mishnah and Gemara, and the Pirke Avot. And much else besides. And not just the Rabbi Kooks but the whole great range of post-destruction era Judaism starting with Ben Zakkai. And I don’t think that if you do that you can be so confident that “Judaism” excuses the occupation. And besides that, your argument depends upon the idea that the occupation is for defense against existential threats. Andrew Levine argues that Israelis have a constant need to create fake “existential” threats.
        SEPTEMBER 8, 2011
        The New “Existential Threat”
        by ANDREW LEVINE

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I would have certainly included post-Biblical sources, but I didn’t because I don’t think many of the people who look at this site are as familiar with them so I didn’t mention them. But, okay, those sources ALL agree with the points I made. You show me ONE source, other than that of Netueri Karta which is a crank, fringe group even among non-Zionist Haredim that says Jews have no right to the country, and that it is a mitzvah to “turn the other cheek” to our Jihadist enemy. The cherry picking you referred to is what people like Brant Rosen and others do, taking a few quotes out of the Prophets and apply them in ways the Prophets would have been appalled at. See what they say about Israel’s enemies and what they hope happens to them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            But that’s the thing. Look at how you frame it in terms of inauthentic existential threats (see Levine and Pardo, on this page). No one of course is going to find in all of the written and oral traditions anything ‘that says Jews have no right to the country, and that it is a mitzvah to “turn the other cheek” to our Jihadist enemy.’ Nor if you sent me searching for texts endorsing pederasty, sodomy and usury would I be able to find them. But you will find texts condemning idol [land] worship and theft and coveting, and thumbing one’s nose at the law and taking advantage of people. And on mistreating the stranger. And though you probably hate that liberal do-gooding term, “tikun olam,” it is no modern liberal invention, appearing first in the Mishnaic period.

            The Aleinu
            “לראות מהרה בתפארת עוזך, להעביר גלולים מן הארץ והאלילים כרות יכרתוון לתקן עולם במלכות ש-די”

            “to speedily see Your mighty splendor, to remove detestable (idolatry) from the land, and the (false) gods will be utterly ‘cut off’, to tahken olam in God’s kingdom”

            I think we just disagree on what the idols are and what repairing the world means.

            But actually, it occurs to me that a lot of these religious sources, biblical and rabbinic, forbade these things being done to other Jews; but to do them to the Gentiles, not so much. Lurking in your framing of things might be the attitude that Israel Jews, individually and collectively as a state, are permitted by Judaism to do to Arabs what they cannot do to Jews, in terms of human rights violations. Which would be a form of religious nationalism or nationalist religiosity that, If it were the case that you endorsed that, we would disagree on that clearly.

            One can always use a text how one likes. Several rabbis, let us remember, invoked din rodef to endorse the murder of Rabin, before he was assassinated.

            You cannot rightfully invoke traditions of Judaism to tell the Jews of “If Not Now” that they are not real Jews or are not “proud Jews.”

            I would be interested to know what particular statements of Brant Rosen bother you.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            According to all Jewish sources, Jewish practice as defined by Jewish religious/legal tradition (except for the distorted readings of Netueri Karta) gives Jews the right to live anywhere in the country and set up a state with the support of the world community, which it received in the Balfour Declaration and 1947 UN Partition Resolution. It also gives the Jews the right to defend themselves within the framework of international law. OF COURSE, the non-Jewish population has the right to be government fairly and with respect. However, sovereignty in the country is reserved for Jews. I am sorry if this is “politically incorrect” but it is Judaism. Yes, there are groups of Orthodox Jews who accept these rules in principle, but who say in practice, we are not strong enough and we should delay implementation of our rights, but this is controversial and not universally agreed upon.
            Regarding Brant’s views of Judaism or Neturei Karta’s (which although one is non-Orthodox and the other Orthodox are very similar and which hold most of world Jewry in contempt), it is necessary to point out that a world-recognized religion has standards and accepted laws and tradition. It is not possible for some renegade Catholic to say “the pope and the church are wrong…my individual views are the only ‘authentic’ Catholicism. Brant and Neturei Karta are renegades who have no right to speak in the name of “Judaism” because they each represent tiny, splinter, crank groups.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Except for Neturei Karta”

            I think this is too simple. The Haredi, a huge and growing group, have a complex relationship to Zionism and to do not accept the national religious or religious Zionist position that you seem to adhere to:

            “However, sovereignty in the country is reserved for Jews. I am sorry if this is “politically incorrect” but it is Judaism.”

            Well there you go. You are a fundamentalist. What do you want me to say? You are telling us the occupation and the permanent suppression of an entire people in the land, based on ethno-tribal-religious criteria, is “allowed” by ancient texts to which you subscribe. And this is the 21st century. Not the 16th century.
            (Or the end of the nineteenth):
            Tony Judt, Israel, The Alternative (2003):
            “…The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism…”

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            “The World has moved On”, “the right side of history”. Since Judt made that statement, has the world mover towards MORE open borders, or LESS open borders, LESS nationalism or MORE nationalism. Saying something is an anachronism doesn’t mean it isn’t right. 100 years ago, “progressives” thought religion was dead. Well, it isn’t, particularly in the Middle East. What is “the right side of history” anyway? Who is the “prophet” who has discerned it?
            Which way is history moving anyway. In the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese treated their Russian prisoners humanely. In the Second World War they suddenly decided that a POW is no longer a human being and they were abused and died in droves. In the First World War, the Germans generally observed the rules of war regarding civilian populations in occupied territory and treated their Russian prisoners humanely, and they even ate better than did their German captors. In the Second World War, I don’t need to remind you of what the Germans did, and the millions of Soviet prisoners who died.
            “The right side of history” says secularization is inevitable, but we don’t see the Muslim world, which is a big chunk of humanity going that way.
            So, please don’t tell me we Zionists are on the “wrong side of history”. The Palestinian state you are praying for will be ethnically exclusivist, as is stated in their constitution and will define Islam as the state religion which discriminates against non-Muslims. If you accept that then you should have no problem with Zionism (and please don’t use the excuse that I hear so often from “progressives” that “they are primitive so they can be nationalists, we Jews are superior so we are not supposed to be”.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            If you think in short time frames to suit your manage the conflict and preserve the status quo strategy it makes sense to talk about what the Germans did in WWI vs WWII, and who knows which way the wind blows about how the latest political backlashes hold sway but you forget the Germans of 2017 have indeed moved on and Demagogic Trumpism is not a philosophy and is not a movement with long term staying power. It is a mere reaction. Yes the Europeans and the Germans in particular took on more than they could handle with unrestricted immigration and rapid demographic and social change and there will be an inevitable corrective readjustment backlash but that does not define the arc of history or render history merely chaotic and arc-less. We can as easily say the Jews behaved very differently in one age and another and that their current behavior in Israel is a low point and they are going through something the Germans worked out or their systems and are therefore more mature politically and morally. Israel has been compared to an adolescent. Indeed which way is history moving in the Middle East including Israel? What is your argument? Anachronisms are not so bad and history is chaotic anyway? It’s our turn to treat prisoners inhumanely and not observe the rules of war regarding civilian populations in occupied territory? To the degree we can get away with it? No, you can’t do what the Russians and Germans and Japanese did, but hey a softer version of what they did—why can’t we have our nice little post-20th century anachronism? What’s so great about progress when you have a nice little religious nationalist occupation to maintain? Lurking in here is a narcissistic “we are special, we are different, the rules don’t apply to us ” special case pleading. The Germans, Japanese and others did that too.

            One doesn’t have to be “pro-secularization” to be against religious nationalist extremism. I hope both the Naftali Bennett types and the Hamas types are on the wrong side of history in the long run. I have neither prayed for nor accepted an ethnically exclusivist state, Islamic or Jewish or whatever. That’s a strawman. I think you ultimately root for the radicals on both sides because you are ultimately after a solution that requires a death struggle over land. And I feel that what your posts show here is that beneath all the harrumphing about progressives sits an unreconstructed pursuer of a maximalist extreme religious nationalist fight to the death over land. Have it your way, but then don’t whine about it when the Palestinians fight you back and the western world does not empathize as it once did. If you want a fight to the death that’s what you’ll get.

            But by all of this I think you lead us far afield into abstract historical arguments that distract from the fact that your army and your settlers sustain a 50-year illegal belligerent occupation that deprives huge numbers of human beings of their rights right now every single day. With great cruelty. With no end in sight. Not to mention the threat it creates that Pardo is concerned with. Go ahead and invent reasons not to listen to him. You can’t say you weren’t warned. If we’d listened to Bibi and not Meir Dagan and Pardo and Obama and Obama’s brain trust we’d be at war with Iran right now and millions more would be dead. Great. Of all people to trust with your future you take the word of that utterly self-serving megalomaniac? Not me. Or Trump? Again, I think you root for guys like this because you know they are agents of the status quo within the defacto apartheid state and of chaos without and you want chaos as a smokescreen to carry on the occupation. The last thing I feel you really want is a stable world order and a stable Middle East where people can turn to Israel and ask hard questions. Me, I’m rooting for the children of light to learn from the children of darkness but to win out over them.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Bill Michtom

      There is no reinventing to do. Jews, according to the Seder, think of ourselves as having personally come out of slavery, hence identifying with the oppressed. We are committed to the principle that no one is free unless everyone is free. And we remember that we have an obligation to work for that universal freedom.

      It is nationalist oppressors like Netanyahu and Likud who, by their actions, proclaim themselves as NOT Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Bill-you make various assertions that “We are committed to the principle that no one is free unless everyone is free. And we remember that we have an obligation to work for that universal freedom.” I assume by “we” you mean Jews. Can you show me some authentically Jewish source that says these things? Are these uniquely Jewish values? Are you saying that non-Jews DON”T have these values? Who says that giving the Palestinians a state which will inevitably be a failed, violence torn state that will be an ongoing threat to Israel is “freedom” for the Palestinians and that there is some sort of Jewish imperative to enable such insanity?

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      Every criticism of Israel is an existential threat leading to the second holocaust.

      “Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo asserted on Tuesday that the Israeli occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians are the only existential threat facing Israel.”


      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Israeli generals and Mossad and SHABAK leaders have a very long history of being wrong regarding strategic issues. Look at the failures of the Yom Kippur War or all the people who said Israel was not taking any risk in trusting its security to Arafat. Fine, Pardo said what he said, a lot of knowledgable people think he is wrong. Generals, Mossad and SHABAK people may be very good in tactical, operational matters, but there is a vast gulf between knowing how to move troops on the battlefield or track terrorists in enemy territory, and understanding Israel’s true place in the Middle East. Ideological rigidity frequently colors the outlook of these people.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Randall the Sarcastic

      Yes, those Judaism-ignorant, Hebrew-illiterate, Left wing, Assimilated Jews just one step from Intermarriage (or Overeducated Spinsterhood) are the authentic “voice” of American Jewry.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Elmo Glick

      It says the author is a member of the Boston “Worker’s Circle.” How grotesque. The far left Boston chapter of the old Workmen’s Circle, I presume. It is a particularly noxious far left anti-Israel organization. This was not the Workmen’s Circle I knew 40-50 years ago. While socialist, and not explicitly Zionist, it did not attack fellow Jews the way the particularly odious and deranged Boston chapter of the Workmen’s Circle is doing now. This group of nuts are trying to relive the struggles if the early 20th century while raising the flag of neo-Bundism and trying to recreate the world of Yiddishkeit. These people should grow up. They obviously have adjustment issues.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Are you Caroline’s brother? This by you is an obvious attempt to pathologize and anti-Semitize. It is pure unsupported slander, and not very competent slander at that. Then you add that nice sinister Orwellian touch: that to fight for justice is to not “grow up,” to have “adjustment issues” and not fall in line and toe the party line. You are definitely a party line kind of guy–whereas this Magazine is not about party lines, it’s about human rights irrespective of ethnicity.

        I just noticed Randall the Sarcastic’s similar jibe: “Overeducated Spinsterhood.”

        The idea being that women who don’t marry are tragic and women are damaged, unlike men presumably, by being “over-educated.” We can see where ‘Randall’ is coming from in terms of his sociopolitical values regarding women and men and a whole lot else (such as Arabs and Jews): Kinder, Küche, Kirsche (synagogue).

        Reply to Comment