The Silencing of Jewish Progressive Voices
In recent years there has been an explosion of Jewish groups breaking away from the mainstream Jewish community’s discourse on Israel/Palestine, seeking to reclaim the history of radical Jewish politics.
As young Jews we have witnessed a silencing of perspectives that critique Israel and its actions. Slogans such as: “Wherever I stand – I stand with Israel” depict dominant attitudes within the mainstream Jewish community – that any critique of Israel is a betrayal of the Jewish people as a whole. Critiques of Israel are deemed anti-Semitic, and problematizing the existence of the Jewish state implies that one is a ‘self-hating’ Jew. Israeli hasbara (propaganda) is disseminated without critical thought. In effect the Jewish diaspora is incorporated into Israel’s public relations apparatus, especially in support of military operations (Avi Benayahu, former Israeli Defense Force spokesperson, called it “participat[ing] in the war effort from home”). The climate of unquestioned support for Israel forcibly exiles those who dissent or diverge from this script. Additionally, young Jews are exposed solely to hegemonic right-wing understandings of Israel in Hebrew schools and other mainstream Jewish spaces; the Palestinian narrative simply isn’t taught. The intense focus on Israel attempts to reduce Jewish life to a narrow nationalist agenda.
It is due to this reality that as a group of young Jewish progressives at UBC, we have decided to form our own space where a wider range of discussions and perspectives are not only tolerated, but encouraged.
The Progressive Jewish Alliance
This year, Jewish progressives at UBC have created a group that would be both a safe space for left-wing Jews to engage in discussion as well as present an opinion that subverted the dominant Jewish campus voices in alignment with Palestinian solidarity groups. Along with these more political goals we wanted to celebrate Jewish culture and history through a social justice lens. We hope to accomplish this through a wide number of initiatives including speakers, film screenings, cultural events, and facilitated discussions.
We subscribe to a Judaism rooted in anti-racism and understand that anti-Semitism is not separate from other forms of oppression. We acknowledge that as Jews we are settlers here on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, Sto:lo and Tsleil-Waututh territory and are committed to standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples working towards decolonization. We thus oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. We recognize that criticism of Israel, anti-Zionism, and nonviolent resistance tactics such as boycotts, are not inherently anti-Semitic. We strive for a just and peaceful future for all those who live in the land of Israel-Palestine.
For the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s first educational event, conscientious objector Yonatan Shapira will speak about his transformation from an obedient officer in the Israeli air force to a solidarity activist. Shapira was one of 27 Israeli air force officers who denounced assassinations carried out in the densely-populated Gaza Strip. The 27 were dismissed from the air force, and Yonatan went on to co-found Combatants for Peace with other disillusioned Israeli and Palestinian ex-fighters. He has sailed with three of the boats carrying humanitarian aid and nonviolent activists to break the longstanding Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, and taken part in numerous other nonviolent actions and campaigns in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
In times of heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israelis we believe speaking out about these issues is of utmost importance. As left-wing Jews who have nuanced views on the conflict, if we remain silent we allow the mainstream Jewish establishment to dominate discussion and misrepresent us. As Jews who are actively seeking peace and a fair resolution to this conflict we feel a responsibility to explore the systems of oppression that have perpetrated and laid the foundation for such violence to continue.
How to get involved