American Jews can fight white nationalism and the occupation at the same time

A new IfNotNow platform gives American Jews tools to hold politicians accountable over both white nationalism and military aid to Israel.

Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)
Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)

Last winter, I went to the mikveh — the Jewish ritual bath — for the first time, as a form of protest. Having been raised interfaith, I was looking for an opportunity to revive my family’s lost traditions, while also rooting myself in my Judaism in the face of rising anti-Semitism and white nationalism.

At the same time, I was searching for a sense of moral clarity to navigate tumultuous communal politics while honoring my ancestors, who were forced to leave their homes because of the same dangers Jews are facing today. Instead of suppressing my identity as a Jew, I wanted to amplify it. So I studied with my rabbi for a year, asking questions about my place within my own heritage, as well as finding strength in solidarity amongst my people.

However, there was one question I feared asking: As a Jew, how do I reckon with the occupation?

I needed an answer to this question before I could go to the mikveh. When I finally felt brave enough to ask the rabbis in my beit din, I feared that my Judaism and my personal values would be permanently divorced — that I would be condemned for not explicitly supporting a country I’d been taught was a safe haven for Jews. But if I wanted to confront white nationalism through my Judaism, I knew I needed to confront the right-wing ideology and violence in Israel as well.

Thankfully, the rabbis before me were vocal activists for Palestinian rights. Yet I found myself with a whole new set of moral questions. Now that I’d made a concrete commitment to Judaism, was I expected to do the same for Israel? How could my people, who suffered countless atrocities, commit acts of violence against Palestinians? Furthermore, how could I advocate for progressive values in the United States without advocating for the same humanity from the Israeli government?

Members of IfNotNow protest at the office of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Chicago, November 18, 2019 (IfNotNow).
Members of IfNotNow protest at the office of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Chicago, November 18, 2019 (IfNotNow).

These questions are polarizing, and endangering, the American Jewish community. Yet they are too rarely voiced, suppressed by American Jewish establishment groups like AIPAC who propagate the harmful idea that to be Jewish is to support Israel. This same message has been co-opted by white nationalists who hide their anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence behind unconditional support for the Israeli government. Equally, the U.S.’s near-uncontested military aid to Israel is often talked about as a defense against rising anti-Semitism, when in reality it serves to deflect our leaders’ focus from the real and dangerous threat white nationalism poses to our people.

These issues are at the heart of a new platform released last week by IfNotNow, which focuses in parallel on the most urgent crises facing our community today: rising anti-Semitism and white nationalism, and the Israeli government’s military occupation over the Palestinian people. By taking a bold stance on Israel/Palestine, IfNotNow provides answers to the questions AIPAC has fought to contain. The platform offers a path to meaningful safety for Jews and our neighbors here in the U.S. by holding accountable politicians who amplify white nationalism, and a path to freedom for Palestinians by pushing to end unconditional support for Israel.

As American Jews, we have the power to demand that our representatives hold Israel accountable for the militarized occupation of Palestine. We cannot stand idly by as our identity is weaponized to fund the Israeli government’s human rights violations in perpetuity. It is also clear that the safety of American Jews is intrinsically tied to the freedom of Palestinians, and that in order to achieve our own safety and security, we must pressure our own elected officials to grant the same for Palestinians. The campaigns to defund occupation and end white nationalism are interconnected, and need engagement from everyone who desires freedom and dignity for all.

Jewish tradition teaches us to ask difficult questions and to act in solidarity with those around us. Now is the time to ask these questions in full voice, demanding answers, as well as recognizing that the struggle against antisemitism is also the struggle for Palestinian freedom. The IfNotNow 2020 platform offers clear answers that every public official should support.