Not In My Name is a gathering of Jews who believe that the Israeli Government must change its policies towards Palestinians and Palestine if there is ever going to be a just and lasting peace for all the people of the region. While Not In My Name is focused primarily on having an impact on the American Jewish community, we have Jewish and non-Jewish members from around the world.
Not In My Name started in Chicago and has a group of people actively organizing in that city. Each day, we hear from other Jews, within the US and from around the world, who are attracted to NIMN because it gives them a way to express their concerns about Israel precisely because of their Jewish values, and not in spite of them.
As Jews, we feel the need to speak out and take action. These actions include the following: we organize protests and demonstrations, we hold vigils and religious services, we write letters to the media, we contact our elected representatives and express our concerns to them, we create opportunities for dialogue between Jews and Palestinians by attending teach-ins, we support activities planned by other groups, and we host educational forums and study groups.
Not In My Name is an informal group, still (perhaps forever!) in formation. NIMN members support our Common Ground, but beyond that there is room for disagreement and healthy, constructive debate. Members are Zionist, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist. Some are observant Jews and some are secular Jews. Others find in Not In My Name a new way for them to explore or express their Jewishness.
American Jews have a long history of speaking out and protesting against Israeli policiesusually with very limited success. Dissent is often silenced and discouraged, as was all too sadly demonstrated by the ADL spying campaign conducted against dozens of groups in the Bay Area. We in NIMN see our job very much as speaking out to create space for others to express their concerns and perhaps over time open criticism of Israel.
Why should you consider joining us in our efforts? Well, first of all, Not In My Name was not formed to supplant any other organizations. You can continue to be active in a local Jewish group, or your synagogue and still "belong" to NIMN at a national or international level. It is our hope that NIMN can become a vehicle through which Jews act in an increasingly coordinated and effective manner to bring about change. Whenever possible, we will act with other groups who work for justice and peace.
Above all, we want to be effective. Here are three organizing principles that underlie Not In My Name:
Not in my Name members understand that it is crucial for us to take a public, visible stand of dissent, so that: the illusion of unanimity can be exposed; space can be opened within the Jewish community for a real debate; and more Jews will find the courage and support to also speak their conscience.
What is visible action? It could be writing a letter to the editor, questioning your rabbi's position on Israel, organizing a program at your synagogue featuring a Palestinian speaker and alternative Jewish voices. It could also consist of a public demonstration of concern, such as writing "I am a Jew and I want Israel to stop killing Palestinians" on a posterboard and joining a largely Palestinian protest (that's how NIMN got started). Visible action will mean different things for different people in different situations. But it all involves some level of risk-taking, of being willing to "put yourself out there", exposing yourself to criticism, sometimes from family and friends.
In Israel, risks are taken by courageous Jews and Palestinians in Israeli organizations such as Gush Shalom, Bat Shalom, Women in Black, and so on. Palestinians in the occupied territories also take great risks every day for justice and human rights. Our work here in the United States, by comparison entails minor risk, and the consequences are far milder, yet still we feel hesitation and fear. We must overcome this fear and let friends, family and politicians know how we feel. As we do this, others will join us, our voices will grow in strength, and we will have an impact on US and Israeli policies.
Though the United States is a democracy and the right to free speech is promoted and encouraged for many, there is very little real debate among Jews here when the subject has anything to do with Israel, its actions, policies and future. Linked to this lack of debate is the absence of balanced information about what is really going on in Israel. This situation is especially ironic because in Israel itself, the newspapers, television and radio, express a wider range of viewpoints and information than is readily available here in the United States.
Within Israel, the people themselves, from a broad spectrum of political parties and beliefs, engage in critical discussions about how to best achieve peace and security. We at NIMN are so jealous of that vibrant debate! In the last twenty years, much new information has come to light from within Israel itself about the founding of the state, the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and the treatment of Palestinians within the occupied territories. Israel should not be treated in the United States as some sort of "untouchable" topic.
Not In My Name believes that it is a priority to transform the quality and quantity of debate on Israel within the Jewish community. It's not just a matter of being able to say what you want or have what you write be printed. The suppression of honest, open discussion in the United States about Israel has very real and destructive consequences. As long as the mainstream Jewish organizations can project a Jewish "unanimity" around US policy towards Israel, it will be able to silence dissenting views and avoid any changes to that policy.
We must be able to put forth our concerns about what is done "in our names." We must raise questions and agree to disagree about what Israel does without allowing others to accuse us of being self-hating Jews. If we can succeed in sparking a widespread, critical debate about the policies of Israel within the Jewish community, we will then see a more reasoned and productive national debate about the use of billions of US tax dollars in the Middle East.
The gulf between Jews and Palestinians in this country is very, very wide. If Jews and Palestinians do not have contact with each other, do not hear each other's stories, then they can so much more easily dismiss the real concerns on each side. If Palestinians never hear anything from and about Jews but uncritical support for a government that kills and brutalizes their people, anti-Jewish sentiment will fester. If Jews only learn about Palestinians from a media that routinely dehumanizes Arabs and portrays them as terrorists, they will continue to accept the crudest rationalizations for horrific human rights violationsand harbor deeply racist views of the Palestinian people.
We plan to join other Jewish and Palestinian groups who are building bridges between these two communities. Through dialogues at synagogues, maintaining contacts with Palestinians and presence at their activities and protests, we hope to break down the barriers, reduce prejudice and hatred, and form bonds that will strengthen the movement for a lasting and just peace.