I have let this go for far too long. I’m not conceited enough to think that what I have to say will make much difference either way, but as a United States citizen, a Jew, and a person who considers herself progressive and opposed to war and violence wherever and however they happen, I have to say my piece about the situation in Gaza.
Situation sounds like a euphemism. Yet I can’t really call something so one-sided a war, can I? I don’t know the proper words, I’ve been searching for the them for days and days, but I still don’t have them. I fear lapsing into cool, analytic terms as much as I fear getting emotional and crying all over my laptop keyboard.
I’m an American Jew, and when I state that fact, I invite a wealth of assumptions, not all of them anti-Semitic in nature. Renee Martin recently addressed the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, so I don’t have to (though I would like to note that Modern Mitzvot has a very good point too).
Daniele Archibugi pointed out that upcoming elections in Israel and Palestine most likely have something to do with the timing and force of the Israeli attack. But being in the U.S., I have to see it through the lens of the election we just had, here, and one of the Republican party’s favorite anti-Obama attacks.
Somehow, my name has gotten onto every Jewish organization in America’s mailing list. I get junk mail from AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and a few others that go straight to the recycle bin. But my favorite, during the weeks before the election, was from the “Republican Jewish Committee.”
They sent lurid, full-color, oversize cards with pictures of Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proclaiming that Obama would allow Iran to destroy Israel. Sarah Palin invoked the name of Rashid Khalidi on the campaign trail to crowds who had no idea who he was, but were expected to react, salivating, Pavlov-style, to the Middle Eastern name.
Yet most Jewish Americans, like me, voted for Barack Obama. We voted for Obama in higher numbers than 2004–77%, according to Haaretz.
The smears, then, served not so much to stoke Jewish fears about the destruction of Israel, but to reassert the connection with Israel in the minds of non-Jews in the U.S. A connection that to me seems as much about race as it is about religion. The Jews in Israel are the “white” people in that equation, while the Palestinians are Other.
I grew up Jewish, and went to Hebrew school. Mine was a politically neutral Hebrew school, a sort of slacker-Jew’s religious education that happened only on Sundays. Still, I grew up hearing about Israel as the place people went on trips to see their heritage and roots.
My family certainly wasn’t the kind of Jewish family that went to Israel. My mother was raised Catholic, and recently started attending church again. Yet she’s the one who cheers at the TV when Israel invades, and uses terms like “kicking ass.”
It’s not a connection with her husband’s Jewish heritage that makes her react that way. It’s this American identification with Israel that’s gone far beyond Jewish Americans. Many Americans see Israel more as a colony than a separate state (and we fund it like one too).
So Obama had to assert, over and over again, his support for Israel. Still, we might think that an Obama administration will be less supportive of overwhelming force used against Gaza than the Bush administration. Yet another reason to attack now.
This is a complex situation. I am disgusted by the way Israel treats the Palestinian people, yet I had to bite my tongue while campaigning for Obama and reassure Jewish families in New Jersey that Obama supported Israel. This makes it hard for me to speak in these times.
I’m no longer speaking for Obama–the campaign is over, we won–and so I feel more guilt that this is the first piece I have written about the Gaza bombings and invasion. Yet I cannot help freezing up whenever tensions flare and boil over between Israel and Palestine.
I wrote a piece this past summer for Racialicious on my conflicted Jewish identity, and I am even more conflicted now. I feel that I must speak out because, like many others, I am Jewish and want an end to the violence. I want peace. I want a real, vibrant, living Palestinian state.
Yet as I said at Racialicious, criticisms of Israel do feel personal sometimes. I have a harder time speaking out against the actions of the Israeli government than I do my own, perhaps because I feel responsible but yet can do nothing, while here I can vote and campaign and work to change the government that I live under.
It’s true that I have nothing in common with the Israeli government but a religious background. Nothing in common with the Republican Jewish Committee, with AIPAC, with cheering crowds at Sarah Palin rallies.
So I am adding my voice to those calling for a ceasefire, for peace, for a two-state solution, for an end to the violence. And I’m hoping that I’m right about Obama, and that his team will not be so willing to support Israel’s actions. That he will work for peace, and that this last attack under Bush will in fact be the last attack that happens with the tacit approval of my government.
And not just so I don’t have to feel responsible anymore.