Rosenwasser: Both Jewish Israeli people and the
Palestinian people have a right to land, resources, dignity, security,
peace, and most
It is important to understand why some Jews, in Israel and around
the world, are terrified. There is a very real legacy of historical
persecution, and the resulting fears have been carried down through
generations. And there are reminders. In downtown Berkeley I recently
learned of graffiti that read "kill the Jews," and saw
swastikas, and that is disturbing.
These fears have been manipulated by us Jewish leaders and Israeli
Jewish leaders and right-wing leaders reinforcing a Jewish victim mentality. But we are no longer
victims--and believing we are victims keeps us from healing our historical
fears, and distorts our present thinking. This is not our fault, but
I do think it is incumbent on us as Jews to examine and heal those
fears. This will make our lives much better and will also make us more
effective community leaders and teachers and activists.
I have a friend, Irena Klepfisz, who teaches Jewish studies at Barnard,
and who is a holocaust survivor. Her father was a leader of the Warsaw
ghetto uprising, and he died in that struggle. So I take it to heart
when she says that our fears as Jews are real, but we cannot let these
fears get in the way of doing justice.
For me, this obligation to seek justice is drawn from our Jewish prophetic
tradition. It is important to me as asocial justice activist to not
only speak out against any kind of oppression or bigotry against Jews,
but also to speak out for justice for all people, including speaking
out against ant-Arab and anti Muslim racism. And this is an obligation,
in part, because as Jews, we know what its like to be targeted, deported,
In that same vein, just as I will always stand against real antisemitism-the
blanket condemnation of Jewish people just for being Jews-I don't believe
that criticizing Israeli policies is inherently antisemitic. In fact
as progressive Jews were are called upon to speak out against any human
rights abuses against any people; and to speak out against any violations
of international law including violations by the U.S. government.
I feel it is important to speak out against any anti-Jewish bigotry
and important for us as U.S. Jews to speak out against ant-Arab and
Sometimes when people on the left criticize Israeli government policies
they step over the line. I think it is mostly because of ignorance,
of being misled. I was at a peace demonstration recently and I saw
someone with a sign that had a Nazi swastika inside a Jewish Star of
David. It breaks my heart what the Israeli government and army and
settlers are doing to Palestinians. Some of these things are similar
to what was done to Jews by the Nazis-but it's not on the same scale
as the Nazi genocide. And this is an example of how some people blur
the distinction between the Jewish people and the policies of the Israeli
government. So I try to make it a teaching moment, and I went up to
the person and pointed this out and explained that it doesn't help
anyone or anything to have those types of hyperbolic signs.
Some people have even started blaming a Jewish cabal for us foreign
policy. They point out that some prominent neoconservatives in the
Bush administration are Jews. Hey, there is nothing new in blaming
Jews for a worldwide conspiracy-but now some people on the left buy
into it, and they should know better. This is scapegoating, and it
confuses people because it shifts the focus away from where the real
power is, which is not held by some mythical Jewish cabal.
Antisemitism has been historically used to divert attention from the
people who really make the decisions. Historically Jews have often
been set up as buffers, as the visible faces of the oppressor--whether
as tax collectors, small landlords or business owners, teachers or
social workers (and sadly, sometimes individual Jews have colluded
in making unjust decisions). When we blame U.S. foreign policy on Israel
or some Jewish cabal it divides the left and takes the heat off those
who are the real decision makers. We need to aim our criticism at the
proper targets. U.S. foreign policy is influenced more by corporate
interests, the Christian right, and the arms manufacturers than by
the Israeli government. It's U.S. foreign policy that has to be changed.
Blaming scapegoats diverts us from our work for human rights and justice.
At the same time, when all protests of Israeli government policy are
called antisemitic, I think it takes something away from facing real
antisemitism-real targeting of Jews, real bigotry and scapegoating.
Since 9/11 I have been deeply upset at the increase in the scapegoating
of Jews, along with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim scapegoating. We need
to challenge oppression, injustice, and bigotry wherever we see it,
and support human rights for all people. That is what Tikkun Olam-
the healing of the world-is all about.