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Occupation denial is pushing me out of my Jewish community

I can no longer remain silent as many in the Jewish establishment continue to support the occupation, publicly reject the Movement for Black Lives, and remain silent on Trump.

By Jenn Pollan

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. (Faryn Borella)

Four years ago on a 100 degree day, I sat on the porch of a home in Bethlehem while a Palestinian man named Samer pointed to the Israeli settlements that surrounded his home. As he spoke Samer fiddled with a small cross necklace I previously failed to noticed he was wearing. When he saw I was looking at the necklace, he paused and said with an almost alarming casualness: “This is for the checkpoints. The soldiers treat you better if they know you’re Christian rather than Muslim.”

To bear witness to the stark reality of Israeli rule over the occupied territories — the home demolitions, the settler violence, the lack of access to water and anything resembling a fair trial — is to become confronted with just how deeply the American Jewish establishment has failed.

As a young Jew, an anti-occupation activist, and an active alumna of Habonim Dror, AVODAH, Young Judea, the Reform Movement, and the Pardes Institute, I often find myself in spaces with all the trappings of “progressive Jewish values” — where community members and leaders either remain silent about or actively support the occupation.

I have, until now, remained committed to engaging with Jewish spaces and organizations. But despite my deep love of Jewish ritual and tradition, this year I fear I may have to leave my synagogue and the Jewish institutions that raised me behind.

This past year has been one of profound injustice. We have seen people of color murdered by the police at alarming rates with impunity. We have seen a resurgence of white nationalist rhetoric and policy ideas so heinous that our grandparents call us from Florida to tell us “we’ve heard this before.” In a year of so much pain, I turned to my Jewish community for solace and found only silence — or worse — deliberate action to maintain the status quo. This year support for the occupation crossed a dangerous threshold: it is now keeping American Jews from supporting the most important civil rights movement of our time, Black Lives Matter.

Recently the Movement for Black Lives released a visionary platform full of innovative policy ideas for addressing centuries of racism. In the platform they used terms to describe Israel’s occupation in a way that many Jewish organizations and individuals found painful. To say that I understand this pain is an understatement. I know that the experience of anti-Semitism so ingrained in the bodies of my grandparents and parents endures. That pain was there when my grandfather chastised my grown father for leaving a job, telling him “Jews don’t get to work at big companies. You may never get another shot.”

Jewish activists take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Brookline, MA, December 16, 2014. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

Jewish activists take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Brookline, MA, December 16, 2014. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

In the wake of the release of the Movement for Black Lives platform, the opposition of many Jewish organizations — and the silence of progressive organizations, many of whom had profoundly shaped my vision of justice — was stinging. The fervent, public opposition to Black Lives Matter was particularly stark considering how few Jewish organizations have publicly condemned Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. What I found striking about reactions to the platform was what they demonstrated about the Jewish community’s support for the occupation. The Jewish community can no longer acknowledge the full depth of black oppression in this country, fearing that if they do they might reveal how black parents instructing their children to refrain from wearing hoodies around the police is eerily similar to a Palestinian parent instructing their child to wear a cross at a checkpoint.

This past year we saw too many in the Jewish establishment continue to support the occupation, publicly reject the Movement for Black Lives, and remain silent in the face of Trump’s rise. This coming year we will witness the 50th year of occupation, a new president, and a emboldened ultra-nationalist community in the United States. I can no longer sit silently in the back of a synagogue or give money and time to progressive Jewish organizations while our community ignores injustice. There is no better time to take action.

IfNotNow activists seen in a police van following an anti-occupation demonstration inside the Anti-Defamation League's offices. (photo: Gili Getz)

IfNotNow activists seen in a police van following an anti-occupation demonstration inside the Anti-Defamation League’s offices. (photo: Gili Getz)

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, hundreds of Jews belonging to Jewish-American anti-occupation collective IfNotNow are gathering across the country to take part in the ritual of Teshuva, not only to repent, but to imagine a radically different new year, devoid of inaction and complicity in injustice. If Jewish organizations want me and fellow anti-occupation Jews to stick around for another year, they need to join us in condemning these transgressions and pledge to take action.

Reform rabbis who call for compassion toward refugees need to impress upon their congregants that Jews have been active participants in creating millions of Palestinian refugees. Progressive American Jewish organizations who claim to care about racial justice need to speak out about racist systems of oppression in Israel with as much fervor as they do domestically.

This year I am heeding the call of of the shofar and renewing my commitment to fight for freedom and dignity for all. Jewish establishment: Will you join me?

Jenn Pollan is a Brooklyn-based activist and a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians. IfNotNow has chapters in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

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    1. Bernie X

      Well. Another young person lurches into the I/P vortex. Too bad.

      ‘Abandon all hope, yea who enter’.–Dante

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bus189

      BLM is a bigoted sectarian movement that divides Americans on the basis of race and promotes the hatred of white people and the murder of police officers. It is the ideological mirror equivalent of the “ultra-nationalists” of the alt-right.

      Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people in the homeland of the Jewish people.

      If BLM matters to you more than Israel then you are a SJW far more than you are a Jew.

      The organized Jewish community is better off without you.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lawrence A Dickerson

        How crass to chide a person for expressing his views and wishing for equality and peace for all. I guess there is no money to be made in peaceful actions.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bus189

          BLM is not about equality. It is about superior legal rights and privileges for blacks. Feel free to take a look at their manifesto for proof. Chiding someone for supporting a sectarian group which promotes the hatred of others and justifies attacks on police officers is the duty of all people with any sense of decency.

          The communists too purportedly wished for equality and peace yet were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions. The supposed enlightened intention of an ideology does not make the tactics and goals of that ideology any less odious when the goal is demonstrably destructive and the tactics are nihilistic.

          People like the author should be shunned and rejected by polite society. Her positions on Israel, where she is siding with murderous Palestinian nationalism that strives to destroy the state and home of more than six million Jews, are also not worthy of any respect. Between those two things she has no place in any mainstream Jewish organization and should be forced out into the wilderness along with other supporters of racists and terrorists.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Steve

      Why do you pretend to be “criticizing” Israel if what you’re really doing is demanding that Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, commit suicide and become an Islamic state by allowing millions of Jew-hating Muslims to flood into the country so that Muslims can become a majority?

      That’s what the “right of return” nonsense aims to accomplish. To make Jews a minority in Israel. To make Arabs and Muslims the majority. It rejects Israel’s current democracy and only accepts democracy when Arabs/Muslims are the majority. SO they can vote that Israel isn’t Israel anymore. So millions of Israeli Jews would now be vulnerable and no longer protected by the state. So millions of Israeli Jews would now have to flee for their lives. That’s what the “right of return” aims to accomplish.

      And that’s what anti-zionists and Black Lives Matter and almost every 972mag writer promotes. And it’s what the “If Not Now” group of anti-Israel Jews want.

      Why do you want this?

      You “anti-zionists” are literally promoting Israel’s destruction and literally promoting “solutions” that would seriously endanger the lives of millions of Israeli Jews.

      What is “Jewish” about trying to make millions of Jews vulnerable to attack from jihadists?

      And what is “Jewish” about demonizing Jewish nationalism, yet promoting and accepting Arab nationalism, Muslim nationalism and Palestinian nationalism?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bernie X


        Well said.

        Reply to Comment
      • mika

        @Steve : “That’s what the “right of return” nonsense aims to accomplish.” This your’s right of return -nonsense is international law. But if you are looking this problem only through ethnocentric view point, then only solution is exactly your reply. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

        Reply to Comment
        • Bernie X


          What international law allows the grandchildren and great children of ‘original refugees’, a right of return?

          Reply to Comment
          • TB7

            WOW. Do you really think that a state has the right to keep refugees expelled OR destroying their families by only allowing part of them to return?!

            Read the UNHCR’s principle of family unity or reunification, if you are really interested in the underlying international law which I highly doubt. The refugee status under UNCHR can not only be passed to descendants, but also to ascendants.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tom Hall

            The Zionist claim to Palestine is predicated on two thousand years of exile. In which case, we’re not talking merely of grandparents, but of extremely remote ancestry. If consistency means anything to you, the right of return must also be accorded those driven out by Israeli force in the recent past, as well as their descendants.

            Reply to Comment
    4. tzedek

      That’s why we need to recreate new and actually ethical Jewish Institutions.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Carmen

      The world doesn’t need another ‘state’ that has stolen the land and treasure from the indigenous people living on that land, killing and driving out as they went along; this is the 20/21st century ffs, not the middle ages! Make all the excuses you want, and you will, of course. But in reality there is no excuse for what has been done in this place in the name of all Jews. You speak for very, very few. And your actions are continuing to isolate you – among your own! How’s that for irony! Those billionaires living so well in the ‘diaspora’ are going to do just that, continue to live a lifestyle far away and removed from the hills of Jerusalem and Hebron because it’s nothing more than an ethnocentric, xenophobic, filthy ghetto. More lives and more capital have been wasted on the zionist experiment, which is only the biggest welfare state in the world, full of liars, thieves, criminals and demigods who don’t live with any sense of humanity and cooperation with the indigenous people that have been here for centuries, but use the torah, as good a prop as any, to justify! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61knwOj8uvsbut

      Instead of doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you, you just do unto others. Kharmically, it’s not going to be pretty, but most of you seem to be on a suicidal path anyway, living on stolen land, killing, poisoning water walls, destroying crops and livestock, etc., etc. Why do you have to taken the rest of the world with you?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bus189

        This is our land. We are the indigenous people. And we are back. Whether others accept us coming back and building in our homeland or not makes very little difference to us. We will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that we will keep our land and our country.

        As for ‘taken the rest of the world with you’. I can’t quite figure out what it means, but it sounds like you might be blaming us for all the ills of the world. Careful now with that kind of rhetoric.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          If you’re going to kill yourself, go ahead, just don’t take the rest of the world with you (Samson option anyone?).

          “Careful now with that rhetoric”. Pretty sure no one on these posts that is of the zionist/right wing/colonialist persuasian is in the place to tell anyone else how and what to say.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bernie X


        Where do you live? Camelot? Elysian Fields? ShangraLa?

        Please. I really want to know.

        *Carmen heads for the tall grass*

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          “Carmen heads for the tall grass”. Seriously? You’re not that effective.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            What a primitive bitch.

            This is not the middle ages? Then why are you peddling blood libels from the middle ages? “Poisoning wells” huh?

            Reply to Comment