November 22, 2023
Is it antisemitic to reject someone’s beliefs and hurt their feeling?
Is it antisemitic to speak about your truth but make someone else uncomfortable because you are not validating what they believe in?
It appears following October 7th for so many of my fellow Jews the answer to these questions has become a resounding YES!
Even starting a conversation about Israel and Palestine has become difficult because challenging the beliefs and assumptions of those who “stand with Israel” is now a sign of antisemitism. If you do not have enough empathy for the victims of Hamas’ brutality, that is a sign that you are a Jew hater. In fact, I fear, not using the word “terrorism” may qualify as an antisemitic act.
This is where I think we are as we try to bring some future beyond death and destruction to Israel/Palestine.
It was a difficult discussion. But, after October 7, 2023, the horror of what was done by Hamas’ minions have hardened hearts and minds. Of more concern to me, is those who don’t want a better future for all but, rather, desire victory with little care for the fate of others. It is harder now as people seek to widen the divisions that separate us into warring camps, to prevent the hard conversations that must happen in order to end a cycle of hate and death.
Using fear and historical trauma as their energy sources, those seeking to solidify the position of Israel, characterize it as the righteous victim, as the defender of the Jewish people and as the only beacon of democracy and toleration under attack from a brutal, inhuman enemy.
They are quick to make the actions and words of Hamas represent all Palestinians. And they point to what Hamas has said about their vision of the future, Israel and Jews as proof that they are right. That is not a hard task. Hamas does believe that Palestine is a Muslim land to be ruled under the direction of the Koran and they are an instrument of returning the land to its rightful owners by any means possible.
That was clear in 1988 when they were formed and shared their founding charter (emphasis added):
“The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders…The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up…there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors…The Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion.
And it was clear from Hamas’ 2017 statement of General Principles (emphasis added):
“Palestine is the land of the Arab Palestinian people, from it they originate, to it they adhere and belong, and about it they reach out and communicate…Palestine is a land that was seized by a racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project that was founded on a false promise (the Balfour Declaration), on recognition of a usurping entity and on imposing a fait accompli by force…
These are indeed strong statements, ones that clearly state that from Hamas’ perspective how Israel as it was established in 1948 now exists and that they are working to replace it with a Palestinian Muslim nation.
These statements become even more difficult when viewed in light of the tactics of Hamas, the brutal slaughter of hundreds on October 7th is starkly before us.
But after I reject Hamas, after I condemn it as loudly as I can, I still hear the aspiration for a return that I think is shared by many others. They express a belief, I think shared by many Palestinians, that this land is their homeland, perhaps even God-given. It expresses a belief, I think, shared by many Palestinians, of a desire to reclaim that heritage. These feelings were there before October 7th and they will remain after the bombs stop falling on Gaza.
But are they antisemitic? They challenge many of the premises of modern Jewish life. They speak to many aspirations for autonomy and power that Jews have longed for. Are they antisemitic? Because they challenge the existence of Israel, does that make them antisemitic?
As you think about that, reflect on some Jewish Israeli voices who see the future with a different lens.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Party was formed it 1977 issued a platform that was clear in its alternate vision (emphasis added):
“The Right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel)
The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty…A plan which relinquishes parts of western Eretz Israel, undermines our right to the country, unavoidably leads to the establishment of a “Palestinian State,” jeopardizes the security of the Jewish population, endangers the existence of the State of Israel. and frustrates any prospect of peace….The PLO is no national liberation organization but an organization of assassins…Its aim is to liquidate the State of Israel, set up an Arab country instead and make the Land of Israel part of the Arab world. The Likud government will strive to eliminate these murderous organizations in order to prevent them from carrying out their bloody deeds”
The Israel Knesset, now led by the heirs of Likud, when it enacted The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People in 2018 operationalized this view:
“The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established…The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination… The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
So, if I were a Palestinian, would I be correct to assert that the State of Israel is Islamophobic? And, therefore, those who support it are also?
Many of those who are now leading the charge justify Israel’s response to October 7th in the face of the number of deaths in Gaza climbing over 13,000, are willing to use their accusations of antisemitism as their weapon to silence those who are trying to call out the inhumanity of this response. They label anyone and everyone who stands up and says, “not in our name” or “cease fire now!” or even “from the river to the sea” as terrorists, as supporters of Hamas, and as antisemites.
They are quick to point out that Israel cannot be conducting atrocities or practicing ethnic cleansing and ignore the reality of Israel’s Basic law. They excuse destroying more than 50,000 buildings in Gaza or moving more than 1.5 million people from their homes because Israel grants citizenship to non-Jews and has Palestinians serving in its Knesset.
They agree that Israel should not trust Hamas because of the years of experience they have had with Hamas inspired terrorism and rocket fire. But they attack any who challenge Israel and wish to complicate the discussion by delving into the decades of Palestinian life under Israel’s control
My generation of American Jews grew up being taught that Israel was a beacon of goodness, of pioneers reclaiming a land that had been given to them, that had languished for centuries and was being rebuilt miraculously. It rejected the reality that there were another people who also saw the land as theirs, who also longed for a return.
To be confronted with a vision, with a dream that undermines your own is not a comfortable experience. As a nation, we should know that in the wake of the last few years of our own reckoning with our own history, this is not easy or comfortable. So it is not unexpected that in this moment Israeli supporters and those who see their personal identity as a Jew intertwined with the State of Israel are upset when confronted with others who are attacking the very validity of the State of Israel. Those who chant “from river to the sea, Palestine will be free” leave some feeling shaken and unsettled. Some may even feel that they are being personally attacked.
In a moment when 1200 Israeli citizens lie slaughtered and hundreds remain as hostages when 13,000 Gazans lie slaughtered and thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned, it is understandable, perhaps, why beginning a very difficult conversation is so difficult.
To start we need to be able to hear what the other side thinks and how their view of the world agrees or differs from our own. And when those starting points are as far apart as they are today, when some of our basic beliefs about the world we live in are challenged, even rejected, it is a difficult conversation indeed. When my core is challenged, I feel hurt, anger, and even fear. Can I understand that this must be true of others as well?
Jews may be more at risk today but they are not helped by those who conflate the Gordian knot of Israel/Palestine with antisemitism. Making that a conflict about jew-hatred may drive donations, it may bring supporters, but it does not ensure greater safety or a future that will be different than the past.
What we need are braver leaders who can step away from doing what is self-serving and easy. From the podiums of pro-Palestinian rallies and from the stages of pro-Israel gatherings we need to have leaders brave enough to see that the tragedy of today requires recognizing two conflicting narratives, two very painful pasts and two yet-to-be-resolved presents. It needs leaders who are willing to step away from the self-serving hate-mongering because they recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians can be free if the other is not. We need leaders who recognize that their words will be unsettling, will demand their audiences to hear what is painful, and engage in difficult conversations. But we need them to do it…and quickly.