Many Jews of my generation were inundated with the message that Israel could do no wrong. With the Holocaust still fresh in the collective memory, our families, rabbis, Hebrew school teachers, and friends told us that Israel would always be our home. They said that the Palestinians left voluntarily, encouraged by other Arabs and that the only ones who engaged in terrorist acts were the Palestinians and their allies. It was very black and white, Arabs and Palestinians bad, Israel good.
I visited Israel twice. As a teenager, I went on a teen tour, a common rite of passage for upper and middle-class Jewish kids, that was lead by religious zealots who took us to Israeli settlements and made comments about the filthy Arabs. The second time, when I was in my early 20’s, I spent five months living on a kibbutz. There, I heard a lot of the same propaganda pushed on me as a child.
Over the years, as I became more aware of the Palestinians’ plight, my views started to shift. Still, it used to upset me when people said Zionism is racism. In lieu of centuries of persecution, I felt that it was important for there to be a haven for Jewish people. I used to dismiss claims that Israel was an apartheid state. Comparing it to South Africa seemed like a false equivalency. Singling Israel out for boycotts when other countries perpetrate human rights abuses on a grander scale bothered me. I no longer feel this way.
As is true of the US, religious extremists in Israel have disproportionate power, leading to the oppression of other groups: Arabs, LGBTQ+, immigrants, anyone who is not fully Jewish in their myopic eyes. It’s easy to put a lot of the blame on Netanyahu and his corrupt cadre for Israel’s atrocious policies, but I’ve come to realize Israel planted the seeds of apartheid a long time ago. Zionism is a form of nationalism. White supremacist, Richard Spencer, is a firm supporter of Israel and its policies because he correctly realizes that having a white Jewish nation and a white Christian nation are two sides of the same coin. For me, it is intellectually and morally dishonest to oppose nationalism and support Israel as a Jewish state.
The capitulation today to Trump’s demand to ban Ilhan Omar and Rachid Tlaid demonstrate that Israel is, and let’s face it, for decades has been, a puppet of the American religious rightwing. They share the same goal: theocratic white supremacy. We know that Trump is a would-be dictator who governs as if he is a mafia don, using the power of the presidency to punish those who challenge his stupidity and call him out on his racism and corruption. While I’m still horrified daily, I’m no longer surprised. That the Israeli government would get wrapped up in his petty grievances should not come as a surprise either, but today’s news was a breaking point for me.
Israel, I’m out. I might be Jewish, but I’m a human being first and foremost and am as concerned about Palestinians lives as I am about Jewish lives. By the sheer accident of birth, I was born into geographic and socioeconomic privilege, as is true of most white Americans, and as such, see it as my responsibility to raise those who, by the accident of their birth, have less power. As such, I’m on board with BDS. Other countries suck when it comes to human rights too, but that doesn’t let you off the hook.
Instead of using the worst mass genocide in history to build a better way forward, you perpetuated the racist views of our murderers. Cozying up to anti-Semitic autocrats shows how morally bankrupt you have become. Eventually, your rule will end, but there will be more bloodshed, on both sides, and you, the American government who enables and uses you as well as American defense companies are to blame for every drop. I will do whatever I can and use whatever influence I have to call you out on your racist rhetoric and support boycotts of Israeli goods, especially Israeli wines and encourage people to buy wine made on the West Bank. I feel for my Israeli friends because while they don’t support many of your positions, leaving is not an easy option. Lucky for them they are Jewish, but your policies might lead to a brutal backlash putting everyone, no matter how much they disagree with you, at risk. Increasingly, Jewish Americans feel the way I do, including those who once swallowed the propaganda that you were “the promised land.” Now we know the truth. You are not our protector nor a friend, and most definitely, you are not the promised land.