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Jews Blockade the White House Demanding Ceasefire
The flicker of hope in Jews calling for an end to apartheid and genocide.
Yesterday I saw something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Over a thousand Jews organized with IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, along with countless other people of conscience, rallied in Washington to decry the genocide Israel is perpetrating in Gaza and declare that the U.S. government must use its might to push for an immediate ceasefire. They then walked to the White House, blockaded the entrances, and many got arrested. Both the courage and the words of everyone who attended, and in particular of those who put their bodies on the line, inspired me to write to you today. To see Jews at the White House trying to stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was a powerful sight, and one so desperately needed when the Zionists and the state of Israel try to convince the world that opposition to their action is inextricably linked to antisemitism. It’s not, and yesterday Jews drove that point home.
As one of the participants in yesterday’s actions said, “Our Judaism brought us here. The rhetoric from the Israeli government is genocidal. As Jews, we recognize it. When you say ‘human animals’ while bombing an entire people, we know where that leads. As Jews, we have to speak up!” It’s difficult to describe the feeling of having people, my people, speak for me in this moment. I am fortunate to have this platform, and to be heard more loudly than many when I speak, but there is still the crushing awareness that much more powerful people are airing opinions and committing reprehensible acts ostensibly in my name. But now the tide is starting to turn, a bit. Colombia has rebuked the Israeli genocide and kicked out the ambassador. The President of Ireland has spoken out, a Spanish minister has decried the ethnic cleansing, and millions of Muslims and Jews and people around the world are rallying and doing what we can to support the people of Gaza.
I speak particularly about Jews often because of my Jewish heritage and identity and because it is clear, to me, that we have a unique responsibility to speak out right now. Israel claims to act for all Jews, a mantle many of us reject. But that rejection rarely gets mainstream interviews, and it certainly doesn’t influence U.S. policy like Zionists do. So as an American Jew I have a double duty to speak. My identity is weaponized by one country, and my money by another. And I know many other U.S. Jews feel the same because I watched their speeches yesterday and I saw them blockade the White House and get arrested as they stood strong against genocide and demanded our government do the same, even as they grieved the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost.
What is hard for so many Jews here, and everywhere, is that we must politicize our grief. Gabriel Winant recently wrote a difficult and necessary piece in Dissent Magazine largely about mourning. In discussing the response to Israeli-Jewish deaths he says, “They are, we might darkly say, ‘pre-grieved’: that is, an apparatus is already in place to take their deaths and give them not just any meaning, but specifically the meaning that they find in the bombs falling on Gaza.” And Jewish anti-Zionists know this. We know it so well because we’ve seen this process up close again and again. That is why we have no choice but to make our grief political. We must turn it into resistance to apartheid, resistance to genocide, and resistance to ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians are forced to make their grief political again and again. To stop the genocide of their people they do TV interviews through tears while being asked if they support Hamas. To stop the genocide of their people painfully intimate moments of dead children in the arms of mourning parents are shown on TV. To stop the genocide of their people little orphans are shown in hospitals with nowhere to turn. So the very least that the Jewish people can do is go to the White House and say “my grief is not your weapon.” My grief will not be turned into a bomb, sent with my money to cause more death. I reject my grief being used as fodder for genocide, which will kill more Palestinians, and more Israelis, because to turn our grief into yet another death will never bring peace. What will bring peace is an end to the occupation and an end to apartheid.
And yet some Jews, in the U.S. and Israel and elsewhere, cheer on the genocide. I cannot figure out how to explain how much that breaks my heart. Growing up, part of my understanding of my people was that the response so many of us have had to our own suffering, over centuries and millennia, is to side with the oppressed. To participate in social justice movements, to fight for liberation, the stand tall and say that never again means never again for anyone, anywhere. But that ethos has been sacrificed by many Zionists in their determination to cleanse Palestine of Palestinians. This tragic shift in service of the settler-colonial project that is the Israeli state reminds me of Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism. He begins with, “First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism.” This is my belief, my sad belief about what has happened to too many Zionists, to too many people across the West. In unwavering support for apartheid, in claiming that Israeli self-defense justifies bombing schools and hospitals and homes, in defending the indefensible, people have compromised their humanity.
Of course, countless people hold tight to their values and humanity and their desire for a lasting peace. The number of Palestinians who resist the occupier’s attempt at dehumanization in innumerable ways every day is endless. Relatives of Israeli hostages go on TV and try to remind the world and their country that genocide in Gaza will bring no one back, and will only cause more loss. Jews get arrested at the White House and refuse to have their grief formed into a weapon of oppression and genocide. All of our freedom is wrapped up together. Jews cannot settle for being the oppressor. That cannot be the goal, the aim, for all of us. The goal must be the liberation of all people, real freedom, real peace. That must start with a ceasefire. And it must mean an end to the apartheid regime. We must cling fiercely to our humanity, and must fight to preserve it. That is the only path forward.
I will leave you with this poem from Khaled Juma, painful and inescapable and necessary:
If you’re able to support my writing I’d be immenesely grateful, thank you. - Josh
P.S. There is another mobilization of Jews and of everyone who demands a ceasefire now in Washington, DC tomorrow.
Learn more here, and share: https://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/resource/everyone-out-support-or-attend-protests-now/.