Why activate?

When I lived in Israel, I was an activist.  I felt engaged and informed. I went to protests and meetings and worked for organizations that represented controversial and important topics. My friends and I were inundated in politics- our conversations over dinner always touched by the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We were passionate, and it was exciting.
But when you live in Israel and you choose to be involved in politics, it’s also difficult not to feel like you’re drowning under a heavy, ever growing weight. Sitting on the plane back to the US after a year and a half abroad, I could feel this pressure float away. Now, if I don’t choose to open Haaretz.com, I can go weeks without knowing anything about Israel. It’s a seductive ignorance that is light and freeing, because I know that when I open the news, I feel stuck, angry and very, very sad.
So when I am asked to talk to young American Jews and motivate them to advocate against certain policies or for steps towards peace, I am hesitant because I know the costs of getting involved in this issue, and I doubt why young American Jews should feel inspired to do so.  Questioning and challenging the policies Israel and the US together make is far more difficult, taxing and consuming than simply supporting Israel or obviously, avoiding the topic all together. American Jews my age (mid-20s) do not have thesame relationship that our parents and grandparents have with Israel. We don’t fully grasp how incredible it was for Jews all over the world to watch the building of this nation and thus, we don’t feel the tragedy of its failings.

But when Netanyahu says that Israel’s policies are for the protection of Jews everywhere, we are, whether we like it or not, being called into the fray. We shouldn’t be motivated by fear of repercussions, but when Israel acts immorally, Jews, in Israel and out, will carry that burden. That is part of being a minority. You feel, absorb and reflect the actions of one individual.
And as American Jews, we carry a double weight. Our countries’ policies are often perilously intertwined. For The Daily Show watchers, they just did a wonderful piece on the US decision to cut funding from UNESCO because it chose to give a seat to Palestine. This decision was based on a 20-year-old law that requires the US to cut funding from any entity that recognizes the Palestinian state. The placid apathy of our decision makers and their willingness to continue marching to the same tune, along the same hazardous cliff, is indicative of the effort that it will take to make change.
We should be in awe of the accomplishment of Israel. We should also not be afraid to criticize it. If it is a country that as Jews, we want to feel pride in or a connection to, then we must address its faults. I was asked recently why Israel is such a big deal, and why it gets so much attention, especially compared to its neighbors whose human rights records are not exactly shining. I think it’s because there exists an even larger loss when those who have felt discrimination and persecution are unable to uphold humanitarian values. Some recent events that reflect a concerning trend are the passage of a laws in the last year including: the criminalization of asylum seekers fleeing from Africa into Israel; the withdrawal of funding from any organization that marks Israel’s independence day as a day of morning (Nakba day); and the permission to small communities (moshavim) in the Galilee and the Negev to refuse residence to people based on religion and ethnicity. There are unfortunately many more making their way through Knesset now.
After writing that last paragraph and feeling my heart beat a little faster I know that I am going to the J Street conference because I feel like we are at critical time in Jewish and Israeli history and yet I am unsure about what I can do about it. I want to find a way to be effective and active, and I am also aware that doing so from the United States as a young person is challenging. I want to be inspired. I want to hear a call to action from Israeli thinkers, activists and politicians who believe that from here, we can make a difference.
With JewSchool, I will be writing about the J Street conference starting this Sunday. After being relatively uninvolved and essentially doing the opposite of activism (studying physics, biology and chemistry,) I am very excited to see what is happening in DC and around the country.
Thank you to JewSchool for the opportunity and to readers for being interested!!

8 thoughts on “Why activate?

  1. Hi Shiri. I suppose its a matter of persepective. If you believe that Israel needs to do more to make peace, particularly by ceasing all construction over the 1949 armistice line, and that Israel’s claims against the Palestinians are distractions and finger-pointing, then UNESCO’s decision is good because it puts needed pressure on Israel to move forward.
    If you believe, as I do, that the Palestinians need to do more to make peace, particularly by ending their constant incitement, addressing Israel’s security concerns, and accepting the idea of a Jewish state in this tiny corner of the Middle East, then UNESCO’s decision is quite harmful to the peace process asit takes needed pressure off the Palestinian decision makers.

  2. Regarding the recent legislation you mentioned, it is any organizations right to commemorate the founding of my country as tragedy, it is a free country after all. That being said, I do not see why Israeli tax shekel should pay for such events.

  3. Good stuff, Shiri! I can’t wait to meet you at the conference and hear more about your work in Eretz Yisrael! 🙂
    – Josh

  4. @Avraham are you really unaware that the un Democratic laws restricting funding to NGO’s has nothing to do with Israeli tax shekels? It’s about penalizing organizations that dissent by taking nearly half from foreign donations.

  5. Jew Guevara – I can’t honestly say I am fully versed in all legislation regarding government funding to NGO’s. There are some laws that I fully or partially diagree with. I was referring specifically to the Nakba law that Shiri referenced in her post and that has gotten a lot of press since it was passed.

  6. Avraham — The Nakba Law would defund a public school if, say, a teacher spoke in her private life at a privately-funded Nakba Day rally. It’s aim is to silence Arab mayors, civil servants, professors, NGOs, and legislators. Israel’s security is not being threatened by too many Nakba Day commemorations. The legislation has only one purpose: punish Arab citizens for being Arab and push them and their narrative as far into the underground as possible. A powerful ingredient in the recipe for violent backlash.

  7. KFJ – That being the case, I would move the Nakba law the category of laws I support in principle, but not in its current state.
    I would also argue that the Nakba is often associated with exagerated or distorted claims of what led to the Arab refugees in 1948. I would say that these distortions prevent Palestinians and other Arabs from accepting the notion of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This too is a recipe for violence.

  8. KFJ – Also, do you know of any specific cases where the law was applied in the way you described, or is that just a way it can theoretically be abused?

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