Reflections from Speaking and Organizing Tour

IJAN’sfounders recently returned from a five-city speaking tour in Germany, The Netherlands and Scotland, and from a trip to Lebanon with an international IJAN organizerfrom France.In meeting halls in Glasgow, Edinburgh,Dundee, Berlin,Frankfurt, and Amsterdamthey shared IJAN’s anti-Zionist framework within the tradition of liberatorypolitics and struggles, our strategic role, and our campaigns and work. Thepurpose was to advance the building of IJAN in Europe, meet and introduce thenetwork to anti-Zionist Jews and Palestinesolidarity activists, support existing organizing in Europe,and inform and build the work of IJAN moving forward to be useful to theemerging opportunities and work that is happening.

Observationsfrom this trip that have implications for IJAN organizing include thefollowing:

  • The importance of building an independent Jewish opposition to Zionism in solidarity with Palestinian liberation and other anti-racist struggles.
  • The vulnerability of Israel and Zionism as demonstrated by the resources and efforts that were invested in preventing mobilizations at the review of the first World Conference Against Racism that would be similar to those which occurred in Durban, South Africa, in 2001
  • Anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-Zionist politics include solidarity with resistance forces that do not come from a traditional Left background but are working with and supported by the Left in their own contexts
  • A deepening of our understanding of the profoundly anti-Semitic nature of Zionism. It reflects an internalization of all of the most virulent strands of anti-Jewish sentiment combined with European colonialism and fascist nationalism
  • The need to be clear about what we want to see in place of Zionism and Israel. This is not a question of solutions. We have always been clear that it is not the role or place of an international anti-Zionist Jewish network to propose solutions-this is the role of people on the ground and has to be part of a regional conversation. But, we can and want to be part of conversations about the principles and processes that might support a just solution. Some of these principles might include no deportation, no ethnic cleansing or no apartheid, and the building of equality and security for all people in the region, the rights of refugees, social, cultural and economic rights, minority rights, a redistribution of power and resources, reparations for the Palestinian people, and processes of reconciliation that supports justice and peace on an on-going basis.

This trip started in Scotland,where we were hosted by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee (SPSC), oneof IJAN’s partners on the JNF campaign and on other activities in the UK. The SPSCorganized three speaking events for IJAN and also shared with us theirexperience in building one of the most active and effective BDS and broader Palestine solidarityorganizations.  One of the implications of their experience is that weneed to maintain a broad strategy for long-term impact while constantlyresponding to current events and opportunities; another is that a clear, sharedcommitment to anti-Zionist politics makes it possible to respond to changingconditions and opportunities for building momentum quickly and effectively.SPSC offered their understanding of Israel’s growing vulnerability andthe opportunity that we have to take advantage of that vulnerability.

Travelingfrom Germany to Switzerland – for the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) – and then on to The Netherlands,we watched and felt the painful course of Jewish experience in Europe and itsrelationship with Zionism (click here to read reflections specifically on the WCAR). On our travels we met two anti-Zionist Jewish activists living inthe Netherlands.Both were survivors of the Nazi regime and occupation and both understood theirhistories as informing their commitment to challenging Zionism.

Aneighty-four year old anti-Zionist Jewish survivor of Auschwitz,shared his learnings from his experience as they inform his opposition toZionism. During his time in Auschwitz he haddecided that he would not let them take his humanity by treating others as hewas being treated. He sees Israeland Zionism as expressions of the loss of the humanity of those who colonized Palestine. He has writtenabout anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and the liberation of Palestine. He insists that Israel couldonly do what it does because it has given up its humanity; that to see othersas less than human you have given up your own humanity first.

Anotheractivist shared her experience as a "Jewish victim of Zionism." She and hersister survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands under the care of andbeing hidden by a Christian woman.  After the loss of her parents in deathcamps, she and her sister were visited by Zionist organizations that insistedon taking them to Palestine as part of theproject of relocating Jews there in the building of Israel. She was six at the timeand refused to be taken from the woman who had saved their lives. Her sisterwas only four and could not refuse; they took her sister, separating them forlife. Her sister still lives in Israel and is also politicallyactive.

Ourtime with both of these people deepened our understanding of the profoundlyanti-Semitic nature of Zionism. It reflects an internalization of all of themost virulent strands of anti-Jewish sentiment combined with Europeancolonialism and fascist nationalism. Even the idea of European Jews moving to Palestine was firstsuggested in the early 1800 by Johann Fichte, a German anti-Semite. In hisresponse to the suggestion of civil rights for Jews, he wrote, "Give them civilrights? I see no other way of doing this except to cut off all their heads onenight and substitute other heads without a single Jewish thought in them. Howshall we defend ourselves against them? I see no alternative but to conquertheir promised land for them and to dispatch them all there. If they weregranted civil rights they would trample on other citizens."

Asa very progressive Israeli who is living in Germanysaid-the Jews have still not gained their humanity in Germany. Forcenturies they were less than human, and now they can do no wrong. The German,Dutch and Austrian support for Israel is, at a superficial level, an expressionof guilt-another misuse of the Nazi Genocide, but, like the US, it is reallyabout self-interest. It is the self-interest of a shared agenda for the region,of anti-immigrant sentiment, of deep Islamophobia, of a very profitable armstrade, and a refusal to really address the histories of authoritarianism,fascism, and racism that gave rise to Nazi Germany and to collaboration across Europe. The same was reported by Palestinesolidarity and anti-Zionist activists in the Netherlandsand Austria.

Thisphenomenon makes Palestine solidarity andanti-Zionist organizing in Europe, particularly in Germany,Austria and Netherlandsgiven their roles in the Nazi genocide, a formidable challenge. Activists inall three places discussed strategies for working within this historicalcontext. During a presentation in Frankfurt a Palestinian activist askedwhether it was more strategic to just move forward with a full BDS campaign (andtherefore challenging those who evoke the hi
story of the Nazi boycott of Jewishstores to prevent this campaign from taking off in Germany) or to start withdivestment and sanctions that might be less easily used to manipulate Germanguilt about and avoidance of history. We discussed the need to doboth-challenge the continued exploitation of, guilt about and avoidance of theNazi genocide of Jews to justify and support Israeli colonization, and also to moveforward other parts of BDS and Palestine solidarity work.

Inour meeting with Turkish, Palestinian, Iranian and anti-Zionist Jewishactivists in Frankfurt, we discussed the relationship between Germany’s historyof anti-Jewish sentiment and persecution, the current attacks on Muslim,Turkish, South and West Asian and Arab communities, and Germany’s political andeconomic support of and arms trade with Israel. A Turkish activist suggestedthat perhaps if we made Jews feels safe throughout the world then they wouldstop their colonization, ethnic cleansing and occupation of Palestine. Others in the room describedtrying to go to Jewish community centers and events to reassure Jews that theywere their allies. It was a painful and powerful expression of the ways inwhich those most targeted by Islamophobia (shared by European racism andZionism) in Germanyare often forces to live deeply inside of and suffer the consequences of theGerman history of anti-Semitism.  

Thisbrought us to a powerful discussion of the importance of challenging theexceptionalizing of the Jewish history of unsafety and persecution. Thediscussion raised similar questions to one that we participated in during ourtime in Beirut.We attended a seminar on Lebanese Jews who longed for their life and history inLebanon.The Jewish community thrived in Lebanonfor centuries, the last of this community leaving in the 80s with the civilwar. Many at the symposium asked the speaker what it would take to "welcomeJews back to Lebanon."The speaker suggested that this question could not be answered outside of ajust solution in Palestine.But the question of safety for Jews in Lebanonis yet another twisted exceptionalizing of the question of Jewish safety in theface of the very real discrimination, on-going displacement and violence thatPalestinians face in Lebanonhaving been displaced by Israeli occupation of their homeland.

Theconversations in Lebanon andGermanystarted to raise question for us about the building of joint struggle aroundthe question of minority rights. If Israel were dismantled, then Jewswould be another minority in the larger region and face the questions ofself-determination and social, cultural and religious rights as otherminorities. This affirmed IJAN’s commitment to supporting the anti-colonialvoices of Mizrahi Jews and the suggestion of a joint struggle for right ofreturn for Palestinians and the right of re-citizenship for Mizrahim in theircountries of origin. Jews feeling welcome as minorities in the regionchallenges Israel’sexcuse for Zionism and justification for Jewish nationalism and state building.Ultimately these are conversations that are happening and have to happen in theregion.

Theseconversations, and time with leftists in Lebanon, deepened our understandingof the necessity of challenging the Islamophobia of progressives and leftistsin the West. This Islamophobia can show up as ambivalence about solidarity withresistance to Zionism and USimperialism in Lebanon andin Gaza.Leftists in Lebanonare in questions about the society that they want to be part of creating and howto do so in collaboration with resistance forces that are not progressive, butwith whom they share a commitment to challenging Zionism and Westernimperialism.

Weleft the trip with similar questions about what we would want to see in placeof Zionism and Israel.This is not a question of solutions. We have always been clear that it is notthe role or place of an international anti-Zionist Jewish network to proposesolutions-this is the role of people on the ground and has to be part of aregional conversation. But, we can and want to be part of conversations aboutthe principles and processes that might support a just solution. Some of theseprinciples might include no deportation, no ethnic cleansing or no apartheidand the building of equality and security for all people in the region, therights of refugees, social, cultural and economic rights, minority rights, aredistribution of power and resources, reparations for the Palestinian people, andprocesses of reconciliation that supports justice and peace on an on-goingbasis.  

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