A Jewish-American perspective on Zionism and Israel-Palestine
In hindsight, many Americans will admit that the Vietnam and Iraq wars were colossal and devastating mistakes, yet the prolonged silence of American citizens allowed for the deaths of millions of innocent citizens. Lest we let our silence and inaction lead to genocide, Americans, especially Jewish Americans, must begin changing the narrative around Israel.
Growing up as a Jewish American, I was often taught about the Holocaust and the long history of discrimination that Jewish people have faced, from slavery to extermination. I knew that if I was born in another place and time, I would have been sent to the camps. Though it means a lot of different things to me, a large part of my Jewish culture and heritage is resistance to oppression, slavery, and discrimination.
Zionism came about in the 19th century in response to European anti-Semitism. Organizations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) launched campaigns to urge Jewish settlement in the land of Palestine, claiming it was a “land without a people,” which was blatantly not true. In 1947, as a response to the Holocaust, the United Nations drew borders for the new state of Israel, proclaiming it a homeland and safe haven for Jewish people. In that same year, Jewish militia groups began a violent project of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, and by May of 1948 the Israeli army (funded by German war reparations—some dark irony!) had destroyed 500 Palestinian villages, displacing over half a million Palestinians, to create the Jewish state.
The Palestinians remaining in Israel have since been treated as second-class citizens and a demographic threat to the Jewish majority vote. Those in the West Bank and Gaza have suffered under the realities of Israel’s constant expansion into their shrinking homeland—illegal Israeli settlements stealing Palestinian resources, a military occupation since 1967, trials in front of Israeli military courts, and the list unfortunately goes on. On either side of the 26-foot apartheid wall, Palestinians are placed within bars and cages, penned up behind blockades and under fire as more and more of their land is stolen by the state of Israel. All this despite valiant resistance movements on the part of Palestinians to retain their homeland and their dignity. (In pre-Holocaust Europe, the Jews resisted as well. Would we call the violent resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto terrorism?) Americans remain supportive of Israel, giving them three billion dollars in aid a year; meanwhile, it is becoming clear that Israel is attempting to commit genocide against the Palestinian people.
Many liberals criticize the aggressive actions of the Israeli government and see reconciliation as possible if Israel would abandon its illegal settlement of the West Bank and return to its 1967 borders. President Benjamin Netanyahu has been making that vision seem less possible, promising to no longer recognize the Palestinian state and continuing to build settlements in the West Bank.
We must remember, however, that a more liberal sounding Zionism is still Zionism, an ideology that justifies the expansion, conquest, and exploitation of the Palestinian land and people for the exclusive benefit of Jewish people. While liberal Zionists may not support some of the more obvious brutalities of Israel’s actions, they refuse to allow the right of return to the Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes during the Nakba (1948) and since, and it does it address the discriminatory nature of a state which accords privileges to Jewish citizens at the expense of others.
Zionism became so powerful because it exploited (and continues to exploit) the fears of Jewish people and their history of discrimination. Through fear, we have allowed politicians and states to inflict ongoing harm and suffering unto the Palestinian people. Racism cannot be resolved with more racism if we are hoping to create a world where people can coexist in peace and dignity. It is not anti-Semitic to reject Israel as a state with racist laws and genocidal practices. If anything, such criticism shows a thoughtful consideration of the Holocaust, by refusing to accept in silence a normalized narrative of oppression. It is a tragedy that Israel was created in response to the Holocaust. Instead of internalizing the need for love and acceptance of those different from ourselves, we’ve been taught to internalize fear and self-protectionism.
In the midst of another Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza last summer, hundreds of Jewish Holocaust survivors signed a letter condemning Israel for its “ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.” “Genocide begins with the silence of the world,” the letter read. “Never again must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”
Sinead Lamel is a member of the Class of 2015 and Students for Justice in Palestine.
Mills' rejection of ASA boycott misunderstands the movement
The American Studies Association, a group of scholars on American culture and history, recently decided to honor the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli institutions. This academic and cultural boycott aims to bring under scrutiny the actions of the Israeli government and to put pressure on Israeli institutions to end the oppressive occupation and racist policies within both Israel and occupied Palestine.
For those who understand that the struggle for rights is global, this is an important academic boycott—which is why Bowdoin should join it.
To date, Israeli academic institutions have been notoriously silent with regards to the daily oppression of their Palestinian counterparts. No Israeli university has actively or publicly opposed the occupation. Israeli universities give priority admission to soldiers, discriminate against Palestinian students, and have developed remote-controlled bulldozers for the Israeli Army's home demolitions. Israeli universities conduct research for the Israeli military, and several of them operate out of illegal settlements built on Palestinian land occupied since 1967.