Horrors happen in the world, and we struggle to explain them and fight to stop them. I learned this from my Jewish parents – to seek justice. But horrors happening in the name of those who have been historically oppressed, murdering people who have nothing – but absolutely nothing – to do with that historical oppression, but yet using it as an excuse for murder – this is grotesque. We – the world – will no longer permit this lie. It must stop. This has zero to do with seeking justice, or Judaism for that matter. The world is imploring you Israel. The world is demanding of you Israel. Stop. Stop the horror. Stop using our historical oppression to explain the horrors. We, as Jews, organizing around the world, no longer permit you to use our name, our identity as Jews, our historical oppression, as a rational for your warring and torture.
We hereby take back the Jewish identity – you cannot speak or act in our name.
I am sick every day. I fear the news, and the images ... I am so pained I have trouble turning it into anger. Is that the intention behind the horror? That humanity is immobilized with shock? Celebrating the murder of babies, defending the murder of pregnant women– leaving them with nowhere to run when the bombs fall. Shutting off people’s water and electricity, hoping what, they all starve or dehydrate? Who does that? It is so shocking that it makes one pause. Is it the pause that is desired? That we, all over the world, just look on with our mouths open and chests in constant contractions? If that is the intention it has been a success, our collective mouths are agape in horror. Immobility however, has not occurred – quite the opposite. Millions of people around the world are in the streets and all over the internet crying, demanding and screaming for Israel to stop. One of the most increasingly vocal groups are Jews, organized as Jews. Demanding an end to the massacre, taking back Judaism from Israel.
I do not base my political organizing on my identity, not as a woman, mother, daughter or Jew, or, at least I did not used to do this. Now I feel I must. I am not alone. Hundreds of groups, identified as Jews against the occupation and war, have sprung up over the past few weeks, all around the world, demanding that Israel not use our identity to wage murder. Demanding that Israel stop. Many Jews feel that Israel is taking their Judaism and refuse to allow this. Many others, like myself, feel forced to identify as Jewish, taking back an identity, rather than allowing it to be used in the name of war, torture and murder.
This public identification as Jewish, in such massive numbers in political action against the Israeli occupation of Palestine is new. There have always been Jewish social justice groups, and many of them have been opposed to the occupation and repression of Palestinians. Never has there been so many as right now however. Many famous Jewish writers and scholars have come out quite publicly and aggressively against the occupation, such as Norman Finkelstein, Judith Butler, Naomi Wolf, Michael Albert, and Naomi Klein. And many others, even political friends and colleagues I never knew were Jewish are “coming out” as such, writing things on facebook such as, “So much for never again. So much for never again. We said never again and then let our own people become the murderers, we've let our own people become the monsters, we've become the bystanders wringing our hands but not speaking up for the Palestinians because we are not Palestinians. We've heard this one before. And we said never again. So much for never again.” When I wrote to her asking if I could use this passage and what I was writing, she replied, “I have never been much for Identifying as Jewish before now, now it suddenly feels important.” And another facebook friend writes, “At this difficult moment, I'm so heartened to be in action with a community of Jews standing up for liberation, instead of occupation. It is time for all Palestinians and Israelis to be free.”
Many are not only speaking out and going to protests and rallies, but are getting arrested blocking traffic and sitting in front of the Israeli Embassy in New York City and other locations around the U.S. Putting their bodies on the line to make Israel stop. They are doing this as part of newly formed Jewish organizations, networks and affinity groups. Other academic colleagues, many of whom identified as Jewish but were never politically active before, have become outspoken against the occupation, in support of the boycott of Israeli goods and some have also been getting arrested, again, identifying as politically active Jews. Their sense of moral outrage at the war Israel is waging has compelled them into activity, and activity as Jews.
A group that was organized over these past weeks, If Not Now When, based on the phrase from the ancient Jewish philosopher Hillel, has organized direct actions and protests as Jews, and see as one of their targets Jewish organizations who are not coming out against the war. Their first act, and one that has now caught on in dozens of locations, was to say the Mouners Kaddish for those killed in Gaza. They announce on their facebook page, “Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Av, a time when Jews mourn the destruction wrought upon our people. It is thus a fitting time that today we also mourned the destruction we have wrought upon others, and upon ourselves in turn. We lifted up our own tradition to reclaim hope that out of the ruins of occupation our liberation will one day return.” This is an incredibly powerful statement and call for organizing. It is saying that the acts of Israel must be not only mourned, but that Jews will not be free until the occupation ends. It is making the claim that Jews cannot be free as long as they are oppressing others.
Israel does not speak for the Jews. We will not let it. Yotam, a young Israeli born, now New York City based activist, and one of the initiators of If Not Now When commented, “We have to stop the war on Gaza, end the occupation, and win real freedom and dignity for all peoples. I know that in my bones, because our people have always been fighters for justice. I'm not in the movement in spite of my people, I'm in the movement because of what they have always taught me.”
Marin Sitrin is the editor of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina (2006) AK Press, author of Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism & Autonomy in Argentina (2012) Zed Books, and together with Dario Azzellini, the co-author of They Can’t Represent US! Reinventing Democracy From Greece to Occupy (2014) Verso Books and Occupying Language: The Secret Rendezvous with History and the Present (2012) Zucotti Park Press.