Last weekend marked the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Each night, as I light my menorah with family and friends, I reflect on the radical origins of this tradition that has allowed me to be celebrating here today. And each night, I pray for the liberation of all people — from mountain to coast, from river to sea.
Since Oct. 7, there hasn’t been a day in which I haven’t thought of the Palestinian people. Not since the Israeli government started bombing the Gaza Strip — killing thousands of Palestinians. Through this, I’ve seen friends, strangers, politicians and artists — people of all different backgrounds and nationalities — come together to condemn America’s military support of Israel and demand a permanent ceasefire.
As a member of the Jewish diaspora, it feels urgent that I hold any government accountable for actively participating in the mass killing of a group of people. I expect this to be a given for everyone, but especially for my fellow Jews.
To my horror though, I continue to see members of my own community respond to the crisis in Gaza with callous indifference. They argue they don’t condone the deaths of innocent civilians. Meanwhile, they believe Israel has a right to defend itself and that condemnation of Zionism is anti-Semitic.
As anti-Zionist protests rise globally, it seems like more and more Jews entrench themselves in the belief that “Zionist” and “Jew” are synonymous — that disavowing one means disavowing of the other. But I see this as a very dangerous mindset.
Judaism is a religious and cultural inheritance that is shared by millions of people worldwide. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people have a right to an ethnostate — an ideology that led to the establishment of the state of Israel. To me, it should be obvious that Judaism and Zionism are not the same. So why can it be difficult to separate these definitions for some people, both within and outside of the Jewish community? The answer is hypervigilance.
For a community with a long, painful history of violence and displacement, Jewish people are often on high alert for anything that could look like the beginning of anti-Semitism. We're not taught to be discriminatory with our hypervigilance. We learn to consider terms associated heavily with Jewish people as potential anti-Semitic dog whistles. And in turn, this approach has led some to cement their belief that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
Some Jewish people never get past the feeling that violence is always just around the corner. When they see crowds of people in major cities across the world chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” it literally triggers memories of past mass trauma.
While I have empathy for this point of view, I recognize that it's based in disinformation and fear mongering. It’s devastating to see some of my own family members fall prey to propaganda designed to play on their worst fears, but I don’t think they’re beyond reach.
I believe that most Jews understand that the violence occurring in Gaza is wrong — that a part of us may even see ourselves in the Palestinian faces on the news. Through comprehensive education and restorative conversations, I have hope that ultimately, solidarity will win out over fear and misinformation.
However, what I have little empathy for is the way this fear leads Zionist Jews to treat other people within the community. Despite my pushes for unity these past few months, I continue to see fractures within the community arise from the policing of pro-Palestinian Jews by their own peers. Some call for herem and try to distance us from Judaism. Others claim to use their platform to speak for the Jewish diaspora, and then turn around and set up websites to dox and harass us.
And I have absolutely no empathy for the non-Jewish people and organizations that weaponize this fear to legitimate the U.S.’s genocidal, imperialistic and bloodthirsty military support of Israel. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives codified the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in their resolution. I struggle to find words to describe how angry this makes me.
Across the country, Jewish activists, organizers and students have stood up screaming that we do not condone the Israeli government's attacks on Gaza. This violence is not to be done in the name of Judaism. We recognize the struggle of the Palestinian people as the struggle of all marginalized people, including us. Anti-Zionism is a Jewish position. It always has been, and it always will be. The United States Government has no authority to decide what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic.
Being a pro-Palestine Jew is not a contradiction. This stance recognizes our own history and the duties we have to ourselves and others. We are stronger standing in solidarity with other marginalized groups and against large, militarized governments. They do not protect us. We protect each other.
ECW is a Jewish student journalist. For privacy reasons, YR Media is publishing their initials.
Edited by Amber Ly and shaylyn martos