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Time to break the silence: An open letter to American Jews

The American Jewish establishment, from the Federations to synagogues, must take a look in the mirror and decide whether this is the Israel it identifies with. If it isn’t, it should speak up. Urgently. 

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 IfNotNow activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in 2014 Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 IfNotNow activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in 2014 Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Dear American Jewish community,

I should start off with a full disclosure: I am only tangentially a part of you. I have been living in Israel for the past five years, and before that I was an Israeli-American living in the Bay Area (with a brief stint in Los Angeles), where us Israelis viewed ourselves as a semi-autonomous cultural group. For the most part, we were not associated with the Reform or Conservative movements. We went to pray once a year during Yom Kippur, and our Passover seders were always much more about food and togetherness than sussing out some overarching lessons from the Hagada. In fact, at times we even looked down at our American co-religionists. We were mostly Asheknazi and middle class — we had a relationship with our version of Israel that others just couldn’t understand. Like a secret we would only share with those who really get it.

It took me years to get off my high horse — to understand that American Jewish culture is a rich, varied, and beautiful thing. In fact, I finally understood that after living in Israel, where I often feel much more like an American Jew than Israeli. That is why I feel like I can write to you today.

For American Jews who haven’t been paying attention — or have simply decided to ignore what has been happening — I will politely sum it up in three words: things are bad. For Palestinians, things have been bad for much, much longer. It has been nearly five decades since the beginning of the military regime in the occupied territories. Five decades of lording over millions of Palestinians with no end in sight, and almost 70 years after we made sure that Palestinians who were expelled or fled during the 1948 War would not return to their homeland. But I can’t make you care about Palestinians. I know that so much of your identity today is bound up in Israel. My hope is that perhaps through caring about those who seek to defend human rights in the country you care so much about, you will also grow to care about those whose rights they are trying to defend.

The past few weeks in Israel have felt like watershed moment after watershed moment for Israelis who care about human rights. Attacks on human rights organizations from far-right, proto-fascist groups have become the new mainstream. These kinds of attacks, of course, aren’t new. Organizations like the New Israel Fund have been the target of campaigns of incitement for years. Somehow, however, it always felt like the Right’s hateful rhetoric against the Israeli Left would blow over.

Right-wing nationalists from the group Im Tirzu protest as Palestinian students living in Israel and Israeli supporters commemorate the Nakba outside Tel Aviv university, May 11, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Right-wing nationalists from Im Tirzu protest as Palestinian students commemorate the Nakba outside Tel Aviv University, May 11, 2014. (Activestills.org)

But it hasn’t. What started a few weeks ago with a hateful campaign against Breaking the Silence — which tried to host an event at a pub in Be’er Sheva — continued with a vicious video clip that personally identified and targeted left-wing activists, culminated in the arrest of a prominent left-wing activist, who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport Monday, despite there being no legal barrier to his leaving the country prior to his arrest. The man, whose identity is under gag order, is being held on suspicion of being in contact with a foreign agent.

Meanwhile Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the person appointed to uphold, well, justice, has been outright attacking against human rights organizations, going so far as to promote a bill that would require NGOs that receive 50 percent or more of their funding from foreign governments to detail those sources of funding in any public reports or documents, and to wear special tags when attending legislative sessions in the Knesset.

There is context to all of this. The recent wave of violence, which has claimed the lives of at least 145 Palestinians and 24 Israelis has become the backdrop for incendiary and often inciting remarks by Israel’s top political echelon against both the Left and Palestinian citizens. Following the murderous attack on a pub in central Tel Aviv, Israeli police raided and wrecked the homes of dozens of Arab students living in Tel Aviv University’s dorms. At the same time, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he called into question the loyalty of Israel’s Palestinian citizens — 20 percent of the population — simply because they are Arab.

It seems, furthermore, that something even more sinister has been happening over the past few months. As Ofri Illany recently pointed out in Haaretz, the Shin Bet, Israel’s security services, have started to play a more prominent role in the country’s day-to-day politics. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line know the agency well. Following the creation of the state, the Shin Bet dedicated much of its time and resources to creating a network of collaborators inside Arab society, often using blackmail and threats to keep Arab citizens — the vast majority of whom lived under military law until 1966 — in line. Following the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, the organization took its tactics over the Green Line.

Following the Duma murders last July, the Shin Bet rounded up Jewish suspects and allegedly tortured them, a practice that until recently has been reserved for Palestinians. This, Ilany writes, has coincided with rise of the Shin Bet from an organization whose existence once went unspoken, to one that is turning on its own. We are heading toward a reality in which torture and shadowy government security agencies are becoming part and parcel of the mainstream.

Hilltop youth settlers protest the torture of Jewish minors by the Shin Bet, central Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015. (photo: Edo Konrad)

Hilltop youth settlers protest the torture of Jewish minors by the Shin Bet, central Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015. (photo: Edo Konrad)

American Jews who are reading this must understand why this is all happening now. The struggle to end the occupation is slowly becoming internationalized. No longer is the conflict being viewed as a political dispute over land between neighbors, but rather as a civil rights struggle against a military occupation. And there is nothing the Israeli Right, center, and even parts of the Left fear more than an end to the occupation. International pressure, whether in the form of diplomatic power moves, boycotts, or sanctions, have brought the attacks on those who wish for a peaceful, just solution to the conflict to a fever pitch.

In a sense, all of this was inevitable. But your silence isn’t. Condemnations by the Anti-Defamation League aren’t enough. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street and IfNotNow are pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse to include new voices. But they cannot do it alone. The American Jewish establishment, from the Federations to synagogues, must take a look in the mirror and decide whether this is the Israel it identifies with. If it isn’t, it should speak up. Urgently.

Yours truly,
Edo Konrad

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    1. Dave

      You know what? We tried that. Both the right and the left told us to piss off. You told us it’s none of our business. So the majority of us (unaffilliated secular American Jews) said ok, shrugged our shoulders, and went back to watching “Game of Thrones”. Newsflash. Nobody cares about your problems. We have enough of our own. Israelis had many opportunities over the years to take back their democracy. You chose not to. The economy was good, everyone was making money so why worry, right? Then you occupied Rothschild , and instead of talking about how your govt is screwing you so some Kahanist can live in a free house with subsidized utilities, you talked about Dafni Leef and cottage cheese. You want to drive the car off a cliff? Who am I to tell you no? You’re on your own.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gil

        Dave, your words resonate well enough. They are far from unjustified. Still, this piece by Edo presupposes a shared Jewish ethos of caring for our people. In Israel, be sure of it, we share this ethos, and it entails caring for American Jews. This ethos is what prompted American Jews to help German Jews half the world apart almost a century ago.

        Of course you have problems of your own as American Jews, we (I speak as an Israeli, though I currently live in the Bay Area myself, and experience something similar to what Edo describes) do not expect that ours will take precedence. But like it or not, Israel is the Jewish state. It is tied, for better or worse, with the Jewish people. It reflects on them, however so lightly.

        This surely burdens you with responsibility you did not ask for. But if you subscribe to this shared Jewish ethos of caring for our people on some basic level, what in Hebrew is sometimes called “Arvut”, letting the Jewish state drive itself off a cliff just because it sucks is not an option.
        Who are you to tell us? Much more than you seem to think, if I’d have to guess. This ethos of caring is what inevitably gives American Jews great power, even though we Israelis seem so often quick to dismiss it. Because we care for our brothers in America, their strong and unequivocal opinion and communal action will carry great weight in Israel. Because we are the Jewish state, a strong and unequivocal moral stance in American Synagogues and Jewish communities cannot really be swept aside, or fail to send ripples throughout the Israeli society. Marvel had it right with power and responsibility, maybe up to a sign.

        The inhabitants of the Jewish state are in desperate need of some moral help from their brothers in America. Not strategic military and political advice about borders and “security”, which Israelis tend to dismiss and patronize, but a clear and unapologetic voice that reminds Israel of Jewish conscience, and that this conscience is the business of Jews everywhere. Rooted in a shared Jewish ethos of caring for our people, what in Hebrew was once referred to as “Ahavat Israel”, such a moral stance cannot be ignored by the Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Muhammad570CE

          Utter blah, blah, blah from Ben alias Gil alias Dave alias Randall alias Felix Reichert alias etc. trying desperately to be what he is not and cannot be.

          Hey Ben, “Gil Gamesh” posted here before and always defeated you in arguments. Is that why you are trying to hijack his identity? Seems you need your meds, psychopath? Perhaps you want to be the first to jump over the cliff?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      You can feel the extremist far right getting bolder and bolder. Witness just for example the fascists like Herr Kaine and Herr Gindi coming out of the woodwork. Flexing their muscles. About “anti-Semitiism abroad, ie, Sweden and France” and “a country with self respect like France” (note how these two clowns paint France in opposite colors):

      Larry Derfner showed that the bias runs entirely the other way. The Europeans give Israel a pass they give nobody else:
      http://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

      So much for Gindi’s fascist fake bravado about “not lying down.” The EU funds Israel’s occupation–allows Israel to control millions of stateless, disenfranchised Palestinians without paying the cost–and then Gindi says “we are not going to take this lying down!” What a farce. “Wartime”? Please, Gindi. This is Thefttime.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        This sums up the attitude of the Palestinian Arabs…

        No, no, no we won’t sign a peace deal which is not a dictate for terms of surrender by Israel…

        No, no, no, we refuse to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people….

        Yes, yes, yes we will commit violence until we succeed to convince you that you have no other option but to bow to our wishes….

        Oh, poor us, the occupation, oh how Israel makes us suffer for no reason at all…

        Add water, stir and repeat This sums up the attitude of the Palestinian Arabs…

        No, no, no we won’t sign a peace deal which is not a dictate for terms of surrender by Israel…

        No, no, no, we refuse to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people….

        Yes, yes, yes we will commit violence until we succeed to convince you that you have no other option but to bow to our wishes….

        Oh, poor us, the occupation, oh how Israel makes us suffer for no reason at all…

        Add water, stir and repeat ad nauseam…

        Reply to Comment
    3. Randall

      American Jews are becoming more irrelevent by the day. Half of them are intermarried and keep Christmass trees in their homes. The other half end up overeducated spinsters or mgtow. The Jewish future is in Israel with the highest birth rate in the developed World.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dave

        Excellent. Than I’m sure you won’t object if we choose to keep our dollars in the states and instruct our elected representation to to do likewise when voting on foreign spending. No more credit guarantees and we start taking a closer look at these “tax exempt” organizations. As I mentioned in my post above; “you’re on your own”. And just in case you don’t think there’s any popular support for any of this, think again. These Millenials hate your guts and there determined to cut you off with or without the “irrelevant American Jews”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Respondents under age 45 were less likely to feel connected to Israel but no less likely to regard Israel as important to their Jewish identities. Insofar as age differences are not new—younger respondents have been less attached to Israel in surveys conducted at
          regular intervals over the past 24 years— the study attributes such
          differences to stages of the lifecycle rather than generational turnover.

          Reply to Comment
          • Dave

            You’re not getting this. When I’m talking about Millenials, I’m not talking about Jews. I’m discussing the generation as whole. As such, the majority of them are of an ethnicity other than white and Judeo-Christian. They have no love for Israelis and have no emotional attachment to Israel. On the contrary, they see the State of Israel and Israelis as antithetical to their values and world view. That said, they’re gonna have no problem leaning on their congressmen and senators to vote in a way that will reflect that. And make no mistake about it. If the current crop of democrats and republicans are unwilling to do so, they will vote people in that will. Unlike my generation, they are engaged in the political process and have every intention of pushing their agenda.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dave

            One other thing. Your study is the product of a Jewish Establishment that as a matter of routine and policy, has no problem discounting the opinions and views of the unaffiliated, which for better or for worse are the majority within the Jewish-American community. Talking to the kids over at USY or the Taglit twits after you get em’ drunk in Tel Aviv is not necessarily an accurate measure of the zeitgeist. You should bear that in mind when you’re bean counting. Btw. Secular Jewish Ametican Millennials are quite loyal to their gentile counterparts and are much more comfortable with their Judaism as Americans than previous generations. Unlike those that came before them, they feel no need to compartmentalize their lives when it comes to their ethnic and religious background. I wouldn’t count on this delusion that in the future, their Judaism will trump their identity as Americans.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Even if true, which it isn’t…

            1. There is good will towards Israel amongst a large section of the American population, not just Jews.

            2. That good will is likely to grow as Americans likely to perceive that we are both fighting a common enemy, Arab supremacism and Islamo fascism.

            3. Last but not least, if push comes to shove, we can and we should be able to stand on our own feet. We have no problems with indifference. We only have problems with those who display unjustified hostility towards us. Indifference we can handle. We accept that everyone has to look after their own respective interests. Us too though. So don’t expect Israelis to act in the interests of the Palestinian Arabs who have displayed nothing but enmity towards us for the last 100 years!

            Reply to Comment
          • Muhammad570CE

            This Ben-guy is eternally obsessed with the sexual activities of Jewish women. It does not matter whether or not he is posing as “Dave”, “Gil”, “Yvette”, “Randall”, Felix Reichert, etc. to start a conversation (most often with himself), he is always saying the same thing over and over again, every day. He apparently is trying also to hijack the identity of Gil Gamesh who posted here a while ago and clashed with him when he posed as “Mike Sailor”. This Ben-guy is quite sick and delusional.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dave

            “1. There is good will towards Israel amongst a large section of the American population, not just Jews.”

            “This large section of the American population” that you’re talking about? They’re a minority now. You see them at Tea-Bagger rallys. They’re wearing tri-corner hats, shooting up insulin, and babbling about Obama’s birth certificate. But your mistake is understandable. The crowds always look bigger on TV. You know, camera angles and such. In any event, their good will lasts as long as they keep breathing or Alzheimer’s kicks in. Whichever comes first.

            “2. That good will is likely to grow as Americans likely to perceive that we are both fighting a common enemy, Arab supremacism and Islamo fascism.”

            I wouldn’t bet on it. To wit;

            http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Research/Files/Reports/2015/01/08%20american%20opinion%20poll%20isis%20syria%20telhami/isis_report.pdf

            “3. Last but not least, if push comes to shove, we can and we should be able to stand on our own feet.”

            Please. By all means. The sooner the better.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Sorry buddy. Your own link supports what I said. And if you’ll choose not to send ground forces to defeat ISIS (which you may do), the effect will be even greater because ISIS will not stop it’s terror campaign against you guys so there will be a ground swell of resentment against our common enemy. You guys will be cheering us on, every time we will give them their own medicine back after they commit one of their many (100 year old) atrocities against us.

            Just wait and see Davey boy…

            Reply to Comment
          • Dave

            Whatever. Your funeral Gus. Nice knowing you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            No funeral buddy. Don’t be so self important.

            Reply to Comment
          • dogday

            Palestinians displayed enmity towards Jews for one hundred years!? Would that 100 years be the same as the last 100 years? Is so, then it is the Zionist 100 years. Have Pal any reason to feel enmity toward the purveyors of Zionism? Of course. So, why do you say such silly things as though this “enmity” comes from nowhere?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            It has no reason. They refused to let us have our share of the land and they made war on us. WE are the ones to have reason to have enmity towards THEM.

            But people who want Arabs to own the entire Middle East and more don’t want to comprehend the fact that we are entitled to our own country in part of our ancient ancestral homeland which represent 0.5% of the land that the Arab people own but they want to grab even that 0.5% from us? Shame on them and even a bigger shame on outsiders who support them in their greed!

            Reply to Comment
    4. you are correct. the military occupation of the west bank must end. there are two alternatives:
      withdraw and make way for a terrorist state such as ISIS or gaza or….
      the other alternative is found at
      http://www.unitedisraelplan.com

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      New EU draft resolution draws stark distinction between Israel, West Bank settlements
      Israel working frantically to block pending resolution, expected to be published on Monday, that top officials says could lead to additional sanctions against Israeli settlements.

      http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.697683

      “…”The drafts have become increasingly harsh and grave from moment to moment,” the Israeli official said. “The Swedes and Irish are pushing and it appears as if our friends are not able to withstand it. The Germans are trying to hold the line, but are not succeeding.”

      Officials in Jerusalem stressed that acceptance of the resolution in its current form would be another legal anchor for those European countries trying to get Israel to separate from the territories.

      The consequences could be severe, they said, and could bring about increased sanctions against the settlements.

      “It will be difficult to stop initiatives by European countries against the settlements,” one official said.”

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Israeli response to EU labeling of settlement products has backfired
      Israel’s decision to freeze contacts with EU on Palestinian issue and petty acts of vengeance against few European states only increased European anger; main victims of Israel’s policies are settlers.

      http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.697834

      Reply to Comment
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