A Jew In Solidarity With the Palestinian People

As today marks the UN’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, I’d like to take occasion of this day to publicly state, without hesitation, that I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.

For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.

In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.

But of course, there is nothing simple or uncomplicated about it. To take such a step it is deeply painful in many ways. It means, among other things, facing down my peoples’ own potential for oppression; to admit that the state of Israel, born in the wake of persecution, has itself become a persecutor.

However, I must also admit that this pain, uncomfortable though it is, is nothing compared to the pain felt that is being experienced by the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Anyone person of privilege who stands in solidarity with the oppressed would do well to bear this in mind: while must we explore our own guilt and culpability, we must also bear in mind that it is not ultimately about us.

From a wonderful essay on white privilege, but very applicable in this case:

Solidarity…is a long-term participation in the struggle, understanding the part you play and how the issues affect you personally. As well, solidarity may very well mean not being the center of the solution, but just a small part. It may mean deferring your sense of authority and leadership. It can also mean dropping your own agenda for how change should be achieved. It can be very problematic when the leadership in an organization is people from the dominant culture. When people from the dominant culture define the issues or strategies for oppressed people it can be condescending and ineffective. So, an example of solidarity is being part of community organizing efforts led by people of color, womyn, etc in an active, but non-leadership role. Being in solidarity means seeing how you will benefit from the liberation of others.

And so today I’ll take this opportunity to say I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But I’m not taking it to assuage my Jewish pain and guilt, nor to claim I personally know how this liberation must eventually be achieved.

In the end, I stand here because I know in my heart it is where I must be.

29 Replies to “A Jew In Solidarity With the Palestinian People”

  1. With you on this, as on so much, Brant.

    Is anyone else struck by the slogan on that sign in the photograph? There’s something to be said about that, I think.

  2. If solidarity meant empathy I would agree with you. If solidarity meant actively relieving human suffering I would agree with you. But this solidarity means identifying with their political struggle and that includes the destruction of the Jewish homeland, the indiscriminate killing of Jewish people, and the degrading of Jewish holy sites.

    There must be some way of expressing our genuine concern for the lives of other human beings without enabling their evil designs. We have found ways to help alchoholics without giving them a drink, to help gamblers without lending them money. We must also find a way to relieve the suffering of Palestinians without supporting their politics

    1. Yehoshua,

      I’m troubled by your reduction of the Palestinian people – a people that has been struggling to liberate itself from an oppressive and unjust occupation – to addicts with “evil designs.” That such an attitude even exists in our community suggests to me that we have a long, long way to go just to liberate ourselves.

      Of course, we can point to the more extreme aspects of the Palestinians’ struggle. But by doing so, I believe you utterly misunderstand and trivialize the concept of solidarity.

      It is certainly possible to stand in solidarity with a people while personally disagreeing with certain tactics – but this fact is ultimately beside the point. Standing in solidarity has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing with strategy. Standing in solidarity occurs when a privileged individual or people recognizes the way he/she aids, abets and benefits from the oppression of another – and makes a choice to stand with the oppressed rather than the oppressor.

      Solidarity is not about the specifics of what you call “political struggle.” It is about recognizing the existence of power inequity in our world – and making a commitment re-righting that balance. It means honestly asking the question: “which side am I on?” If the answer is “on the side of the vulnerable, the exploited and the oppressed,” then the next question must be: “then what am I willing to do about it?”

      1. This particular solidarity day was declared by the United Nations. When you identify with their proclamations you cannot expect to distance yourself from their politics. It is by design part of a political strategy.

        As for whether The Palestinian people’s desire for the destruction of a Jewish state and support for the killing of Jews amounts to an evil trait that can be compared to alcoholism, that is a judgement left to the potential enabler. You identify those who have killed Jews in Israel and abroad as extremists. Time and time again, even in polls which show a majority of Palestinians want peace the number who are committed to armed conflict is at least 30 percent. This means millions of Palestinians!

        Care about each person, work to improve their lives, even help them find individual liberty, but don’t “buy them a drink”

      2. You can switch around the words, but not the reality.

        How very true. No matter how often and how hard you attempt to present Israel as the wounded, oppressed victim of the Palestinians it will never ever change the reality, and thank heaven more and more people are waking up and seeing that reality clearly.

      3. Really, Shirin? Will you really not admit that both sides have lost much in this conflict? Is sympathy for the other side too much to ask?

    2. Yehoshua:

      I’m struck by how easily your comment translates into anti-Zionist terms that I’ve heard from various sources:

      “If solidarity meant empathy I would agree with you. If solidarity meant actively relieving human suffering I would agree with you. But this solidarity means identifying with their political struggle and that includes the destruction of the Palestinian homeland, the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian people, and the degrading of non-Jewish holy sites. There must be some way of expressing our genuine concern for the lives of other human beings without enabling their evil designs. We have found ways to help alchoholics without giving them a drink, to help gamblers without lending them money. We must also find a way to relieve the suffering of Jews without supporting Zionist politics.”

      Fascinating.

      1. You can switch around the words, but not the reality.

        As difficult as their plight is,
        I would much rather be a Palestinian under the jurisdiction of Jews than vice versa.

  3. I wish to express my solidarity with the Palestinian people… but the true Palestinian people… the Jewish people. Any objection?

  4. Despite the fact our behavior frequently belies it, standing in solidarity with oppressed people is a cornerstone value of our Christian faith as well. Faithful to his religious tradition, Jesus consistently sought out the “other”. In our baptismal covenant we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. It is profoundly humbling to spend time with Palestinians – and Israeli peace activists – whose courage, creativity and faithfulness in the face of massive injustice nurtures my own.

    1. I notice that Brant changed it to “potential.” I think what he meant, though, was that we Jews (and I include myself in this) have sometimes portrayed non-Jews as having a “propensity for oppression,” while we somehow don’t share that propensity. Not that we have more or less than anyone else, just that we, too, have it.

      1. Yes, I prefer “potential” to “propensity” and thank Richard for flagging this for me. I certainly never meant to imply that we Jews have a propensity (i.e. inherent inclinations) for certain behaviors more than any other community.

  5. It feels important to challenge the racism as it has come up in the above comment which is founded upon problematic generalizations and rhetoric. To do justice to commitments to human rights and empathy requires a complex understanding of solidarity, and the integrity of such a complex concept will be upheld by fulfilling the mitzvah of standing solidarity with Palestinians, as Brant so beautifully reminds us.

  6. As a Jew I stand in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world and take my share of responsibility for their plight–in Burma, Tibet, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and many other places around the world. As an American I feel a heightened sense of responsibility for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are living under American and Western occupation. Unfortunately there is almost no end to the roster of the oppressed: Christian minorities in Pakistan, Indonesia and other Muslim countries; gay men and women who admit their sexuality at the risk of their lives in many countries, including the Palestinian territories; and women who are denied educations or equal rights in much of the world.

    I find myself wondering whether you don’t feel these people deserve mention and don’t deserve our solidarity. While the UN has chosen to focus on Palestinians, tonight I as a Jew will be remembering the struggles of all of the world’s oppressed people and lighting Chanukah candles in solidarity with them.

    1. As a human being I stand in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world.

      I find myself wondering why you could not bring yourself to include the Palestinians in your list.

    2. Boris,

      These peoples are certainly worth mentioning and I’m glad you mentioned them. (I do find myself wondering, however: what does your solidarity with all of these groups actually mean beyond thinking of them when you light the Hanukkah candles?)

      As to your unspoken implication that I spend too much time dwelling on the oppression of Palestinians at the expense of these other oppressed peoples:

      – As an American, I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to Palestinians because Israel receives far and away more financial, military and diplomatic aid from the US than any other country in the world;

      – As a Jew, Israel’s actions directly implicate me.

      – My community, the Jewish community, routinely chooses to looks the other way (or else angrily defend Israel) when it comes to the oppression of Palestinians.

      Yes, there are too many oppressed peoples in the world worthy of our attention and solidarity. For me, as an American Jew, the Palestinian people loom particularly large on that list.

  7. Rabbi Rosen, I agree with your reasons for putting the Palestinian issue on top of the list.
    I’d add, if we, as Jews do not speak out, how can we expect Christians to do so?

    Earlier this week, Natalie Portman was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air”. The Jewish American Gross asked the Israeli- Jewish American Portman about her engagement with Israeli issues. Portman talked about her Jewish day school education and how, until recently, she used to regularly read Haaretz online. She said she stopped reading the Israeli news when she felt overhwelmed by the situation. She shared that, as a non-resident of Israel, she has taken on the self-imposed restriction of not speaking out in criticism of Israeli government policies.
    So, here is a world famous celebrity with access to any media outlet she chooses – – who feels powerless. This makes sense: Portman limits the scope of action to the State of Israel and ends up feeling powerless in America. Her solution is disengagement. That doesn’t solve the problem of powerlessness: it just hides it.
    Exposing ourselves to the struggles of the powerless can make us uncomfortable. But, by giving up some of the comfort we enjoy as middle class Americans – shielded from the horrors that most people in the world deal with – we get to break out of our self-imposed isolation. Paradoxically, by standing in solidarity with the powerless, we get to be powerful. By wading in to the action, we get to be more powerful than a Hollywood celeb who imposes silence and inaction on herself. As Jews, the issue where we can be most effective is in speaking out is Israel/Palestine.

    May we light one Hanukkah candle for those who are sacrificing for justice and peace. Happy Hanukkah!

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