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When you're a black Jewish American, it's hard to ignore what Netanyahu is doing in Israel

95% of my classmates visited Israel when encouraged to do so by my Jewish high school. When they came back, they were unrecognizable. And my views began to change

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver
New York
Friday 06 September 2019 19:23 BST
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, had earlier cancelled a scheduled trip to India
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, had earlier cancelled a scheduled trip to India (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

In high school, I took a class called Modern Zionism. It was a mandatory course to graduate as I went to a religious school, one that aimed to educate me on both real world skills and how to be a “good” Jew. Mixed in with Torah values, we were urged to go to Israel for a year or more, to see our “homeland”, study at religion school, and deepen our connection with God.

Ninety-five per cent of my class went to study in Israel, attending expensive, exclusive gender-segregated seminaries. I did not.

When my friends returned, I no longer recognized many of them. The boys had grown beards and started wearing tzittzis, a religious garment, on a regular basis. The girls only wore skirts and dresses. Everyone kept kosher, aimed to be married before 25, and prayed at least once daily. Some even moved to Israel full-time.

When my classmates studied the Torah, I went off to college to study politics and human rights. I learned about the atrocities the Palestinian people face on the daily in the Levant. I saw an honest depiction of Israel, knowing the good it brought the world through medicine and technology, but also knowing of the human rights violations its government is accused of.

It was at college that I realized that myself and my fellow high school students were fed a religious narrative of why Zionism is right and good, and why taking this land away from our Palestinian “enemies” was just. It is the same narrative groups like Birthright give young Jews along with their free trip: that Israel can do no wrong because it was “reparations”, and that all of the problematic government’s actions can and should be excused because of the nature of the state’s founding.

It was at that point that, as a Native American, black Jew, I realized I could not support an active settler occupation just because we were told it was justified by God.

Rather than continue to support colonialism, I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about Israel.

I read about the exploitation of Palestinian resources by the Israeli government, which the United Nations calls a human rights violation, and how Israeli forces slaughtered over 30 children in a protest for Palestinian rights. I read about the closure of the Gaza Strip, and how Palestinians have to apply to work or seek specialty medical care in Israel, and oftentimes have their application denied. And in one night of reeducating myself, I became a pro-Palestinian Jew.

Netanyahu holds up map gifted from Trump showing Golan Heights as part of Israel

This is not a radical belief, but a rational one. I do not want to support a regime that kills children and restricts Palestinian access to food, shelter, and water because they feel entitled to Palestinian land.

I believe that both Jews and Palestinian people have the right to live safely in Israel. I do not personally care about what political party governs Israel or if it is a two- or one-state solution. Rather, I care about a system of equity and fairness being fostered in the region, where all people can live in peace, and I will not support Israel until that has been achieved and sustained.

I am not alone in this stance. In fact, many young non-orthodox Jews born in the diaspora lack a connection to Israel. We do not view it as our homeland, and we are opposed to the vile treatment of Palestinian people. I do my best to avoid Israeli-sourced technology and products, in line with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement.

These young Jews, organizing in groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, believe protecting the indigenous Palestinian people who are abused, pushed out of their homes to make way for Israeli real estate, and disenfranchised at the order of the Israeli government should be more important than having a settler state as their “homeland”.

I understand the importance and significance of Israel — all Jews do. However, I and other anti-Israel Jews, believe that atrocities should not breed atrocities, and being slaughtered at the hands of an egotistical dictator in 1945 should no longer serve as an excuse to discriminate against other indigenous people on the land.

If the Israeli government stopped razing Palestinian homes, restricting food, water, medical care and electricity, and imprisoning teenage Palestinians for throwing rocks or slapping soldiers, maybe I’d feel differently.

But for now, under the Netanyahu administration, I see Israel as just another colonial state ruled by supremacy and violence that I will not support.

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