Global, Israel, Justice, Peoplehood, Politics, Religion

Netanyahu’s Success: A Call to Action

This call to action is by Ilana Sumka, the founder and director of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which is cultivating a practice of Jewish Nonviolence in support of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Hands planting a tree
This week, Netanyahu’s Likud party triumphed in Israeli elections, based on fear-mongering and race-baiting. He promised that a Palestinian state will not be created under his watch. While his electoral victory may be disheartening it is also a wake-up call, a call to action, and the newly-founded Center for Jewish Nonviolence is issuing that call.
When a government fails to act justly by ruling over another people for nearly fifty years, when a government discriminates against its own minority population by race-baiting and discouraging participation in the electoral process, there is a way forward: nonviolent direct action.
Social movements around the world have employed nonviolent direct action to challenge unjust uses of power. It’s time for those who are committed to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians to do the same, by practicing nonviolence and noncooperation to pave the way towards a just future by highlighting the injustices of the Israeli government and the complicitly of far too many American Jewish institutions.
Many of us have already begun to walk down this path. Last month, twenty-three Jewish leaders from the US and the EU traveled together to the occupied West Bank with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. We went to respond to the Israeli government’s uprooting of hundreds of fruit trees on the Palestinian farm Tent of Nations, a place internationally known for its commitment to peaceful coexistence.
Through our activism, we stood in solidarity with a Palestinian farmer whose land is threatened; we expressed our opposition to the Israeli government’s ongoing policies of occupation and its attempt to claim more Palestinian land as “state land;” and we joined in strategic partnerships with Israelis and Palestinians engaged in nonviolent resistance to the injustices of the occupation.
When we traveled to the Palestinian farm a few weeks before the Israeli election, many of us had high hopes but low expectations for how the upcoming election would turn out.  After this week’s results and after nearly fifty years of Israeli occupation, Jewish communities around the world have a choice to make: will we continue to allow Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric speak for us as he claims to represent the entire Jewish world, or will we speak for ourselves and act in direct protest to the segregation and discrimination that come part-in-parcel with ruling over another people?
The cohort from the Center for Jewish Nonviolence that traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories to participate in nonviolent activism represented a remarkable array of diversity from the Jewish community. Half of us in our twenties and thirties and the other half in our fifties, sixties and seventies, we are rabbis and a doctor, academics and union organizers, educators and a retired foreign service officer, civil rights activists from the 1960’s and emerging Jewish leaders in solidarity with today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
Considering the extent to which Jews of all ages and backgrounds find themselves in opposition to the current Israeli government, this diversity isn’t surprising.  It’s representative of the ever-increasing numbers in the Jewish community who are fed up with Israel’s status quo.  We don’t agree on everything when it comes to Israel – and we see that as a strength – but we are unified in our commitment to use nonviolence to end the occupation.  We will work in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis as well as in our home communities where far too many mainstream Jewish institutions are complicit in defending and sustaining Israel’s unjust policies.  We share a basic belief that whatever future political agreement is reached, it must honor the fundamental equality and shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The commitment to personally put ourselves on the line in the face of injustice is nothing new in Jewish tradition.  Our tradition is rich with calls for morality in the face of immorality and justice in the face of injustice.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, known throughout the American Jewish community for marching with Dr. King, wrote the following in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays: “Who is a Jew?  A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.”
We are not just moved, but moved to action, knowing that wrong has been done to the Palestinian people, and done in our name.
We know that nonviolent movements hold the potential to create just and lasting change.  As Larry Rubin, a veteran of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi and one of the leaders in the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, said, “I believe deeply that history has proven the need for Jews to have a safe haven and I believe just as deeply that the Jewish people will not be safe from the threats of oppression, hatred and hostility until all people are.”
The Center for Jewish nonviolence is issuing a call to Jews everywhere: Join us. Plant trees with Palestinian farmers defending their land from Israeli attempts at appropriation; join Israeli and Palestinian activists in the South Hebron Hills to protect Palestinian villages from hostile threats from neighboring Jewish settlers; and protest Jewish American institutions that are complicit in supporting Israel’s oppressive and discriminatory policies.
Those of us who are compelled by Jewish history to stand on the side of the oppressed have not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to stand up against the oppression being committed in our names.  It has never been more urgent to engage in what may be the toughest yet ultimately most redemptive social justice challenge of our day: to hold our own Jewish leaders accountable, whether they are seated in the US and support the occupation from afar, or are seated in the Knesset and support the occupation from Jerusalem.  A just future for Israelis and Palestinians depends on it.
Ilana Sumka – March 19, 2015

5 thoughts on “Netanyahu’s Success: A Call to Action

  1. Good morning Ilana,
    I just sat down to create a Prezi for my first class visit this week to share the experiences of our tree planing delegation on the West Bank and opened my mail and read your amazing article. I am compelled to respond! Who could have imagined the timeliness of our delegation and the work we’ve begun? Nonviolent civil disobedience is exactly what is called for and what I suspect many Jewish people will be seeking; your letter is a clarion call, a real and meaningful way to channel our outrage!
    Way beyond my few words, I suspect you will receive an enormous response! The war last summer enraged me, the suffering of so many innocent people in Gaza and in Israel; the trauma, death and destruction moved me to find you and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). But the freely elected Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu’s sinister duplicity and callous disregard for the civil rights of his own citizens was completely exposed to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. His racist remarks create the historical context for last summer’s crimes against the humanity of the Palestinian people. The Jewish people want to know what can be done, what actions can be taken moving forward and you have answers! I agree with you that we need to organize an immediate action. If anything was confirmed for me when I was on the West Bank with you and the delegation from the CJNV, the time for endless leftest dialogue among ourselves or even with our elected officials has passed. My only real concern is the somnambulist trance of the Jewish diaspora; we can not just sit back and allow the media to spin Netanyahu’s words into an act of miscommunication. The vote had barely been tallied in last week’s election and Netanyahu had already ordered the demolition of more Palestinian homes. This madness has to end and the only way is through forms of nonviolent social, political, cultural and economic action.
    Further, I am moved to action by your experience on the ground as witness to the Israeli occupation, to the endless laws and regulations and permits and abuses of power: the restrictions on movement, health care, education, and commerce, the home demolitions and land confiscations. The effects of the occupation are on every aspect of the daily lives of millions of innocent people. You have a deep knowledge of Palestine as a nation of regular people, like you and me, of mothers and children and students and artisans and farmers and doctors and journalists whose daily existence is deferred, nearly suspended, by the micro-physics of the Israeli occupation. For millions of innocent people, the occupation is a concrete and lived experience of oppression.
    My dream is that history will tell the story of a grassroots Jewish movement that put an end to an aberration of failed Jewish leadership. It is a dream set in a time when the Jewish people had been mislead by a cruel and unjust leadership misguided by their hegemony, fear and unfounded religious fundamentalism.
    Ilana, thank you for what you are doing. I am with you.

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