A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
In answer to an old camp friend now living in Israel (and all of my Jewish relatives on Facebook) who asks me “So why, Jon, are you so anti-Israel?”
I am not anti-Israel, I am pro-human rights. Growing up as a liberal Jew in the US and attending summer camp with you, Israel was presented as a utopian oasis for Jews who had lived around the world under centuries of oppression. And, as you know, much of this dream has come true in contemporary Israel…..if you are a Jew.
What was conveniently left out of this narrative was the displacement and ongoing systemic occupation and oppression of millions of Muslim Arabs (and Christians) that has led the Israel that Ehud Barak once referred to, with un-ironic racism, as “a villa in the jungle,” to the situation it is in today. Doesn’t the Israeli policy of Jewish exceptionalism, it’s desire for a “pure” Jewish state, its ghettoization and dehumanization of the Palestinians, and it’s distinct lack of any moral compass in light of regional and international condemnation remind you of anyone?
I just came back from a trip throughout the West Bank and parts of Israel and this “beacon of civilization and democracy” that Netanyahu talks about is very much so, but ONLY for the Jews. If you are Palestinian (even a Palestinian Christian) living under the undemocratic oppression of Israel, then you do not live in a democracy. You can not vote, you cannot travel freely, you can not build on your own land, you can not send your kids to any school you wish, and if you live in the open-air prison that Israel controls called Gaza it is even worse. I witnessed this first hand and it sure doesn’t look like democracy to me.
This is not the viewpoint of an anti-semite or someone who wants to see the destruction of Israel, but of someone who wants to see the Israeli government act in a humane and just fashion towards the Palestinians. I met many Arabs throughout The West Bank, a math teacher, a student, an activist, an artist, a homemaker, a history teacher, a businessman, a farmer, a chef, and more. None of them thought I was a pig, or that Jewish Israelis were less human than they. These people are just like you and I. To sit and eat with them you would feel and know no difference.
This is not to say that there is no bigotry among Palestinians, but it’s certainly no greater than that of the Jews. You and I know that Jews are not immune to bigotry and hatred. Absolutist categorization where one people are believed to be better than another fundamentally ignores the humanity of both and is one of the greatest reasons for the perpetuation of this conflict.