By Amanda Gelender
I was raised with a deep love of my Jewish culture. As a white Ashkenazi Jewish person from a California town with very few Jewish folks, I was taught to be proud of my people’s ancient heritage. In my synagogue, I delighted in the music, Torah study, community service, prayer, and food. I felt blessed.
In my world, loving and learning about Israel was simply part of what it meant to be a Jewish person. I was taught that after the devastation of the Holocaust, Jewish people needed a place to be safe. So Jews were benevolently gifted our rightful homeland: Israel, an empty, barren desert. The slogan we learned was: “A land without a people for a people without a land.”
The colonial erasure now sends chills down my spine.
This is the type of Zionism implanted in the young American Jewish imagination post-WWII: Israel as an innocent and precious country, crucial for the protection of our people.
In creating rituals for young Jews to invest in the Israel settler-colonial fantasy, the Zionist project made us feel like we were contributing to the growth of a fledgling Jewish nation. For example, my elders taught me that Israel was so empty and in need of resources that we would donate coins in the form of tzedakah to help plant trees in Israel. No discussion, of course, of decimated Palestinian olive tree groves.
Investments in our allegiance to Israel were evident throughout our Jewish upbringing. For example, “birthright trips.” These are state and privately-sponsored propaganda tourist trips for any Jewish person in the world to visit “our homeland” of Israel.
Jewish people are provided an all-expenses paid, 10-day trip to Israel where Jews are encouraged to meet both friends and a future spouse while enjoying the privileges of an apartheid state. Organisations even offer free honeymoons for Jewish couples in Israel in hopes that they will relocate and have families as settlers in Israel.
As Jewish people, we learned that moving to occupied Palestine is a beautiful act of reconnection with our Jewish heritage, and that we are entitled to it. This indoctrination, in addition to the benefits that Israel offers Jewish settlers, has encouraged the migration of more than half a million settlers in the West Bank, settlements that are illegal under international law.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zionist indoctrination is not isolated to only a particular segment of the Jewish community: Zionism is virtually universal across every single synagogue and Jewish cultural institution in the world: The only synagogue I know of with an explicit anti-Zionist value is based in Chicago.
At my synagogue growing up, ancient Jewish holidays like Passover were mixed in with newer celebrations, like “Israeli Independence Day” which I later learned is marked by The Nakba.
So although Judaism as a faith and culture is thousands of years old, in just 75 years the Zionist project successfully consolidated Israel’s identity into every facet of Jewish American life. This Zionist ideology is the largely unchallenged narrative in the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community. There is no space for anti-Zionist dissent.
The reality of Zionism didn’t shatter for me until I began college and a fellow Jewish person explained to me the reality in Palestine. Until that point, I believed what I was taught by my own community: That Palestine in any form is anti-Semitic and threatening. Furthermore, anyone who criticises Israel does not understand what it feels like to be persecuted as a Jewish person.
It was the first time I heard a Jewish person break the narrative about Israel and honestly, I was stunned and ashamed that it took me so long to see the truth.
Many others are starting to see it, too. In the wake of this most recent genocidal assault on Gaza, Israel’s despotism feels too significant and sustained for the West to ignore. Despite ongoing attempts at repression and censorship, Palestinian voices have pierced into the mainstream and Israel’s brutal regime is live on the world stage, laid bare for us all to see.
Jewish people are listening to Palestinian voices in a way they never have before, feeling deep camaraderie with brave journalists on the ground like Bisan Owda, checking social media for updates on her safety. Even life-long Zionists are starting to question the Israeli party line after witnessing such extreme violence, understanding that killing thousands of babies in homes, schools, and hospitals with US tax dollars won’t lead to Jewish safety.
As these historic events unfold, many Jewish people are waking up to the severity of their own Zionist indoctrination. To accept what is actually happening in occupied Palestine may cause deep and painful reflection on their Jewish upbringing. As children, we were lied to by our religious leaders, families, community members, and elders, who swept an entire ethnic cleansing under the rug to justify a violent Jewish nation-state.
Anti-Zionist Jews like myself are slandered, threatened, and cut off by those who need to keep up the lie that is Israel. They accuse us of hating our fellow Jews which is the exact opposite of our position. Anti-Zionist Jewish solidarity with Palestine is rooted in a deep love for all people. In Jewish core values like Tikkun Olam (“to repair the world”). For me, it is also rooted in a Jewish value I grew up with: Speaking out against injustice, even if it’s unpopular.
I am grieving for the death of the moral soul of Judaism, subsumed into the violent nationalism of Zionism. But even more, I grieve for every Palestinian who died under the pretence of Jewish protection.
As anti-Zionist Jews, we call on our ancestors who knew the violence of pogroms, military machinery, and dehumanization, to resist this genocide. Jewish safety—everyone’s safety—is rooted in a liberated and free Palestine.
The author, Amanda Gelender is a Jewish American anti-Zionist writer based in The Netherlands. She has been part of the Palestinian solidarity movement since 2006.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.