CounterPunch / June 9, 2020
A message to Israel’s ‘left’. The Jewish people are the Chosen Ones, but only in your heads. Your history of oppression by mostly Christian forces throughout history has been well documented. You have suffered incredible harm to your population. Your enemies have succeeded at times in decimating your people’s numbers in their domain, but your culture continues wherever you go and however many you are. That is your strength of survival. Related words have been immortalized through life experiences and literature. Ghetto was first used in Venice in the 1500s to describe the restricted area for its Jewish population. Holocaust has been used to describe such catastrophes as in nuclear holocaust but of course, thanks to people like Eli Wiesel, it has been appropriated to have almost the exclusive meaning of the Jewish genocide of WW2.
The Jewish people may be life-long victims of anti-semitism, but the world has turned around. News to you, you are now the oppressors in Israel regarding the Palestinians, and even towards many of your own, notably Ethiopian Jews, other African Jews, and even very old, surviving ‘Holocaust’ victims who live a life of abject poverty amongst the well-endowed, politically and economically protected Ashkenazim.
Your Israeli left, in the voice of Isaac Herzog, cannot understand that the oppression experienced by black Americans in the US has equivalence among the Palestinian population under occupation by Israel. One likely reason is that you have no history of fighting for other people’s rights. Here in the US Jewish leaders and individuals have long been champions of racial justice and fighting such oppression among black Americans, Hispanic migrants, and so many on the lowest level of our economic ladder. That is OUR Jewish culture. When you read about the history of the NAACP, you read about Henry Moscowitz and W.E.B. DuBois forming the organization. For the labour movement we start off with Samuel Gompers and Daniel DeLeon, a Sephardic leader in the Socialist Workers Party whose advocacy for workers’ rights falls right in line with the Party. Rabbi Glaser was a long time active supporter of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The list of Jews involved in social and peace movements is endless. That’s not to say we don’t have our embarrassments, too. Look at Jered Kushner, Henry Kissinger, Geraldo Riviera, etc.
Right now in the United States it would be difficult to find Jewish leaders and elected officials not decrying the horrible treatment of black Americans that has brought us to today’s insurrection, the American Spring. But the issue and question in Israelis’ minds is how can comparing what happens on a regular basis to our minority be in any way similar to how Palestinians are treated in Israel. But the comparisons are extremely similar in many fundamental ways, and to deny that is to deny real Jewish anti-semitism, as our struggle is one and universal.
In many ways, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a Palestinian under occupation saying, “Oh, if only to be black in America.” Blacks are still second class citizens in the US but have succeeded and been accepted in politics, economics, the arts, and all other aspects of life. The ridiculous notion that we are beyond racism because we elected a black president was a prevalent feeling, but mostly among white liberals and media pundits who thought racism has ended with a president who has done as much if not more harm to the average African American citizen than any president before him. Where the average black family stands now is no reason for celebrating a post-racial society. Still, among every measuring stick, whites are still the dominant racial group, and will likely remain so, especially after this latest insurrection is crushed, and likely by the inaction or subservience of the ‘black misleadership’, as Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report calls them.
The Palestinians under occupation are barely 2nd class citizens. African American cities in the US are occupied by the police and its people are often brutalized physically, mentally and legally. But every Palestinian is at the mercy of Israeli police, the IDF, and the IOF. What my grandparents and their family went through in their shtetl is not very different than what happens in Israel and at the checkpoints.
The police in the US usually get away with cop killings where in Israel they make a sport of it.When a black man is arrested and accused of anything, he is booked, charged, tried, and usually sentenced. His life is now nearly ruined with this record. But it is an individual punishment. For a Palestinian, not even to be adjudicated, his home is destroyed because his crimes are dealt with by military courts and system, with 98% conviction, not civilian, like for a Jewish Israeli if it would ever go that far in the judicial system for committing a crime against a Palestinian.
The Israeli left and right like to throw around ‘anti-semitism’ as the catch phrase for any criticism of Israel, especially in regards to its illegal occupation. They are able to use that to intimidate fair minded people, especially in the US, who otherwise would objectively see similarities between how they oppress their minorities and how Israel deals with its own.
Is the Israeli left correct in saying there can’t be a comparison between the struggle for the Black Life Matters movement and freedom movements, like BDS, in Palestine? The struggles are indeed disproportionate. Black Americans are part of our fabric yet struggle to break free of its generational chains. Palestinians, especially those under occupation, aren’t even recognized as fellow human beings. When a Palestinian launches a poorly designed rocket that can only scare a cat out of a tree it is met with F-14s strafing a neighbourhood in Gaza. The action is disproportionate but here in the US the media sees violence on both sides. This level of disproportionality is similar to black oppression in the US to Palestinian oppression in Greater Israel, and especially under occupation. The anti-semitism of comparing the two is only in Israelis’ heads. The fight against anti-semitism is also a fight for freedom for Palestine, full enfranchisement for African Americans, and the struggle for freedom for all people, all over the world fighting to be free.
Myles Hoenig is a US GreenParty politician