In response to “Independent Jewish Voices and Mine” by Rena Silver, Hasbara fellow at York University.
These past few decades have been harrowing and difficult for Palestinian Muslim and Christian alike, with unending horror stories not making headlines about Palestinians being threatened with ethnic cleansing on a daily basis. Living under occupation, apartheid, and humanitarian blockade, things have been hairy for indigenous Arabs for some time now. Like Ms. Silver, pro-justice activists and organizers also hate that our reaction becomes routine, yet unnoticed in the eyes of the media, government, and the international community as a whole.
It is unfortunate that pro-Israeli students, such as Ms. Silver, cannot remove themselves from the anguish and guilt they must experience in supporting a state that maintains a status quo of racism and escalating police brutality (no quotes) resulting in the extrajudicial execution of Palestinian Arabs. We stand on two different sides of the same shared disappointment, separated by a 20-foot wall of concrete facts they are unable to see.
Contrary to Ms. Silver’s own “formulated baseless opinions,” Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada remains committed to standing against hatred and racism of all peoples, including Muslims and Jews. It is more than we can say for one-sided pro-Israel groups, such as the Jewish Defense League (the sister movement of neo-Kachists whose right-wing, anti-Arab ideology has been banned in the United States and Israel, but have enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Canadian government).
The actions of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) come at the expense of the cultural history of the land once belonging to Palestinians (one relevant example being “Canada Park,” which was built in 1975 on the lands of Beit Nuba and over the village sites of Imwas and Yalu, where close to 1,500 homes were demolished directly following the Six-Day War). As many who follow the news outside the mainstream (due to the possible “media bias” Ms. Silver was referring to), Jewish settlement construction (which is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention) continues to destroy Palestinian homes, depriving them of their right to live on land they’ve lived on for centuries, solely because they’re not Jewish.
IJV is proud to align ourselves in support of groups such as the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), who have spearheaded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at York University for many years now. Viewing BDS as a “hate” movement, when it really stands for non-violence and accountability of Israeli breeches in international law and human rights, creates an unnecessary disparity in an attempt to silence dissent.
SAIA’s meetings are filled with diverse students heavily involved in student life who have always made a point of standing against various forms of oppression (their basis of unity explicitly states that they oppose all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism). IJV’s presence on campus now ushers in a welcomed alternative Jewish (cultural and religious) identity outside of clubs that are solely focused on Israel and their need to whitewash the blood spilled by decades of military occupation.
Many members of IJV’s national steering committee have not only visited Israel, but have lived there, and members of ours have even served in the military. Given technological advancements in social media, photography, videography, and journalism, we are not required to be spoon-fed the mainstream opinion about Israel, and it is an indirect and subtle microagression against Palestinians.
The argument that “one must visit Israel to understand” dismisses the countless documented events from Palestinians who were born, raised and experienced injustice, with family members injured or killed due to unrest. It also dismisses the firsthand accounts of those who’ve travelled in solidarity with the Palestinian people to document these events. To call them “formulated baseless opinions” is yet another method pro-Israel individuals use for erasing the Palestinian narrative.
Dismissing groups that seek justice of an oppressed people as “hate” and “spouting vicious lies” further misdirects that same vilification toward those who aren’t willing to understand the other side of the debate. Using terms like “slander” and “libel” behind these terms is to promote untruths and only creates obstacles to the same “dialogue” Ms. Silver claims to champion.
Perhaps I can never understand Ms. Silver’s side of the disappointment. While I have experienced anti-Semitism (as many a Jewish person has), I’ve never experienced discrimination or hate for standing on the side of justice for all peoples, not just those privileged with government support and impunity for crimes against humanity by an occupying power. By no means is this a testament that such hatred doesn’t continue to exist, it is simply an affirmation in the great differences between our own history of religious and cultural oppression, and the political ideology used to oppress another people in the same manner.
Like Ms. Silver, I am also saddened, but not at the many morally and ethically bankrupt luxuries and privileges she has. I am saddened by loss of life, of both Arabs and Jews. I am saddened by the atrocities that have been committed in our name, over an ideology that provides de jure discrimination under the guise of democracy. I am saddened (but not surprised) that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses historically inaccurate facts to retroactively stigmatize Palestinians.
As Jews, we have the right to align ourselves with those who share similar traits and beliefs, who welcome us not solely because we are Jews, but because we seek justice for a people oppressed for over half a century. An allegiance to Israel, or lack thereof, does not define our cultural, political and religious identity. It is not “turning our back on that (or any) Jewish hope”, as it is through our humanity and desire for equality that allows us to stand up against injustices, especially those that are claimed to be done in our name.
Samuel B. Halévy is a member of the National Steering Committee, Toronto Chapter in Independent Jewish Voices — Canada