Palestine solidarity work is most effective when done within an anti-racist framework

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). (Photo: Ilhan Omar for Congress/Facebook)
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). (photo: Ilhan Omar for Congress / Facebook)
Palestine solidarity work will be most effective when done within an anti-racist, anti-white supremacist framework.

By Alice Rothchild | Mondoweiss | Mar 12, 2019

This struggle is not about Israel as a Jewish state, but about how Israel behaves as a state in the community of nations.

The recent fury and attacks on Ilhan Omar and her forthright statements exposing and criticizing the role of the Israel lobby and the Congressional requirement of allegiance to the policies of the state of Israel come at time when issues of political framing are roiling Jewish and progressive communities. It is becoming increasingly clear at this political moment that there are major generational divisions within the Democratic Party and within the general population. More people are also willing to say out loud that antisemitism is very different from critical thinking about the continued rightward plunge of Israeli politics.  For me this further clarifies my understanding that working on Israel/Palestine and doing Palestine solidarity work is most effectively accomplished within an anti-racist, anti-white supremacist framework.

So how did that strategic awareness happen for me? I came from a traditional Jewish family where our love of Israel was as uncomplicated as lighting candles on Shabbat or our pride in our roots in the tenements and sweat shops of the Lower East Side of New York. It wasn’t until the 1990s that I began to face the contradictions between my adult political self, working on issues of women’s rights, civil rights, health care justice, and my growing discomfort with Israel. At first I understood that this debate was really only of interest to Jews and Palestinians, although I quickly expanded that to some of the progressive Christian community. For us, the problem started in 1967 and our work was ending the occupation and supporting the radical notion of a two-state solution.

As I listened to Palestinians sharing their stories and read the works of Israeli historians who were delving into state archives and history that had been largely disappeared from Western consciousness, I began to understand that the problem actually began in 1948. This is what has been called Israel’s original sin, the founding of Israel as a Jewish state in historic Palestine on the backs of an indigenous population who were killed, expelled, exiled, and disenfranchised.

I was forced to give up my understanding of Israel as purely and justly a safe refuge post-Holocaust, with socialist roots and kibbutzim, “the light unto the nations.” I began to see Israel as an important U.S. ally that was becoming increasingly part of U.S. foreign policy: a foot in the door for oil resources and for challenging Soviet influence in the Arab world. Post 9/11 Israel became our trusted partner in the fight against “terror” or “Saddam” or “Iran”, or whatever Washington’s enemy of the month might be. The country also became a major player in our arms and security industries. Supporting Israeli policy uncritically became increasingly problematic for anyone with a progressive identity.

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