Guest post by Hallie Rosen
Like almost every Jew, I too have a complicated relationship with Israel.
Israel has always been an important part of my Jewish identity. Brant and I met doing Israel activism on campus at UCLA and we spent almost two years in Israel before we were married. I’ve worked in the organized Jewish community for almost twenty years, first at the Anti-Defamation League and more recently at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
And like Brant, my views on Israel/Palestine have evolved. While I admire Brant’s courage regarding the Israel/Palestine issue, I haven’t felt completely comfortable taking the same kinds of public stands that he does. I agree with many of Brant’s viewpoints, but I admit there have been times I have felt uncomfortable with his being so public with his views – my ingrained impulse against airing Israel’s “dirty laundry.”
While I have read his blog and his book, and we have had many conversations about his activism and the general political situation in Israel/Palestine, I have never personally taken such a public stand on the issue until November 19, when I marched with Brant at a Chicago rally protesting Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
It was not a major decision on my part. I was very upset by the news out of Gaza, so when Brant invited me to join him in the march/rally, I readily agreed. Since I work near the rally site and it took place at the end of the day, it was a simple matter to walk over and join the group as people gathered at the Federal Plaza.
My first impression was surprise at how many young families were in attendance. I expected to see primarily college age students, but I was struck by the sight of many parents with school aged children and a fair amount of strollers. Since Brant was wearing a kippah, people knew that he was Jewish and several people came up to him to thank him for attending the rally and showing his support. They didn’t necessarily know who he was, but it clearly meant a lot for see a Jew walk with them. For me, it underscored that this was an issue of conscience for all peoples – not just Palestinians.
I expected to see protest posters and I braced myself for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments. From my ADL days, I knew that these kinds of protests can easily become an opportunity for fringe elements to chant anti-Semitic slogans.
But that didn’t happen. All of the messages were strong, but on target. As the group of about 700 people walked peaceably through the Loop during rush hour, there was chanting but also simple non-political conversations among the marches – about shopping, uncomfortable shoes, upcoming holidays, etc. I only saw one incident of an onlooker, who provoked some of the crowd – the police quickly subdued him and we continued on our way. As a relative newcomer, I didn’t fully feel ready to join the chanting. Perhaps I’ve not fully come to grips with what it means to be a Jew in solidarity with Palestinians.
We gathered once again after the walk to listen to speakers. Everyone was on message, asking for sanctions from the US, end of violence and settlement building, requesting a just peace, etc. When Brant spoke, he received a strong enthusiastic reception from the crowd – particularly when he was introduced as a rabbi.
As the crowd dwindled, we walked to the train station and back home. Later that night, I watched the news coverage of the rally and was surprised, at how violent the images were. The piece included edited snippets of protestors chanting and because there were kafiyyahs and head coverings, it seemed that the news media was only interested in showing us the familiar images of “angry Arabs.”
The news report failed to convey the racial and religious diversity of the crowd – and there were none of the mothers and young children with whom I had just spent a few hours marching. Once again I became profoundly aware of the power of stereotypes – and to a greater extent, of racism and how the images that we see on a regular basis prejudice our views and shape our opinions.
I also became aware of how important it is to step outside of one’s own comfort zone and find common cause with those whom you’ve previously assumed to be your enemy. In the end, marching for justice was for me an affirmation of our common humanity.