Last week, the Jewish Defense League attacked peaceful protestors outside of the American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Annual Conference, wounding a Palestinian professor and a member the anti-occupation group IfNotNow. Renowned educator and former Breira activist Peter Geffen reflects on his own experience with the extremist Jewish organization in 1977, and how the community landscape has changed in the interim.
Reprinted from the American Jewish Peace Archive with permission. Photos credit Bill Aron.
But the JDL had another spin. Their focus was on an anti-Semitism that we did not experience or recognize. We knew, of course, about the Holocaust and the devastation and horror wreaked upon our people. But the lesson we drew was to be outspoken in the defense of all minorities; of all the weak and persecuted of the human community. We were universalistic. The JDL was highly nationalistic and violent. They saw themselves as a Jewish militia created to make certain that a Holocaust would “never again” happen to the Jewish people. Our universalism became their enemy.
The claim of disloyalty, of self-hatred, of “being a modern day Kapo” (as used by our now US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman when speaking of J Street) are the terms of degradation. The effect of the use of these terms is the developing fascism, racism, ultra-nationalism, and Holocaust manipulation that increasingly characterize our growing sentiments within the contemporary Jewish community. We, the people of the Passover Seder, the people of the memory of slavery, the people of the Prophets of Social Justice for all are slowly, but surely, becoming a distorted image of ourselves.
“The greatness of the prophets was in their ability to voice dissent and disagreements not only with the beliefs of their pagan neighbors, but also with the cherished values and habits of their own people.”