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Jewish Liberation
Part of the Whole of Human Liberation

First—thank you, Cherie, for your thoughtful e-mail about the section of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) platform dealing with Israel and Palestine and the debate that has resulted. [See previous article.] I want to add some thoughts, as a white Ashkenazi U.S. Jew.

I think that as Jews we have work to do in renewing our alliances with other wide-world liberation movements so that Jewish liberation can be correctly understood as part of the whole of human liberation. In the context of the middle-agent dynamic of anti-Jewish oppression, and the oppression and violence that Israel acts out at Palestinians, the importance and goodness of Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people is understandably confusing to our allies, especially on the Left, and increasingly to some Jews.

I think that the M4BL platform’s use of the words “apartheid” and “genocide” in relation to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not the key issue. These words are misleading, especially without a stated commitment to Israel’s existence. But I think we can most usefully see their use as an indication of confusion and misinformation about Jewish history and anti-Jewish oppression.

I think that as RCers, we will need to discharge toward becoming clearer in communicating some of our key understandings:

• that Jewish liberation and Palestinian liberation are not in conflict

• that the existence of Israel is crucial to Jewish liberation

• that the creation of a Palestinian nation-state is crucial to Palestinian liberation

• that these can and must move forward together

Yesterday I had some success in communicating with a rabbi friend who does not believe that Israel should exist as a Jewish nation-state. I listened to her thoughts in support of BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement—a global campaign to put economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land and the Golan Heights, give full equality to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees). I then tried to give her the biggest picture I could reach for.

I said that it is helpful to think about Israel in the context of other national liberation projects of oppressed peoples. Oppressed peoples establish nation-states as a base from which to reclaim and rebuild their languages, cultures, pride, and histories and heal from their internalized oppression and divisions. However, nation-states, new or old, are not rational entities; struggling to make them so is a necessary part of human liberation. (Harvey Jackins had a clear understanding of this, and I try to remember to read and re-read his writings on the topic.) Moving toward a rational society is a slow, multigenerational struggle.

Once an oppressed people gain political power and national sovereignty, the state violence and oppression they have experienced and witnessed is still recorded in each mind. Without sustained chances to recover from past violence and oppression, the people who get into positions of power act out the recordings, often violently—internally, along lines of color, class, and creed, as well as toward national minorities and neighboring territories.

These dynamics have played a part in the formation of any nation-state we look at. In more “stable” Europe, and the North American nation-states that have been around for a few centuries, the repercussions of the original founding oppression, racism, and genocide have become so chronic as to be taken for granted. (The M4BL platform is largely, I think, a powerful voice in challenging this national chronic pattern in the United States, with many specific and thoughtful examples of how to do so.)

The passing on of unresolved oppression is also evident in more recently post-colonial African, Arab, and Latin American nations, among others—and in Israel. It has been difficult to see and understand Israel in this context, especially for people on the Left.

My rabbi friend and I parted with more understanding between us and an interest in communicating more. It was a start.

As RCers we can learn to be clear communicators about these things. In the broader context of intersecting liberation struggles, we have a crucial role to play in the wide world—in communicating the possibility and necessity of humans healing from the distress recordings resulting from oppression, and assisting people to do so where we have the resource.

I have work to do in my Co-Counseling sessions in order to take this on. I will need to continue and deepen the discharging of my distresses—timidities, fears, feelings of being unwanted—as they get in my way of getting my thinking out with other people. Tim Jackins has reminded us that we need to do consistent work on our earliest defeats and disconnections, so they no longer dominate our perspective in current-day struggles. I’m not there yet consistently, but as I discharge and try things, I get glimpses of being able to look forward to taking on the struggles in front of us, and to doing it together.

Billy Yalowitz

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00