On recent solidarity statements, originally written May 15th, 2021
Recent and other circulating support statements for Israel, often shared through email and signed by many Synagogues and other powerful Jewish institutions, claim to speak not only for their entire congregations and individual community members, but for all members of the Jewish community in Canada. But they do not. A recent statement forwarded by email to me by a family member includes the main headline “The Jewish community of Canada stands with the people of Israel as they remain under assault from rocket fire”. I have included the full image of the statement below this writing. It is signed by Jewish organizations such as: B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends Of Simon Wiesenthal Center For Holocaust Studies, and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, as well as dozens of congregations, synagogues, schools (including children’s schools), student groups, and many more groups and organizations.
Nothing in the text following that headline genuinely considers the complexities of the devastation, particularly Palestinian civilians who have long been suffering and displaced, with no bomb shelters, and little autonomy over anything, who are in a desperate and terrible situation. In these statements, there is no social justice or empathetic framework applied for understanding what has lead to the devastation including the violence and control enacted by the state of Israel on Palestinians historically and ongoing and the violence enacted by Hamas on the state of Israel. Statements like these are manipulative to Jewish community members who see a list of these powerful institutions they are a part of or grew up in and are shamed into silence or encouraged not to think critically. These statements force a polarization of Jewish community members, asking Jews to choose between decrying violence and murder enacted on Jews and violence and murder enacted on others who are not Jews. We do not have to.
We should care about and speak against violence and murder enacted on all people. Jewish people, including anti-Zionist Jews, do want safety for citizens and civilians living in Israeli who are in danger from rocket fire, but not all Jewish people agree with other statements included under those manipulative headlines. Or they might believe, as I do, that vital information is intentionally absent from such statements. The language of these solidarity statements intentionally gaslights Jewish people who are concerned about Palestinian human rights, which are not mutually exclusive from Jewish human rights. Despite what they claim, these statements discourage debate, discussion, and criticism. These statements also use language meant to appeal to Jewish people’s emotions, religious beliefs, and fear, without providing a proper framework of the crisis— and whether this is intentional or not, it is manipulative and harmful. For example, these statements often feminize Israel, with statements such as “Israel and her right to peace” in the introductory text above the statement I viewed, all without being critical of the devastating harm Israel has enacted and is currently enacting in the name of Zionism and “national security” onto Palestinians. These statements are not critical of the harm Israeli violence and settler colonization does to Jews all over the world including in Israel. Countries are frequently gendered, but the context here is important.
These statements will speak of Antisemitism while never speaking of Islamophobia or racism or the human rights of Palestinians. Through the narrow focus of these statements, readers are encouraged to conflate and connect anti-Zionism with antisemitism, ignoring the broader criticisms of colonialism and militant ethnic nation states. There are different views within Zionism, now and historically, and as I have mentioned in my last post, Judaism is not automatically Zionism. The ideologies of Zionism have shifted and varied over time, from being a self-described settler colonial project, to a proud non-religious socialist project, to a religious right for Jews (religious nationalism), to a necessary conservative facet of Israeli and Jewish national security that must constantly enforce control onto “others” to survive. With every dominant ideology within Zionism that has existed, there have always been dissenting views from Jews. I believe that certain dissenting views within Zionism in the early 1900s would now be labeled as “anti-Zionist” and anyone holding these views would now be labeled “anti-Semitic” by those who believe in the dominant Zionist discourse now.
These statements will include phrases such as “Jewish Canadians are heartbroken to see the death and destruction on both sides” and “praying the situation does not escalate” — but this is not enough, and to me feels devastatingly hollow and uncompassionate. Not to mention, there are Jewish people who are not religious, who are agnostic, atheists, or hold other beliefs, and do not believe that that the power of “prayer”, especially without reparations, is enough to prevent further violence.
There is no peace if not everyone in Israel/Palestine feels peace. As Israel exists now, the temporary illusion of “peace”, usually after temporary ceasefire, relies on the continued displacement and disenfranchisement of human lives. This statement ultimately claims, in the final paragraph, that the rejection of the Jewish State by Palestinians is the “root cause of the conflict” and “that rejection is animated by antisemitism”. This oversimplifies and deflects from the facts of the situation, erases the lived experiences of Palestinian people, and fails to hold the Israeli state and supporters accountable for any wrongdoing historically and ongoing.
These statements not only refuse to think critically about Israel’s harm, but are used to justify human rights violations. In order for the violence to be resolved, I believe that Jewish people must have difficult conversations to dismantle these overly simplistic but understandably appealing narratives deeply rooted in fear and collective and intergenerational trauma.
Why are powerful Jewish institutions claiming, in their solidarity statements, to speak on behalf of all Jews in Canada, knowing full well that not all Jews in Canada share their unmitigated support of the Israeli government and Zionism in how it is enacted? I believe it is because many Israeli politicians and leaders, many large Zionist institutions and leaders, and all those who benefit from Zionism and the State of Israel as it exists now, work hard to conflate Judaism, the Jewish religion, and Jewish identity with Zionism and the actions of the Israeli State. I believe that this is an aggressive political and social tactic that works to perpetuate the illusion of a unified homogeneous national and cultural identity and discourage Jewish dissent through intimidation, shame, and erasure.
As of this morning, at least 140 Palestinians, including 39 children have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Monday, at least 950 others wounded. In the West Bank, IDF has killed at least 13 Palestinians. At least 9 people in Israel have also been killed, with hundreds of rockets being fired from Gaza to various locations in Israel. “The UN has said it estimates approximately 10,000 Palestinians have left their homes in Gaza amid the Israeli offensive.” ( https://www.instagram.com/p/CO5dy4Tr-qO/ ). There is no justification for any of this violence.
I hope that this and other posts I share will provide some sort of support or encouragement to other Jewish people who are having difficult conversations with family and community members right now, and standing up for the human rights of Palestinians, Jews, and other civilians living in Israel/Palestine. For those Jewish people who are being told again and again the history of the Jewish people, that they already so deeply and painfully know, as justification for the human rights violations of people who are not Jews— and for those doing the telling— I hope we can all keep processing our thoughts and emotions, asking difficult questions, and listening to Jewish and Palestinian people with different perspectives. The devastating history of Jewish people — that we were exiled, mass-murdered, forced into labour camps, tortured, and disenfranchised in so many ways — is exactly why Jewish people need to work to dismantle harmful ideologies that we are immersed in from childhood that are deeply rooted in fear and intergenerational trauma. These ideologies have caused and continue to cause violence and trauma not only to Palestinians, but to ourselves as Jews.
A day after writing this, I also came across an article written by grassroots organization Independent Jewish Voices which also highlights some of the important information left out of this solidarity statement: https://www.ijvcanada.org/the-canadian-jewish-community-does-not-support-israeli-aggression/
This is a great and timely conversation about how antisemitism, as a definition, is used in contemporary society, and the repercussions of these uses.