Calling Out Anti-Semitism as We Work to #FreePalestine

As is the case with most of those around me who are paying attention to the state of the world, I’ve been hurting. Watching the violent anti-immigrant fervor taking place in the United States and seeing the ongoing violence in Central African Republic, Syria, and Iraq weighs on me.  Learning of civilian planes being shot down and of families being denied access to their loved ones’ remains because of political posturing weighs on me.  And the violence in Palestine and Israel and the ongoing violence of the occupation weighs on me.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed in this way, I try to think of concrete actions that I can take to work for justice or healing. One of the ways that I recently found inspiration and peace was to march with others in Minneapolis for an end to the violence in Gaza and for a free Palestine.

A photo I took at the rally

A photo I took at the rally

On the whole, the march was amazing.  So many people came out to support Palestine and to call for justice and an end to violence and occupation.  Sadly, though, as is the case every time that I have gone to a rally against the occupation or in favor of Palestinian independence, there were a few people who insisted on making their message anti-Semitic.

A sign held by a protester at the rally

A sign held by a protester at the rally

I tried to engage the anti-Semitism wherever I could, and in talking to the guy holding the above sign about it, he just simply couldn’t hear my point.  He kept repeating, “They are the same!” I kept insisting that equating the Star of David, a symbol representing much within Judaism, with the Swastika, the single most prominent symbol of genocide committed against Jews, was fundamentally oppressive and, further, hurts the movement for a free Palestine.

We cannot call for freedom and justice while simultaneously advancing the oppression of others who are marginalized and oppressed in other ways or other contexts.

There are many who call out this sort of anti-Semitism.  I’ve learned how from the incredible Palestinian activists who I saw do it in the past.  But we must speak out whenever we see it, no matter how or where it rears its ugly head.  Not only does it dehumanize a population of people that have long been oppressed (even if many of them are acting as oppressors through the Israeli state), but it hurts the movement, as it encourages others to write off legitimate criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.

So I will leave you with this article, one I wrote more than two years ago.  If we cannot talk about liberation of Palestine with nuance, then we find ourselves on some terribly slippery slopes.

READ MORE: Anti-Semitism and Criticism of Israel

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A Message to Megyn Kelly: Jesus Wasn’t White

In case you missed it, Aisha Harris wrote a really awesome piece about how it’s about time we stop depicting Santa as an old White dude and start picturing him as a penguin.

Aaaand then this happened:

Yeah . . . You heard that right.  “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”

Ummmmm . . . No.

Megyn, let’s start by talking about geography.  I’m sure you know most of this, but it’s worthy of review.  Jesus was born and lived in the historical land of Palestine/Israel.  It’s in the Middle East.

What that means is that Jesus was most likely an Arab Jew (though he may also have had some darker-skinned, North African roots).  If you’ve never met an Arab Jew, here are a few modern Arab Jews who might act as a good reference.

So Jesus likely looked more like these folks than like this:

Beyond all of speculation about the color of his skin, though, there’s the contention that Jesus was “White.”  Considering that our modern understanding of Whiteness came about in the process of European colonization, particularly the colonization of North America.  There was a long history of Europeans looking down upon darker-skinned people from other continents, but the idea that all or most European people were of the same “race” was laughable until it was needed as a tool of control in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s.

Thus, even if Jesus HAD been light-skinned and blue-eyed, he wouldn’t have been White.  He would have been seen as a Semitic Canaanite, someone “other” to the Europeans like the Romans or Greeks who made their way through the region.

My point is this: if your goal is to further the racist hierarchy established by rich Europeans (people we now would consider White) by distorting history, then we see you.  We’re on to you.  And we won’t let it stand.

If, on the other hand, you’re just that ignorant of history (which I highly doubt since you are a brilliant, well-educated woman), then please do me a favor and read this.

Oh, and also check out this phenomenal follow up from Aisha Harris.

Anti-Semitism and Criticism of Israel

I grew up in a community that staunchly supports Israel.  It’s the kind of place where you would regularly see billboards like this one:

In the U.S., there are three main pro-Israeli lobbies.  One is a mixture of interests that sees Israel as a key ally in a region that is volatile and that contains many American interests (like oil – lots of it).  Another consists of Jews and Jewish organizations that support Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.  The last describes most of the Israel supporters in my hometown: Christian Zionists.  Christian Zionists are Christians who see the return of all Jews to the Holy Land as key to the prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture.  Growing up around a lot of Christian Zionists, I couldn’t help but support Israel for similar reasons, but as I got older, I came to realize that Christian Zionism is super freaky and actually pretty anti-Semitic.

You see, Christian Zionists believe that once all the Jews return to the Holy Land (read Israel), the Second Coming will begin, and in that process, all of the Jews (who many Christian Zionists believe were responsible for the death of Christ the first time around) will be struck down by God for their refusal to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

So . . . Basically the Christian Zionists want to kill all of the people they claim to support . . . THIS IS THE RIDICULOUSNESS I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE!!

In college, I was introduced to the other side of the narrative, a side where Israel is not some benevolent home of the Jews (“A land without a people for a people without a land“) but is actually a political pawn of the United States that uses its funding from the U.S. (to the tune of $3 billion per year) to oppress the Palestinians in an Apartheid-like system of suppression.  I learned of the narrative, counter to the dominant one in media and in the Churches and schools I had attended, where Palestinian loss of life and land is wildly disproportionate to that of Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian Children Killed since Sept. 29, 2000.
Source

0 Homes of Israelis have been demolished by Palestinians since Sept. 29, 2000. 24,813 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israelis.
Source

Then in June of 2009, I visited Israel and Palestine.  In Israel, I saw a bustling, Western country with seemingly-endless resources.  In Palestine, I saw poverty, desperation, and violent oppression.

Palestinian olive trees that were cut down by Israelis after the 2nd Intifada in an effort to damage the Palestinian economy.

The Israeli Apartheid Wall, meant to “protect the Israelis from Palestinians,” though it actually acts as a land grab that cuts deep into the West Bank.

These experiences helped me to understand the tremendous power imbalance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with one side backed and funded by the most powerful country in the world and the other being forcefully thrown from their land with little recourse.

As a result, I’ve long been active in the movement to secure a free and independent Palestine, partnering with Palestinians, Jews, and other concerned citizens in the U.S. and around the world.  In this activism, I found a troubling trend.  One of the first times I experienced it was while marching in a pro-Palestinian march in Chicago.  People were lining the street where we were marching, screaming at us and holding up photos of the atrocities of the Holocaust.  They were screaming, “BIGOT!  ANTI-SEMITE!  IF YOU HAD YOUR WAY, ALL JEWS WOULD BE WIPED OFF THE MAP!!!”

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