How I Want to Discuss Israel/Palestine

July 1, 2009

Focus_July1By Peter Miller

I don’t subscribe to the notion that “Zionism doesn’t announce itself. It’s a stealth war, on our minds.” I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theory. The opponents of Palestinian rights are well established and out in the open. I don’t want to become like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and folks on the right who demonize “Islamo-fascists” and look for closet Muslims and anti-Semitism to explain people’s opposition to Israel’s policies. I also don’t want to take the “either you’re with us or you’re against us” approach of the last 8 years.

I find that many people respond positively when presented with the human rights argument and information about Israel’s behavior. I want to expose as many people as possible to this discussion without introducing conspiratorial thinking that is a turn off for most people.

Peace in the Middle East by Natalie Whitson

Peace in the Middle East by Natalie Whitson

Let’s Be Fair

The Jewish community has a complicated relationship to Zionism and I think a fair-minded activist has to take the nuances and internal struggle of the Jewish community into account, even as we offer a critique of Israel’s behavior and the kind of thinking which permits it. Saying that it’s “a stealth war” unnecessarily threatens people whose opinions I hope we can change through appeals to human rights and morality and a better understanding of Palestinian rights and suffering. I have seen many cases where Jewish folks, exposed to information about Palestinians and innately supportive of universal human rights, come closer to the Palestinian side. Blame the sin, not the sinner.

Many Jewish activists who work on this issue were brought up as Zionists and realized for themselves the damage to Palestinian human rights done by the exclusivist; tribal thinking that is part of Zionism. They are engaging their friends, families and communities on this very problem. Zionism got popular in response to the Holocaust, a tremendous catastrophe that plays an

understandable role in the psychology of Jewish people. In some ways it is similar to “Black power” or the American Indian Movement, i.e. a tribal response by a threatened community.

Don’t Play to People’s Fears

The Israeli government and the likes of AIPAC, of course, play to the fears of Jews in order to justify Israel’s policies. This is no different than how our government plays to the prejudices and fears of Americans. Some of these activists still consider themselves Zionists, though of a new type that eschews the exclusive tribalism and acknowledges the other. We must avoid heightening longstanding fears in the Jewish community that they are being treated as some kind of “stealth other” that needs to be rooted out.

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In the city of Eugene, Oregon there is a long-running “Pacifica Forum” which has sponsored some very controversial speakers that got people’s “anti-Semitism” radars going. For example, the Pacifica Forum has hosted Holocaust denier David Irving. I think the Pacifica Forum has done a lot of damage in the name of free speech. It has hampered useful discussion of Israel and Palestinian rooted in human rights and mutual recognition by linking discussion of Palestinian rights with the likes of David Irving. (See http://www.greenwasheugene.com/pacificaforum.html for an example of discussion raised in opposition to the Pacifica Forum)

Palestinian activists also acknowledge that the role of Jews in support of Palestinian human rights is absolutely crucial to their efforts. This “stealth war” approach seems to me to risk creating a division where we need mutual recognition. Φ

Peter Miller works with Americans United For Palestinian Human Rights in Portland, Oregon.

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