The Chicago Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
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Not In My Name
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Who Will Speak Out?

Cindy Levitt

Cindy Levitt is a co-founder of Not in My Name and a member of Beth Emet Synagogue.  This article was first published in the Evanston Sentinel and was reprinted in the November/December 2001 issues of Canada's progressive Jewish magazine, Outlook (Volume 39, No. 6), which is an independent, secular Jewish publication with a socialist-humanist perspective.

As I watch the horrifying escalation of violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict I keep waiting to hear from Jewish leaders that Israel should change course.  I keep waiting to hear them say that Israel's violence against civilians and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem will only keep the spiral of retaliations going up.  Aren't Israel's targeted assassinations simply state sponsored executions without arrests, trials or due process?  Do they actually believe that if a few civilian children are killed in the process that it's ok because they may grow up to someday be suicide bombers.  Do they convince themselves that by killing them now they'll save time later?

The Jewish Federation leaders and other mainstream Jewish leaders are very good at condemning all forms of Palestinian violence.  They demonize Palestinians on a regular basis and racist rhetoric is not uncommon.  Yet, they defend whatever Israel does in the name of security.  The Israeli Defense Forces are no longer about defense; they are also about offensive actions and human rights violations.  Jewish Federation leaders are quite good at sending missions to Israel and asking for our solidarity with whatever Israel decides to do in our names as Jews worldwide.

But I ask, when is enough enough?  At what point do we say this is wrong?  That the Israeli government doesn't have the right to operate outside of international law.  Racist settlers, who attempt to define what it means to be Jewish, are going on vigilante pogroms against Palestinian families.  So where are the American rabbis and other Jewish leaders to protest this twisted logic.  What happened to Tikkun Olam (the repair and healing of the world) as an integral part of being Jewish?  I certainly take that very seriously in expressing myself as a Jewish woman.  When I speak out to oppose the military occupation I am acting on my Jewish values.  What Jewish values are the Federation leaders and others acting on when they ask us to support a morally corrupt government in Israel with a war criminal as its leader?  They can try to defend the indefensible but the truth is clear.  They say if things get bad for Jews in the world and anti-Semitism rises, we need a safe haven for Jews.  But it is clear to me that as long as Israel perpetuates injustices on a daily basis and holds itself apart from the same international laws we expect all other countries to abide by, that the opposite may happen.  Anti-Semitism may rise as others generalize about the broader Jewish community based on what Israel does.  It is important to keep in mind that this conflict is not a religious one, although many attempt to frame it this way to keep people from making important connections and alliances with each other.

The Israeli Human rights group B'Tselem has issued a new 17-page report, which uncovers a severe case of abuse of nine Palestinian residents of Samou in the Hebron district by twelve Israeli soldiers.  (see B'Tselem for the full report)

"Last Monday, July 23, 2001, soldiers from the IDF "Shimshon" battalion detained passengers of two Palestinian taxis and abused them over the course of two hours.  Among other things, the soldiers forced the passengers at gunpoint and with violence to severely beat one another.  The soldiers hit the passengers on their heads using helmets and guns.  They stoned them, vandalized their taxis and more.  "[The soldiers] told one of the men [...] to beat us one after the other.  He refused, but the soldiers threatened to kill him on the spot.  The other men asked him to beat them.  With tears falling from his eyes, the young man started to beat us with his fist on our faces and heads.  He tried to beat us gently, but one of the soldiers put his gun to his head and told him to beat us more seriously.  They told him to beat me the most..."

It would be easy to say that is an isolated incident but unfortunately it is not.  There are too many cases like this.  Would I want my son or daughter, if they were in the IDF, to follow these kinds of orders?  Years down the road when these crimes against humanity are put on trial, would I want my son or daughter to say, "I had no choice, I was simply following the orders of my superiors." And in the case of settler violence, many times the IDF colludes, stands idly by, or is unable to defend the rights and lives of Palestinian civilians.

I long to hear local Jewish Federation leaders and rabbis to say loudly and clearly to their congregants, elected officials and to the news media that what is happening in the Occupied Territories is wrong and against all Jewish values and teachings.  In Israel/Palestine, Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbi's for Human Rights does just that as he puts his body on the line working to stop the bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes.  He speaks out on a regular basis and is willing to be arrested expressing his desire for justice.

I want to see our leaders here actually take the lead on this issue and not just react.  And what happens to those of us who do speak out and take a stand?  We are called all sorts of names, spit on, called self-hating Jews, back-stabbers and traitors.  But I refuse to have anyone else define my quest for peace with justice as anything other than what it is: my intense desire for human beings to leave in peace with each other no matter what their religion, race, or nationality is, and an expression of my Jewish values.  Jews have always been a diverse lot with multiple viewpoints.  I do not expect this to change anytime soon.  What I do hope changes is this eerie silence from mainstream Jewish leaders in the United States.  This silence is deafening and someday may prove to be more detrimental to the Jewish people than anything the Palestinians could ever do.

[November 1, 2020]

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