Cultural comparisons can be useful, but tread with caution!
In the case of the Baltimore/Tel Aviv protests, most people are focusing on the similarities rather than the differences. This is a major mistake.
It’s fair to point out that both American and Israeli societies need to reevaluate their attitudes towards difference, particularly in regards to race. People of color have been continually marginalized throughout history, and it is clear that we are not living in the post-racist society that many of us so eagerly want to believe in.
But the similarities must stop there.
To reduce the situations into “black vs. white” is to erase both historical context and what’s actually happening today. Not to mention the fact that it is demeaning towards both Ethiopian-Israeli and African-American populations. They are different people who are struggling with very different issues.
In preparation for Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Israeli Independence day, I had several thoughts:
In general, I don’t celebrate the making of any State. To millions of people, nationalism is essentially terrorism made “legitimate” by the boot of white power jamming its heel onto the necks of the marginalized and oppressed.
As the daughter of an Israeli and an American Jew, I have benefitted from this power dynamic. It has taken me years to unlearn the feeling of entitlement associated with being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. But I can remember the tragedies that my family faced back in Europe without also feeling a sense of pride for what I see as one of the deepest collective disappointments of the modern period, also known as the creation of the Israeli nation-state.
However, as a pragmatist, I have come to understand that the hierarchy of the nation-state is extremely effective in many of its goals. We, as a society, might not be ready to see the demise of this system (this point is one I am not fully prepared to support and willing to abandon frequently). As such, I don’t think that it’s useful to work toward the abolition of the nation-state, but instead to work to make it obsolete.
I am envisioning a world where Independence Days are forgotten. Instead we’ll remember communal achievements like the day that that someone decided to put za’atar in schnitzel, or the day that Habiluim‘s first album was released, or the day by which we hope to see water distributed more equally.
I am sick of being made to feel guilty for asking my progressive friends to express concern for all lives, rather than just Israeli ones. Credit: Shani Chabansky.
This week, the daily grind is getting in the way of my life. I am frantic, obsessively sifting through the mainstream and alternative media sites for the most up-to-date on-the-ground facts. Three lives, four lives, ten lives, fifteen, twenty. The numbers keep rising, and my pulse keeps racing. The only thing keeping me going through this election war is checking facebook statuses to know that the friends and relatives I care about deeply are safe.
These same friends and relatives are pressuring me to limit my concerns for my family and the Israeli lives that are at risk. Yet I refuse to bow to the pressures of ethnocentrism. I condone no violence whatsoever, nor do I condone a “put the family above all others” attitude. All lives are vital. All lives are sacred.
Today, once again, I am reminded of how the United States is an isolated, self-interested bubble. As a consequence, I am also reminded of just how little I can do to heal and transform Israel/Palestine from my privileged, yet limited station in the Bay Area. After my week-long glimpse into the despair facing the Israeli center-left, it is growing even more difficult to turn this desperation into action.
Listening to the news on the way to work today, I was swept up in US domestic melodrama, like David Petraeus’ resignation as chief of the CIA, due to his extramarital affair. Just before turning the radio off, the US-based international news and analysis program The World briefly brought me to Israel.
A Syrian mortar shell crashed in the Golan Heights, which Israel countered by launching “warning shots” into Syria. This marks the rupture of a decade-long ceasefire between the two nations. Only after launching a counter-attack did Netanyahu initiate the process of determining whether or not the Syrian strikes were intentional, or simply spillover from the Syrian civil war. And an upsurge in missile attacks from Gaza into neighboring Israeli communities catapulted Israel’s notoriously deadly round of retaliations. Israel is now reconsidering the possibility of using targeted assassinations.
When it comes to how Israel responds to attacks, message received: fight first, think later.
Inside and outside views of the wall separating Israel from Palestine. Credit: Shani Chabansky.
At the end October, I flew into Ben Gurion airport in order to attend the 2012 Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI) Symposium. PPI is an American Jewish organization that is loosely connected with the Israeli center-Leftist political party Meretz.
The week-long trip was both alarming and inspirational. We met with countless Israeli and Palestinian politicians, activists, journalists, and leaders to hear their thoughts on the upcoming Israeli elections, the Palestinian UN bid for statehood, and other pressing issues. And being associated with a fringe group like Meretz allowed me to see just how fractured and marginalized the Left has become in Israel.
Throughout the trip, I noticed that every speaker and participant, regardless of his or her political viewpoints, was exhausted and filled with hopelessness. At times, I myself was tempted to throw my hands up in despair. No matter how important Israel’s future is to me, the hope of its becoming a progressive, tolerant, and open society is getting slimmer by the second. After all, as most folks continually point out to me, what good can American Jew do from the US?