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Diaspora Jews, it's time to step up

For years there have been calls for on-the-ground opposition to the occupation. Now there are a growing number of Jewish platforms — and voices — seeking to make it happen.

By A. Daniel Roth

Activists hold a sign reading 'Segregation is not our Judaism,in Hebron , October 25, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the ‘All That’s Left’ collective at a direct action protesting segregation in Hebron, West Bank, October 25, 2013. Seven of the Jewish activists were arrested and later released. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The way the world is talking about the Israeli occupation is changing. Alongside that change, opportunity is knocking for those of us standing in opposition: calls for diaspora Jews to be present on the ground in Israel and Palestine are increasing. An important shift is beginning to take place — right now.

The writing is on the wall. Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected, U.S. President Obama and his staff have been speaking differently about the once-incontrovertible two-state solution. One campus Hillel changed its name instead of changing it’s programming to adhere to Hillel International’s rules. If Not Now stormed onto the scene last summer in response to the violence in Gaza. Boycotts and BDS campaigns are sprouting up on campuses and at supermarkets all over the world.

That was on display for anyone to see last week in Washington D.C. The J Street conference, which brought together over 3,000 people, saw a series of fired up conversations that put shone a spotlight on the American-Jewish relationship with Israel. During a panel on liberal Zionism, Israeli journalist (and +972 blogger) Noam Sheizaf made a clear plea for a collective refocusing from “state solutions” to the urgency of ending the inequality that exists for millions under occupation, who lack freedom of movement or access to civilian courts.

Peter Beinart also took a step forward on stage, calling on young Jews from North America and around the world to stand physically in Israel and Palestine, and to take part in Palestinian non-violent resistance to the occupation.

For years there have been calls for on-the-ground participation from a variety of communities. Recently, there has been a surge in Jewish platforms for those communities to take part in peace and justice work.

A Jerusalem-based volunteer program for young American Jews (which I co-founded) called Solidarity of Nations-Achvat Amim engages in human rights work and learning based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. All That’s Left (of which I am a member) is a collective aimed at engaging the diaspora in anti-occupation learning, organizing, and on-the-ground actions. The new Center for Jewish Nonviolence has already brought a delegation to help Palestinian farmers to replant trees the IDF uprooted last spring.

It is important that Jewish communities with connections to Israel take part in this movement. Whether they have a personal, communal, religious or cultural relationship with this land, diaspora communities should be on the forefront, stepping up to take responsibility for a peaceful and just future here.

The groups and initiatives I mentioned above are working on engaging even more people in this work: bringing dozens of diaspora Jews — who are already living and learning in Israel — to do solidarity work with Palestinians. In the coming months, they hope to bring hundreds more from around the world for direct actions and educational initiatives in the West Bank.

There are important roles for people from all over the world, of various backgrounds, in organizing opposition to the occupation. Right now, at this very moment, there is a growing call for diaspora Jews to to find their way here and stand up for equality. It’s time to answer that call.

A. Daniel Roth is a journalist and educator based in South Tel Aviv. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org and you can follow him on Twitter @adanielroth.

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    1. Pedro X

      So Mr. Roth calls for Diaspora Jews to take up battle with Israeli Jews who live in Israel. He endorses the violence of boycotts and sanctions which target Jewish Israelis in Israel and abroad. BDS stokes anti-Semitism and violence against Israeli Jews.

      Unfortunately in the Diaspora of millions of Jews he may find some useful idiots to help him in his cause. However, I suspect that Israeli Jews will not be persuaded that some self hating Diaspora Jews know more about Israel and the facts on the ground than Israeli Jews who live in Israel and face the consequences of ongoing Palestinian policies and terrorism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        1. Boycotts are non-violent. (It’s mere propaganda to say otherwise, carving out a special exemption for Israelis from boycott. You object to a non-violent alternative yet of course you, as you should, condemn violence. Except when YOU do it. And boycotting Iran is ok It’s ok to boycott everyone in the world but you.)
        2. The Israeli people and their elected leaders have proven time and again that “negotiation” “between the two parties” does not work and is merely exploited as a cynical “managing” tactic.
        3. The Palestinians have proven time again that violence does not work and only makes everything worse.
        4. What’s left? Talk is futile. Violence is futile. Non-violent resistance ( e.g. boycott) is all that’s left.
        5. Your missive from the right wing has such a tiresome, hackneyed feeling. It’s a sign that something is wrong. The air is bad. The beginning of an endgame is in play.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          BDS is violence personified against Jews and Israelis for being Jews and Israelis.

          Harold Brackman, Brandies Center:

          “The BDS has a history, whether your focus is the remote or the recent past. It is an ugly history.”

          At the 2001 Durban conference the Palestinian Solidarity Committee of South Africa distributed copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which was so toxic that Mary Robinson, WCAR Secretary General, later admitted that throughout the Durban Conference “there was horrible anti-Semitism present—particularly in some of the NGO discussions. A number people said they’ve never been so hurt or so harassed or been so blatantly faced with anti-Semitism.”

          “[T]he animating idea of “the Durban strategy”—including the call for “mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel”—became the battle cry for the developing BDS Movement”

          Omar Barghouti the Palestinian leader of the BDS movement seeks to destroy not only the Jewish State but to tear down and replace all Jewish institutions which form part of the Israeli government.

          Anthony Julius in his learned, witty history of anti-Semitism in England, Trials of the Diaspora (2010), wrote:

          “Calls to boycott Israel, for sure, both resonate with historical anti-Semitic campaigns against Jews, and draw on the language of anti-Semitic polemic. Indeed, to generations earlier than the present one, it could be taken for granted that anti-Semites would especially favour the boycott because it most completely expressed anti-Semitism’s project of repudiation and exclusion of Jews. . . . What happens when people are boycotted? The ordinary courtesies of life are no longer extended to them. They are not acknowledged in the street; their goods are not bought, their services are not employed; invitations they hitherto could rely upon dry up; they find themselves isolated in company. The boycott is an act of violence, though of a paradoxical kind—one of recoil and exclusion rather than assault.”

          The Montreal Gazette, March 15, 2015:

          “One just has to scan through the press to see the real face of BDS and its offensive, hateful and anti-Semitic tone and messaging on university campuses around the world: The student government at UCLA that challenged a qualified candidate, because she was Jewish and active with Hillel (Jewish student group on campus). Chants of kill the Jews at a BDS protest just a few days ago in South Africa.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            There are unfortunately people who have stupidly tainted the idea of boycotting Israel with antisemitic themes. But it IS possible to have a non-antisemitic boycott of Israel for truly just and fair reasons. Boycotting Israel over the issue of the occupation is not inherently antisemitic. It in fact may be the only humane technique left to humanely confront Israel. Otherwise, what?, we should just let Israel perpetuate its colonial domination? Offer no resistance? For fear of being insinuated to be an antisemite? No way.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      There’s only two directions to go in: back to 1492, when collective guilt and collective punishment were popular ideas and states were identified with ethnic or religious groups (Spain for the Catholics!) or forward to a more modern conception of the nation state in which everyone is guaranteed equal rights/treatment under the law and no ethnic group is given preference. Alas, Israel is moving back to 1492…..

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Bruce the Arab and Muslim world have not exactly grasped your ideal of universalism, have they eh? Arabs and Muslims are still fighting the wars of the 8th Century C.E, Sunni against Shiite. Arabs and Muslims have been at the forefront of the slaughtering of minority populations. Christians in middle east countries, once the majority, are embattled minorities facing mass slaughter. Jews in Arab countries are almost non existent numbering in the thousands from a population over a million.

        The Jewish concept of the one Jewish state in the world is one of self reliance where Jews can live in a Jewish state and live a Jewish existence within a Jewish culture, with a Jewish language, laws and customs. The Jewish state is the epitome of self determination, to determine who they are and how they wish to live within a majority Jewish state. If the Muslims can have 57 non democratic states defined by racist and misogynist Sharia law and Muslim supremacy, the Jews can have one democratic state in which Jews can breathe and live a Hebrew culture. Minorities in the Hebrew state have more rights and privileges then most Arabs in Arab states.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          ” Arabs and Muslims are still fighting the wars of the 8th Century C.E, Sunni against Shiite.”

          It’s pretty amusing to get this lecture from someone who thinks a 3000 year-old scroll is a real estate document. A belief which serves as the basis for a political movement that got its way by killing people.

          Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            I did not know that the international law of the Mandate for Palestine permitting Jews to settle and develop land and political institutions were printed on 3000 year scrolls. You must have been reading the scroll of the Prophet Lord Balfour.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Sorry, thought the Zionist claim to Eretz Israel came from the Torah. My mistake.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            You are not mistaken at all, Andrew – the Prophet Balfour (accused of being an antisemite who wanted to get rid of England’s Jews and therefore backed Zionism) was merely republishing ancient fables that were developed over 2000 years ago by a class of priests who thought their credibility would be enhanced if they could portray themselves as having God on their side (c.f. the Arab conquests, the Crusaders and George W. Bush).

            Reply to Comment
    3. Eliza

      This is a positive step forward – I think.

      But what about Gaza?

      I think its clearly well-intentioned and there is every chance that it just may get Israelis to question both the rationale behind the occupation and the notion that the conflict is about two people who cannot work together, live together as equals; that Jews can interact with non-Jews in the West Bank without fear.

      But what about Gaza – does this remain outside the box. As I see it, part of the Israeli strategy to further their goals is to divide and separate the Palestinians who live in the W/B and Gaza. Do these groups ever recognise that Gaza is really also under occupation by Israel – its just that the settlers are gone and the IDF has retreated to the borders. Liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart don’t seem to ever include Gaza in their discussions. It always seems to ignored.

      Reply to Comment
    4. L.V

      Daniel – I’ve been following up on your work, and that of ATL, for some time. While you mean well, and while some of you have adopted progressive views for the future of the people living in this land, there are some acute issues that remain to be addressed.

      You are not of this land. As Americans, you are not entitled to pave policy, directions and strategies for the people of this land, whether they’re Palestinian or Israeli-Jewish. If you took up Israeli citizenship, based on your parents’ religious background, you have decided to side with the Zionist political regime. If you decide to take money from the state of Israel, and from wealthy Jewish donors, as your so-called ‘Solidarity of Nations’ organization does by taking Masa grants, you side with the State of Israel against the Palestinians.

      You will do us all a favor by focusing on what you can actually do – trying to change American policies towards Palestine at home, rather than inventing another American NGO in Israel on the pretext of care for the Israeli democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sticky Rice

        Right, becase LV’s vision is the only plausible solution. No other views are permissible.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          “No other views are permissible.” Oh yes, and who are the thought police who control this debate? I can think of scientific issues (e.g. a flat earth, at the centre of the universe, with life created by Intelligent Design) where only one view is plausible, but science is not advanced by the concept of impermissible ideas. I can think of no issue of human conflict where opposing views are not permissible, except to the closed mind of a fascist. Even Zionism, with a host of ill-informed and irrational backers, usually permits of more than one point of view, whilst generally opposed to open debate. So are you a fascist or a Zionist or a human being with a sense of irony?

          Reply to Comment
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      Reply to Comment