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Hey Hillary Clinton, Palestinian lives matter too

You claim to support peace, but your words imply that Palestinian lives are less valuable to you than Israeli lives. I implore you: please do better.

By Leanne Gale

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend the Washington Peace Conference, September 2, 2010. (photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend the Washington Peace Conference, September 2, 2010. (photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)

Dear Secretary Clinton,

I have faith that you want to stand with the Jewish people as we work toward peace with the Palestinians. But your recent article in The Forward did exactly the opposite.

You glorified Israel without mentioning its nearly 50-year-old military occupation and outlined how you plan to “reaffirm our unbreakable bond with Israel” without addressing its rightward anti-democratic spiral. This was a faulty political calculation, marginalizing a powerful progressive constituency in the American Jewish community. Further, your rhetoric on the situation in Jerusalem deliberately ignored critical context, fanning the flames of incitement. I implore you: please do better.

Over the past decade, the community of American Jews who oppose the Israeli occupation has built impressive political power. Perhaps most obvious is the rise of J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby that supports a two state solution. In synagogues, community centers and college campuses across America, J Street has become a part of the Jewish mainstream, creating space for activism critical of Israeli policy. J Street has also flexed its muscle in Washington, notably in a massive campaign to secure the Iran nuclear deal. Make no mistake—the Iran deal was no less a victory for the Obama administration than for the progressive American Jewish community, exercising our growing strength in the pursuit of peace.

And there are more examples. Following Operation Protective Edge—an unprecedented Israeli assault on Gaza leaving over 2,100 Palestinians dead—the membership of Jewish Voice for Peace swelled, leading to 30 new chapters and 60,000 new online supporters. That same summer, young American Jews founded If Not Now, a protest movement seeking to end Jewish communal support for the occupation. And we have seen the growth of Open Hillel, a student-led organization seeking to challenge the red lines dictating discussion about Israel and Palestine in Jewish communities on college campuses.

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

The flourishing of Jewish anti-occupation organizing aligns with the statistics. According to the 2013 Pew Research Center’s report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” just 38 percent of American Jews say that the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to make peace, and only 17 percent think the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security. Given that the proliferation of settlements is against stated U.S. foreign policy, I can only assume that you agree with us. So why are you ignoring our power?

Certainly the onus is on constituents to make ourselves seen, and we will continue to organize. But you also need to open your eyes.

As a young progressive American Jew, I felt hurt reading your piece. It sounded like you were pandering to a monolithic community that no longer exists, while ignoring the transformation my peers have worked so hard to effect. Frankly, it was jarring to read your piece in The Forward, a publication that has provided a platform for many liberal American Jews, including myself, to critique the occupation. When you ignore the political diversity of the American Jewish community, you make it harder for Jewish progressives to do our work.

I was also perplexed by your decision to align yourself with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under the Netanyahu administration, settlement expansion has surged to unprecedented heights, further entrenching the occupation and narrowing prospects for peace. In a similarly unprecedented move, Netanyahu dramatically undermined the Obama administration and inserted himself into U.S. partisan politics in his address to Congress opposing the Iran deal, leading 60 Democratic lawmakers to skip the speech. And let’s not forget Netanyahu’s abhorrent race baiting during the most recent Israeli elections, warning his constituents, “The Arabs are going out in droves to vote.”

There is a powerful constituency of American Jews who would applaud you for condemning Netanyahu’s hawkishness and racism. You can support Israel without supporting its current prime minister.

Finally, your comments about the situation in Jerusalem were damaging to the efforts of advocates seeking peace in the region. I don’t doubt that you fell in love with Jerusalem as you walked the streets of the Old City—so did I. But I can’t help but wonder if you noticed the poverty of the Palestinian population, which has now reached 75 percent of residents. Or the one thousand missing classrooms to serve the Palestinian children of East Jerusalem. Or the increasingly tenuous legal status of the Palestinian residents of the city, struggling to maintain their ties to Jerusalem in the face of permanent residency revocations, housing evictions by settlers and, most recently, the construction of the Separation Barrier cutting off over 90,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites from the city center.

A Palestinian couple cross a roadblock set up by Israeli police in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud in east Jerusalem, on October 14, 2015. Israel set up checkpoints in Palestinian neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and mobilised hundreds of soldiers as a collective punishment after recent attacks by Palestinians. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian couple cross a roadblock set up by Israeli police in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud in East Jerusalem, on October 14, 2015. Israel set up checkpoints in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and mobilized hundreds of soldiers following attacks by Palestinians. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This particular moment of Palestinian violence in Jerusalem arose from decades of desperation and was instigated by Israel’s changes to the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. You noted that Israeli lives have been claimed in terror attacks, even naming an Israeli coexistence activist killed. This was just and decent of you.

But you failed to note the Palestinian victims of Israeli state-sponsored violence or the collective punishment imposed on the Palestinian population in Jerusalem.

When you ignore important context, you lend credence to the narrative that Palestinians are inherently and irrationally violent. You claim to support peace, but your words imply that Palestinian lives are less valuable to you than Israeli lives. That’s not helpful for Jerusalem, and it’s not helpful to advocates working for peace.

If you are elected, I hope you will use your office to oppose the destructive policies of occupation. Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly committed to maintaining control over the Palestinian population for the “foreseeable future,” an outcome that would be disastrous for Israel, the Palestinian people and U.S. foreign policy.

Rather than pandering to a few wealthy donors and a dwindling faction of American Jews aligned with them, I hope you will acknowledge the vast majority of American Jews who support the creation of a Palestinian state. Do not obstruct the powerful progressive constituency in our ranks working day in and day out to build support for an end to the occupation. It would make our job much easier.

Sincerely,

A hopeful Jewish millennial

Leanne Gale is a Jewish feminist and anti-occupation activist based in Washington DC. She served as a New Israel Fund-Shatil Social Justice Fellow at Ir Amim (City of Peoples/City of Nations), an Israeli organization dedicated to building a more equitable and sustainable Jerusalem. This article was first published in Fair Observer.

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    1. Eliza

      Leanne Cole states that ‘You can support Israel without supporting the current Prime Minister.’

      But why should the USA ‘support’ Israel at all? Its one thing for two States to be allies, or to have interests in common, even to form an alliance but another thing altogether for one state to be expected to ‘support’ another State. And let’s not bring up the moronic notion of ‘unbreakable ties’ between different Nation States.

      I would give up on Hillary Clinton in terms of her being able to pursue a sensible ME policy if she does attain the Presidency. Whatever her private opinions are, it is clear from this grovelling Forward article that she is unable to find any space even for the slightest nuance when it comes to Israel and its occupation of the Palestinians.

      But why do American Jews think that the USA is going to put its neck out to save Israel from itself? Why should any American politician who attains high office, expend too much political capital on confronting Zionism? Who else are liberal American Jews going to vote for? Republicans?

      Ultimately, Israel is not America’s responsibility. Why should any American put substantial electoral funding at risk from wealthy American Jewish donors, possibly shipwreck their own political career simply to keep Israel in line? Even Obama is putting the I/P conflict on the backburner – its simply not in the politically possible class of things. This is very similar to Mitt Romney’s comment in the last Presidential campaign when he was overheard saying words to the effect of just kicking the can down the road when it comes to Israel/Palestine.

      Israel will go its own way. If that ends up being its own eventual demise under the weight of its occupation and/or the crumbling of Zionism as very nasty form of Nationalism, then what is that to the USA?

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Eliza: Exactly right. Many people I know wonder why USA is supporting Israel. It cannot be the “unbreakable ties” crap. Tell me what the ties are, not just a political sound bite. You hit the root problem: USA politicians afraid of losing funding from rich American Jews if they don’t support Israel. No, if they don’t bend over forwards for Israel. Well that is the lowest, most sheepish, embarrassing reason for a human being to capitulate, to genuflect, to another person. Israel will go its own way as you said, it has it’s way already established for it in its WZO charter, and it is enthusiastically pursuing that (The Land Of Israel). I hope USA Congress and President find their balls again.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          Thats BEN talking to and responding to BEN and telling BENhow “exactly right” he BEN and the only BEN is, while posing as “Eliza” and “Average American”. Soon Ben will metamorphose into “Eva” or “Lauren”. Seem’s BEN feels likes a girl sometimes. That’s a good thing for feminism and the transgender community. BEN is after all a “liberal”. LoL…..

          Reply to Comment