israel

Netanyahu comes to Australia amidst protests from the Australian Jewish community – media release 20/2/17

i Feb 21st 2017

The Israeli Prime Minister is due to arrive in Australia on Wednesday 22nd at the invitation of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.  Despite the strong support that the Australian government has given the current Israeli government, there is growing concern and condemnation of Israel’s actions under Netanyahu.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) endorsed and spoke at a protest, ‘Melbourne says no to Netanyahu,’ organised by a Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and held in Melbourne on Sunday February 19th.  The AJDS is particularly concerned with the rising shift in right wing, anti-democratic policies, and recurrent human rights violations committed by Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership.

Most recently, there has been a record-breaking increase in the demolition of Palestinian and Bedouin houses and villages, as well as the passing of the Expropriation Bill which retroactively claimed some 4,000 Palestinian houses and permitted increased settlement building, despite international condemnation of the settlements as a clear barrier to peace.

Netanyahu has declared that there will be no Palestinian State and refused to engage in negotiations for peace, while enacting policies that further dispossess Palestinians of their land and basic freedoms.

Dr Jordy Silverstein, AJDS executive member, says:

“The Israel that Netanyahu has furthered is not one that represents Jewish or democratic values: it moves Palestinians and Israelis further away from achieving justice and peace. As a result, increasing numbers of Jewish people worldwide are standing up in opposition to the policies and practices of Netanyahu and his governmental coalition.”

In one example, a petition titled ‘Jewish Australians say no to Netanyahu’, initiated by a diverse group of Australian Jews, has been signed by over 600 Australian Jews and their supporters, with many commenting on their disappointment, as Jews, in the actions of the State of Israel under Netanyahu.   The petition draws attention to increased demolitions, the two wars in Gaza, the corruption charges that Netanyahu is currently under criminal investigation for, and Netanyahu’s blind support for President Trump despite the climate of antisemitism that he is invoking.


 

AJDS Decolonisation Forum: From Australia to Israel-Palestine – insights

i Nov 21st 2016

On September 4, 2016, the AJDS held the Decolonisation Forum: From Australia to Israel-Palestine. The event took place at the Multicultural Hub and was well attended, drawing together an eclectic crowd that had gathered to hear our esteemed panelists: Dr. Gary FoleyDr. Clare Land, and Dr. Sary Zananiri. An additional presentation was delivered electronically by Nina Grunzwieg from Zochrot. The event was chaired by Dr. Jordy Silverstein, who acknowledged our presence on Wurundjeri land and encouraged people to think about what that means. All proceeds from the nights were donated to Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and we managed to raise $800 to help support Indigenous rights.

Dr. Gary Foley is a Gumbainggir man who has been at the centre of political organising for Aboriginal rights since the 1970s as a writer, educator, researcher, museum curator and actor, and currently a History Professor at Victoria University. With a PhD in History, Foley has helped set up Sydney’s Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Medical Service, as well as the Aboriginal medical service in Melbourne. In 1971 he was a key organiser of demonstrations against the Springbok tour. He also co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. Since then Gary Foley has led Aboriginal protests, including at the Commonwealth games and Australia’s bicentenary, been a consultant to the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and been instrumental in educating non-Indigenous people about colonisation and Aboriginal rights.

Foley began by asking the audience to imagine what a decolonised Australia might look like. It would be a place in which self-determination for Indigenous Australians was possible and encouraged. He talked at length about the influence that Colin Tatz’ work has had on him in understanding the relationship between Jewish Australians and the Indigenous solidarity movement. Apologizing for his ill health, Foley was unable to stay for Q&A time.

Dr. Clare Land is a non-Aboriginal activist and researcher who has been involved in supporting Aboriginal land rights struggles in southeast Australia since 1998. Completing her PhD at Melbourne Uni and receiving the 2013 Isi Leibler Prize, Land continued to publish her research in the book Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and directions for supporters of Indigenous struggles (2015). In it she examines the spaces between Aboriginal aspirations and non-Aboriginal supporters, outlining the ways in which non-Indigenous allies can adopt a more critical political framework which places their lives in relation to ongoing colonisation.

In her talk, Land discussed her book’s structure and the different approaches to the concept of solidarity explored therein. It was fitting to have this contrasting perspective on race relations, privilege and recognition as they play out within the activist movement, especially since Jewish activists fall into a somewhat awkward position in relation to Aboriginal Australians. Aussie Jews represent on one hand the colonisers, but also occupy a minority space in Australian national culture. As Jews, when we come to support Aboriginal Australians in their struggle for decolonisation, we must acknowledge our role in this matrix of power, benefiting as we do from our ostensible Whiteness.

This awkward subjectivity was immediately acknowledged by Dr. Sary Zananiri, an Australian-Palestinian artist and academic, who delivered a visual presentation about picturing Palestine, the biblicalising of its landscape and projected nationalities. Having completed his PhD in Fine Arts at Monash University looking at the evolving representations of the Palestinian landscape, Sary has continued to examine the colonial processes embedded in the imaging of Palestine. He has exhibited his work both in Australia and internationally. In 2013 he exhibited Pines, Panoramas and Palestine: three proposals for reading the past as his PhD examination at MADA Gallery. More recently he showed Unpicking Jerusalem: a re-examination of the archives at Little Woods Gallery (read more about it here) and was shortlisted for the National Emerging Art Glass Prize at the Wagga Wagga Glass Museum in 2016. He is currently a co-director of the Palestinian Film Festival in Australia and lectures in the Glass Studio at Monash University.

Zananiri began his presentation by emphasising the curious discomfort of being a Palestinian Australian – borne to a legacy of the Nakba and its exile, and yet embodying the colonising power here, in Australia, as a non Aboriginal person. He presented a series of images from Palestine around the turn of the 20th century, and discussed the subtle manipulations of the artists and the ways in which these created and disseminated ideas about Palestinian life prior and during colonisation. By critically examining the different images, Zananiri demonstrated what a de-colonising gaze might achieve in terms of looking ahead into our joint futures as Australian activists – Jewish, Palestinian, Indigenous, or otherwise.

Zochrot‘s Nina Grunzwieg delivered her presentation electronically, covering in detail the work of her organisation. This Israeli NGO has been active since 2002 in raising awareness and promoting justice for the victims of the Nakba, the occupation of Palestine and ensuing devastation culminating in 1948.

There were some challenging questions from the audience, regarding the validity of Palestinian return and of the use of the term Nakba. Other questions addressed to Gary Foley (in his absence) shed light on the deep fissures within the Indigenous community and the contentious issue of intervention. It was evident that more discussion could and should be had, and the audience was engaged by the themes raised by the panelists. The main value of the night was indeed in offering the opportunity to consider and compare various aspects of decolonisation: re-examining ideas of nationhood, of return, reparation, critical action and more. Importantly, there is great benefit in considering the ways in which these notions carry over from one locale and culture to another, in our globalised and localised struggles.

We did record the event but the sound quality in the auditorium was not great. The AJDS is a non-profit organisation that operates solely through donations. If you would like to donate money towards recording equipment, visit this page or write to co@ajds.org.au to support our work.


 

Statement about the women’s boat to Gaza

i Oct 17th 2016

Image result for women's flotilla to gazaOn October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported.   We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.

While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned.  Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur).  Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020.  More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking.  The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.

The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib.  Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”

We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination.  We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel.  There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.

This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016


 

B’tselem and Peace Now (US) adress the UN: The Settlements

i Oct 17th 2016

‘Illegal Israeli Settlements are obstacles to peace and the Two-State Solution’, heard members of the UN Security Council. In a powerful condemnation of Israel’s Settlement expansion policy, Lara Friedman of Peace Now (US), and B’tselem‘s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, addressed the UN last week in a session organized by The Permanent Missions of Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Angola, and Venezuela.

The session was filmed and transcribed. Friedman starts her talk at about 7 minutes in, and El-Ad follows:

The Settlements are obstacles to peace, claim B'tselem and Peace Now (US).

Hagai El-Ad: “Israel has systematically legalized human rights violations in the occupied territories through the establishment of permanent settlements, punitive home demolitions, a biased building and planning mechanism, taking over Palestinian land and much, much more. Israel’s military law enforcement system – if one can call it that – routinely whitewashes hundreds of cases in which Palestinians were killed or abused.”

Watch the full UN webcadst

Lara Friedman stated:

We have all also heard Israeli government spokespeople claim that Israel is not establishing new settlements or expanding settlements beyond their current areas. But hidden behind that claim is the fact that just between 2009 and 2015, under Netanyahu, the government of Israel authorized or worked to give legal authorization to at least 26[xi] [xii] settlement sites established by settlers in contravention of Israeli law – often referred to as illegal outposts. These sites are thus being transformed into new official settlements, or into new and often remote “neighborhoods” of existing settlements, dramatically expanding the footprint of those settlements.

Read the full transcript of Lara Friedman’s speech: http://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=20994#.WAMEkXry2T_

Hagai El-Ad’s speech was equally important:

What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.

Read Hagai El-Ad’s full speech: http://www.btselem.org/se…/20161014_security_council_address.


 

Social change in Israel Palestine: Gesher Le-Aravit (Bridge to Arabic)

i Jul 21st 2016

Gesher Le-Aravit (Bridge to Arabic) is a grassroots Arab-Jewish project and a unique social change model, developed by four teachers in Jisr A Zarqa, the poorest Arab village in the country. The project offers Jewish Israelis from all over the country to learn the Arabic language and culture in an Arabic-speaking environment. To this day, more than 250 Jewish Israelis visited Jisr A Zarqa to learn Arabic and to participate in a rich cultural program.

Bridge to Arabic

A cooking workshop in Arabic, offered in one of the Bridge to Arabic tours.

The project creates employment and sustainable livelihood for more than ten families in Jisr a Zarqa. Thus, Arab-Jewish dialogue is both a learning experience and a contribution to socio-economic prosperity in the village.

Understanding the language of the other is a fundamental step on the way to a shared future.

To this day, no other project in Israel-Palestine is offering such studies.

What can you do to support this project?

Offer your financial support and become our friend from abroad. The project has been running for five years and seeks partners and supporters in order to expand.

Experience learning as part of an organised or private visit to Israel. Visit us on Facebook, get in touch and help us spread the word.

gesher le aravit


 

“Plant Peace, Harvest Justice” / The Centre for Jewish Nonviolence

i Jul 21st 2016

The following is taken from the campaign page of the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence:


This summer, Jews from around the world are working with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists to end the occupation and build a just future for all.

We’re invited to stand in solidarity with Palestinians living under daily threat of displacement.

Help us stand up to injustice with courage, so that we can plant hope for a future grounded in dignity and justice.

We need your support to:

  • Purchase 5,000 seedlings to plant in threatened Palestinian communities
  • Invest in 10 wheelbarrows, 20 shovels & 50 pairs of work gloves for use in Hebron & the South Hebron Hills
  • Secure the long-term sustainability of this grassroots, nonviolent movement

We’re thrilled to announce that we have a matching grant of $1,000! During the first week of this fundraising campaign every dollar raised up to $1,000 will be matched by our Israeli partners in All That’s Left.

“The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well. If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.”

Nassar Nawaja, New York Times, ‘Israel, Don’t Level My Village’ 

For years, Jews around the world have commemorated significant life events such as bar and bat mitzvahs or weddings by giving money to plant trees in Israel. The planting of a tree symbolizes life, growth, hope and steadfastness. This summer, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence is carrying these values into the fight against the injustices of Israeli occupation. Alongside our Palestinian partners we will be planting Za’atar herbs and helping to build infrastructure for future agricultural projects in communities that are struggling under Israel’s military occupation.

Agriculture is the economic life-blood of these communities, but Israeli policy and settler violence and intimidation prevent and suppress efforts made by community members to plant and harvest their fields.

Planting is not just about securing economic livelihood, it is also an important form of resistance to the Occupation. Our partners in the South Hebron Hills endure unending threats ofdisplacement as a direct result of Israeli governmental policy which has often resulted in home demolitions (for more information see Ma’an, Haaretz or +972mag). Planting trees and working the land demonstrate rootedness (Sumud) and a firm stand against the occupation, solidifying these communities’ ongoing presence on their lands.

* Donations to the Center for Jewish Nonviolence are tax-deductible under US law.

The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a fiscally sponsored project of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights.

*All handicrafts the CJNV offers at various Donation Levels come from socially-conscious  Palestinian artisans and crafts-makers, such as the Women in Hebron embroidery cooperative.

Recent Media:

The young Jewish campaigners calling time on the Israeli occupation of Palestine — Oriel Eisner

Beinart and Rosen sign up for Occupation Is Not Our Judaism— Ilana Sumka

Top Ten Reasons to Join the Center for Jewish Nonviolence this Summer — Erez Bleicher

Who are we?

The Center for Jewish Nonviolence organizes international Jewish support for Palestinian & Israeli nonviolent resistance activists working to end the unjust occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Our campaign this summer, Occupation Is Not Our Judaism, will bring Jews from around the world to engage in direct action and nonviolent opposition to the occupation. We will spend 10 days with our partners in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills engaging in solidarity activism, standing with Palestinians being evicted from their homes and pushed off their land. As Jews from across the anti-occupation spectrum, we say to our own communities, to the Israeli government, and to the world that the occupation must not continue.

Will you help us stand in solidarity with the people of Hebron & the South Hebron Hills?

Answer the call and support this growing movement by contributing to our campaign.

Help us build a more just future for Palestinians, and for all the people who live between the River and the Sea.

Please give generously and Share this campaign with your networks!

Get to know the Center for Jewish Nonviolence’s Leadership team here

Get more information and check out these Top 10 reasons to support the movement.

Donate to Plant Peace, Harvest Justice


 

“Israel is moving to the Right but we don’t have to follow”

i Jul 21st 2016

By Yael Winikoff, Sivan Barak and Linda Briskman. In New Matilda, 20/7/16.

new matilda, lieberman

The far Right: Avigdor Lieberman.

The Jewish community in Melbourne is known for its unconditional support of Israel, but as Israel increasingly shifts to the far right, are we too going down that path?

Israel’s shift to the extreme right in policies and public sentiments even prompted public figures in the top echelons of its military and political institutions to speak out. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of “seeds of fascism” in Israel’s current government, while former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew comparisons to 1930s Germany.  Following the latter’s resignation, ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman has been appointed Defence Minister.

Attacks on democratic principles and demonisation of human rights groups is clearly illustrated in Israel’s non-government organisation (NGO) bill requiring all Israeli NGOs receiving funding from international governments to detail their finances online. The bill targets human rights NGOs who are most likely to receive funding from international governments, not right-wing and settler organisations, who tend to receive funding from private sources overseas.

Recent events in Melbourne have been alarming in echoing similar tendencies. First, the attack on the play ‘Tales of a city by the Sea’ and the campaign to remove it from the VCE drama studies syllabus. The play, by Palestinian Samah Sabawi, which depicts a love story in Gaza, was called into question by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), who demanded its removal from the VCE curriculum.

Dvir Abramovich, ADC chair, accused the play of portraying Israel as a “blood-thirsty, evil war-machine.” Playwright Sabawi wrote in response: “What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”

Calling for an apology, Sabawi continued to assert that “Anti-Semitism must always be taken seriously. False claims of anti-Semitism used to drive political agendas only trivialise and undermine our fight and resolve to eradicate it and other forms of racism.”

Within weeks another controversy erupted, calling into question the value of free speech and marginalisation in the Jewish community. This was splayed over the Australian Jewish News and across social media. Professor Bassam Dally, an Adelaide academic, was disinvited from Limmud Oz, a festival of Jewish ideas at the end of June featuring speakers on a range of topics relevant to the Jewish community. Dally was scheduled to engage in conversation in a joint session with Sivan Barak from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society entitled “Fighting for coexistence”. The session went ahead without Dally, with a one-sided dialogue highlighting how not to fight for coexistence.

The policy stance that Limmud Oz maintains alleges to a double standard of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions proponents, who would take platform at a Jewish event but deny the reciprocation of this through the strategy of sanctions. The very act of wanting to speak at Limmud Oz and engage with the Jewish community reflects the opposite: that BDS activists are willing to engage with Zionist and Jewish dialogue, not to shut it down.

Dally told the Jewish News that “The session was never intended to be about BDS and, therefore, the organisers are deciding not only what, but who, their audience may be permitted to hear – in my case, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian heritage.” The very conversations which need to occur for any progress of both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli self-determination are being censored and stifled by fragments of the Jewish community.

A recent poll in the Jewish News revealed an overwhelming majority believe people who call for a boycott of Israel should be allowed to speak at Jewish events. This is an inspiring reflection of the open mindedness of the Jewish community at large but Jewish institutions such as Limmud Oz and various associated Zionist organisations are not echoing this.

Zionism Victoria President Sharene Hambur spoke in support of Limmud Oz’s decision. “BDS does nothing to foster coexistence or a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather is designed to isolate Israel economically, academically and socially in an effort to destroy it,” he said.

While Limmud Oz and its supporters would have you believe BDS is about the eradication of Israel, the BDS movement’s principal aims don’t attest to that. BDS’s call for equality inherently implies the rights of Israelis, yet it has been misconstrued to a call for destruction of Israel. We believe this is to counter attack the BDS movement, and silence anyone associated with it.

While most in the Jewish community in Melbourne would like to see progress towards a peaceful solution to the “Israel Palestine conflict,” one wonders how we are to move towards this goal when Palestinian voices are increasingly being marginalised and silenced. And it’s an absolute shame, because the wisdom, compassion and vision articulated by these two Palestinians is something that every Jewish person concerned with the fate of Israel should be encouraged, let alone allowed, to hear.

Originally published in New Matilda


 

“What I saw last Friday in Hebron”

i Jul 21st 2016

By Peter Beinart. Published in Haaretz 19/7/16.

Peace activists clean around Palestinian houses as Israeli army soldiers stand guard in Tal Rumaida, Hebron, West Bank, July 15, 2016. Credit: Mussa Qawasma, Reuters. Found here.

Jawad Abu Aisha owns a cluttered yard in H2, the sector of Hebron that falls under direct Israeli control. He’d like to turn it into a cinema. Many local Palestinians — lacking recreational opportunities — would like to help him. But Abu Aisha says that Jewish settlers, and the Israeli military, prevent him from developing the space. In a democracy, if your neighbors impede construction on your property, you can appeal to local authorities. But for Palestinians in Hebron, Israel is not a democracy. They can’t vote for its government. They live under military law. So when settlers disrupt Palestinian construction on privately owned Palestinian land — as part of their effort to make Palestinian life in H2 so unbearable that Palestinians leave — the army and police do their bidding. The army and police, after all, are accountable to Israeli citizens. And in Hebron, as throughout the West Bank, Jewish settlers are citizens. Palestinians are subjects.
I saw this firsthand last Friday when I left a family vacation in Israel to join 52 Jewish activists, mostly from the Diaspora, on a trip to Hebron organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the anti-occupation collective, All That’s Left. We came at the request of a group called Youth Against Settlements. It’s burly, charismatic leader, a student of Gandhi and Martin Luther King named Issa Amro, asked Diaspora Jews to come and help clear Abu Aisha’s yard. He didn’t need American Jewish muscle. He needed American Jewish privilege, the privilege that gives American Jews protection from the Israeli state. Issa hoped that privilege would buy his group a few hours of uninterrupted yard work. He also hoped it would bring them publicity.
Think of Issa as a Palestinian Robert Moses. By 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had been working for years to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. But local whites brutalized them, often aided by the police. So Moses recruited northern white kids to come south for “Freedom Summer.” He hoped the media would follow, and that once white Americans saw segregation’s true face, they’d push their politicians to support civil rights. Among the more than 1,000 activists who heeded Moses’ call were Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, college students from New York whose murder, alongside African American James Chaney, has become American Jewish legend.
I’ll never know what it felt like to be in Mississippi in 1964. But last Friday, watching dozens of twenty-something American Jewish kids (and a few older activists) haul junk in Abu Aisha’s yard in Hebron, I felt an unusual sensation: hope.
I felt hope because American Jewish Millennials are different. My generation, which came of age in the 1990s, didn’t build a single organization that challenged the American Jewish establishment on Israel. That’s partly because, during the Oslo era, we thought American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders would create a two-state solution on their own. But it’s also because the 1990s were a lost decade for the American activist left, an “ice age,” in Cornel West’s words.
That ice age is now clearly over. From Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the immigrant “dreamers” whose protests forced U.S. President Barack Obama to change his policies on deportation, Millennials have brought street activism back to life. What happened last Friday in Hebron is part of that. Over the last few years, young American Jews have created three new organizations: Open Hillel, which challenges Hillel’s limitations on who can speak about Israel in Jewish spaces on campus, If Not Now, which protests American Jewish complicity with the occupation, and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which organizes peaceful resistance to it. Many of the young activists I met in Hebron were products of these groups and talking to them, I realized how formidable a challenge they’re likely to pose to the American Jewish establishment in the years to come.
They’re formidable because these kids don’t come from the margins of the American Jewish community. They come from its bosom. In Hebron, I met the son of a cantor, an alumna of the Orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva, an Orthodox young woman who studied in a yeshiva not far where we were protesting, a Jewish day school graduate whose mother was connected to the yeshiva with Baruch Goldstein, a former activist in the century-old Zionist youth group Young Judaea, several former members of the socialist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, a young woman who grew up in Chabad, a young woman who taught Hebrew school at Chabad, a young woman whose right-wing Moroccan-Israeli parents immigrated to California, and a young man who until a few months ago worked at a prominent establishment American Jewish organization, until he couldn’t live with himself anymore.
The young people I met are also formidable because they’re learning things that American Jewish leaders don’t know. The dirty little secret of the American Jewish establishment is that its officials know little about Palestinian life under Israeli control. That’s by design. Mainstream American Jewish officials talk incessantly about Palestinians, but they rarely talk to them, in large measure because Hillel-style guidelines inhibit their interaction with people who cross their ideological red lines. Most American Jewish leaders have never met nonviolent Palestinian activists like Issa Amro. Nor have they personally experienced life under Israeli military law. The Jewish kids in Hebron have. On Friday, they got a tiny taste when the Israeli army declared Abu Aisha’s backyard a closed military zone, and then, after some activists retreated to Amro’s house, the army declared that a closed military zone too.
Finally, the young activists I met are formidable because they’re brave. Several said they hadn’t told their parents what they were doing because they’d be disowned. The officials who populate establishment American Jewish organizations are, in large measure, careerists. I’ve lost count of the number of staffers at mainstream Jewish groups who have told me they privately disagree with their organization’s stance on Israel. There are true believers on the American Jewish right, especially from the Orthodox world. But, today, the American Jewish establishment is composed of many people who know in their gut that they’re defending the indefensible. In a confrontation between them and the young activists I met on Friday, I’d bet on the latter.
To be clear, I don’t think protests like last Friday’s will have a direct impact on Israelis. The protests are too American. It’s hard to imagine Israelis interspersing religious songs like “Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od” (“All the world is a very narrow bridge,” from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav) with civil rights anthems like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” But the protests aren’t meant to change Israeli opinion. They’re meant to change American Jewish opinion, which could in turn change American government policy. And curiously, it was the very Americanism of the protest that made it so Jewish.
Standing in Abu Aisha’s yard, the American-Israeli activist Moriel Rothman-Zecher explained it this way. The Israeli left, he argued, contains many people alienated by Judaism. They’re alienated because they identify Judaism with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which controls subjects like marriage, burial and divorce, and with right-wing hyper-nationalists like Naftali Bennett. By contrast, American Jews, who live in a country where Judaism is not intertwined with the state, lack that hostility. As a result, they are more likely to see their activism as an outgrowth of their Jewish identity rather than as an attempt to overcome it.
That was certainly the case last Friday. The activists I met weren’t speaking, and singing, about Judaism because they thought it was savvy public relations. They were doing so because Judaism is the language of their lives. At one point during the day, I heard several heatedly discussing whether the Talmud has anything meaningful to say about how to administer a Jewish state. At another, an activist told me about his experience studying Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion that describes Abraham’s burial of Sarah in Hebron.
Over the course of my life, I can remember several moments when contemporary events made me experience Jewish texts or tunes in a new way. I’ll never forget sitting in shul on the Shabbat after 9/11 and hearing the shaliach tzibbur sing Adon Olam to the tune of America the Beautiful. After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, I heard it sung to the tune of La Marseillaise. And I’ll never forget last Friday afternoon, when we stood outside the settlement that housed the prison where Rothman-Zecher and five other activists had been detained, and welcomed Shabbat by singing Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi. The soldiers and settlers standing in front of us looked at us like we were mad. The Palestinians standing behind us looked confused too, but a Palestinian boy, smiling broadly, nonetheless ran over to us with cups of water.
Why were we performing Kabbalat Shabbat? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it was partly to remind myself of who I am. I had spent the day working alongside Palestinians and being protected by them. I had spent the day fearing Jewish soldiers and police. It was a jarring experience. The normal order of things, as I had learned them since childhood, had been turned upside down. Welcoming Shabbat was a way of centering myself. It was a reminder that no matter how many people tell me I hate Judaism, the Jewish people and the Jewish state — no matter how many people tell me I hate myself — I know who I am. I know when I’m living in truth. And nothing feels more Jewish than that.
I’m not an activist by nature. I couldn’t organize a protest to save my life. But leaving Hebron last Friday, I vowed to come back next year, for the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s takeover of the West Bank. Instead of 50 Jews, I hope we bring 500. I hope you’re one of them.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that when he marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, he was “praying with his feet.” I now know what he meant. And I know that, to be the Jew I want to be, I must pray that way again.

Originally published in Haaretz