Securing Palestinian Rights Without the Cost of Anti-Semitism

Scrolling through Instagram these past few weeks, my feed filled up with photographs and infographics on what was happening in Israel. With words like Sheikh Jarrah. Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem. Zionism. Free Palestine. People scrambling to make something of it all.

Palestinians are entitled to self-determination, civil rights, and safety. Nobody should have to go through the struggle Palestinian families do, living in fear and facing persistent violence. The living conditions Palestinians bear are untenable. Both Israelis and Palestinians should expect more from all elected officials, be they the Israeli government, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority. 

As a Jew, we learn concepts such as Chesed, or loving-kindness, and Tikkun Olam, the duty to heal and repair the world. My Jewish values have obligated me to call out the Israeli government when it commits transgressions against its Palestinian citizens and neighbors. My Jewish upbringing also forced me to pay close attention to thousands of years of Jewish suffering, both past and present, when nation after nation tried to eradicate our people. From Haman to the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, Charlottesville, or to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, history has continued to repeat itself and has forced Jews to be vigilant when it comes to anti-Semitism.

The Jewish people lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years until the Babylonians exiled Jews from their home in 586 BCE. For centuries, since before the birth of Christianity or Islam, our prayers and texts have talked about the Jewish people’s connection and return to the land of Israel. Israel was founded following the widespread massacre, torture, and exile of Jews from Arab countries all over the Middle East as well as the genocide of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Jews had nowhere to be safe. The United States had vast quotas limiting Jewish immigration to the states. Quotas that, shockingly, did not increase after WWII from what they were at the beginning of the war. Jews needed somewhere to call home when no country would give them citizenship, refuge, or safety.

And this is where simplistic dismissals seem to arise. Jewish safety should not come at the expense of Palestinian safety, and vice versa. Here we have two peoples, both indigenous to the same land, fighting for a place to call home.

I am troubled by the overly simplistic narrative that comes from my peers who fail to understand the broader dynamics at play. I am tired of a culture in which many fear social repercussions if they choose to come to the table. Worst of all, I am scared of the anti-Semitic sentiments and violence arising from conversations on Palestinian suffrage. Why is our community so hesitant to condemn anti-Semitism when it arises in progressive circles — including the movement for Palestinian human rights?

I trust that, whatever one’s position on this conflict is, nobody seeks to heighten the threat of anti-Semitism. Yet, pro-Palestinian groups time and time again use anti-Semitic tropes and attacks. This can look as blatant as anti-Jewish or even pro-Hitler sentiments being expressed in posters and chants. It can also arise in comments about Jewish wealth, alleged control of media, or any multitude of conspiracies originating from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and being parroted by protestors. My questions are: how does pro-Palestinian activism regularly blend with anti-Jewish activism? What is going on within our community’s pro-Palestinian protests and activism circles that allows this pattern to continue? What knowledge are individuals lacking that would allow them to complicate simplistic narratives and leave shallow, hateful rhetoric out? Solutions will come from understanding the multiple narratives, acknowledging the legitimacy of both peoples’ claims, and taking seriously the experience and insight of the multitude of stakeholders. This is courageous work. It may not feel as righteous as some of the chanting and Tweeting, but peace and security are not simple matters in this region.

I support the movement for Palestinian rights and Israel’s right to exist in peace, and I condemn hateful rhetoric and violence towards any group of people. I believe we owe it to ourselves, as leaders, and to all the stakeholders in this conflict to dig beyond the headlines. In order to combat anti-Semitism, demand Palestinian rights, and work for peace, we need to channel some Chesed and reach beyond our comfort zones.