When Jews Step Out Against Israeli Occupation

by Alan Goodman

Revolutionary Worker #1153, June 2, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"All we are saying is that people should get along and love each other. We're completely even- handed between Israel and the Palestinians. Why are we getting death threats?"

A shaken staff person at Tikkun magazine asked me this question while describing the kinds of threats and harassment that are called into their office daily.

Today, more than any time that I can remember since the `60s, the Israeli government and their U.S. backers are beginning to be challenged in their claim that support for Israel's attacks on the Palestinian people is something universally supported by Jewish people in the U.S. In response to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the massacre in Jenin, and the daily brutality, degradation and murder of Palestinians, Jewish individuals in the U.S. as well as some Jewish organizations are refusing to let these horrors be carried out in their name. They are publishing ads, they are among those traveling to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement, and they are protesting in the streets. And, wherever such voices are heard, they are subjected to harassment, death threats, and even FBI investigation.

Adam Shapiro and Family Besieged in Brooklyn

People around the world have been inspired by the courageous stand of Adam Shapiro, an American from a Jewish family who provided the world with live commentary from the scene of the Israeli siege in Ramallah.

Adam is a volunteer rescue worker with the International Solidarity Movement. The International Solidarity Movement is made up of activists from around the world who put their bodies in front of bullets and tanks to try to shield Palestinians from devastation and murder by the Israeli army, and who bring essential food and medical supplies through Israeli military lines to Palestinians under siege. He came to international attention when he and others organized medical assistance for the besieged headquarters of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

Interviewed on CNN, Adam explained that he comes from a Jewish family, although he is not a practicing Jew. He said, "The Sharon government sometimes will apologize after it kills an innocent civilian, but it does not apologize for raping the cities and for going in and carrying out terrorist actions, going house to house much like the Nazis did in World War 2, going house to house to house tearing holes through the walls, roughing up people, killing people, assassinating people. This is a terrorist government funded, by the way, by the United States government to the tune of $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid. These are American helicopters and tanks and F-16s doing this damage to the Palestinian people."

Adam's daring television reports were an embarrassment to the U.S. and Israel, and to the Zionist establishment in the U.S. His testimony has had a powerful impact on people. And his family has been supportive of him. Adam's father told the media that "I believe my son" about what is happening. And Adam's brother, Noah, was quoted as saying, "If my brother says these human rights atrocities are taking place against innocent Palestinian children, then we have to believe him."

The New York Post complained that "With help from the Shapiros of the world, Israel is losing a critical war: The war of public relations."

The New York tabloids have published incendiary attacks on Adam. The Post wrote that the Shapiros were a "traitor's family" and that Adam was the "Jewish Taliban." The Post went on to say, "It's hard to pity a family that so heartily seeks the limelight." The Post even went on to try to link Adam's humanitarian activities with "the synagogue-burning unleashed in Europe."

In this atmosphere, Zionist networks published Adam's family's home address, and bombarded the family with threats. Adam's brother Noah told the press that "The threats my parents and I are receiving are these severe death threats, calling for our death, calling for my brother's death to burn in hell in a fiery death."

This orchestrated campaign of threats drove Adam's parents from their home. However, Adam continues to speak out and he is currently touring the U.S. exposing the crimes being committed against the Palestinian people. Adam compares the International Solidarity Movement to those who went to the South during the Freedom Summers of the '60s in support of the struggle of Black people, and to the Lincoln Brigades who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's Hitler-backed fascism before World War 2.

Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner: The Subject of Daily Death Threats

Rabbi Michael Lerner is the founder of Tikkun magazine, and heads an associated community of Jews who, among other things, question and oppose many of the actions taken by Israel against the Palestinian people. Interviewed by KPFA reporter Dennis Bernstein (who himself gets frequent death threats from people who identify themselves as Jewish supporters of Israel), Lerner explained his perspective:

"Americans are attacked for merely raising questions, or not being enthusiastic enough for Israeli policies. You hear Bush's line repeated a thousand times: `If you're not with us, you're against us.' "

And, speaking of how this "with us or against us" mentality gets enforced in many Jewish families, Lerner continued, "Even parents say this to their kids, if they ask `what about the Palestinians, weren't they there first?'"

Lerner's point of view is that "The people most authentic to the Jewish ethic are the people most critical of Israel.... If anyone tells you, you are self-hating, tell them you are critical of Israel because you are most authentic Jews. `When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger.' Jenin was the most disgusting episode in Jewish history, except maybe 1948-49.... But today there is no real threat to Israel. Terrorism is bad and should be stopped, but Israel engaged in outrageous behavior. They won't allow UN observers.... Israel doesn't want anyone to look because they are engaged in crimes, war crimes."

It really says something about the nature of the intimidation and censorship aimed at anyone who dares to criticize Israel when statements like this, "even-handed" though they are, unleash orchestrated and organized death threats from reactionary Zionists in the U.S. The staffer who I spoke with at the Tikkun office told me that "They say, `I know where you are, watch behind your back.'"

Lerner has said that "I get lots of death threats every day--a lot of disgusting attacks everyday. But I also get a lot of supportive, loving, messages every day."

Women In Black Tell the FBI to Back Off

In the San Francisco Bay Area there are active, organized Jewish forces who oppose the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and some of them support the Palestinian people's struggle to regain their homeland. Among these organizations are Bay Area chapters of Jewish Voices for Peace, Jews for Justice in Palestine, and the Women In Black organization.

Women In Black is an international network of women who are committed to anti-militarism and racial justice. Inspired by the example of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina. the organization was formed by Israeli women during the first intifada.

Shortly after September 11, Kate Rafael, a Bay Area activist in Women In Black got a voicemail message from the FBI. Kate immediately contacted an attorney from the National Lawyer's Guild. The FBI told her attorney that they wanted to talk to Kate because of her involvement with Women In Black.

After Kate's attorney told the FBI that Kate had nothing to say to them, the agent who originally called Kate left a second message on Kate's phone threatening her with a subpoena, which Kate interpreted as meaning a subpoena to testify before a grand jury.

Interviewed on KPFA's Flashpoints show, Kate said, "I think it's really essential that the activist community here be united in a refusal to talk with the FBI. First of all, it's our right not to. I know I have no information that would be relevant to them. It's hard for me to believe that they really think that Women In Black is in touch with these particular groups of terrorists. Women In Black here, and in Israel, are principally composed of--not all of us are--but most of us are Jewish and most of us are lesbians. So it's really pretty absurd to think that a group of Jewish lesbians is going to have the confidence of a group of Islamic fundamentalist men in the Middle East. So, either their grasp of the current geopolitical reality is more tenuous than we imagined, or they're not being straightforward about what it is they're after. I think we have to look at this as an attempt to intimidate the growing peace movement in this area in particular.

"Northern California has been singled out as the part of the country where we're not down with the program of going to war against everybody in the world. And I think we have to look at this as an effort to squelch dissent. I think it's important that people take a strong stand here, that if they (FBI) try to get any information about our communities, other communities, that they are going to encounter a stone wall."

Coming in the intensely repressive days after September 11, Kate's stand in refusing to talk to the FBI set an important, positive standard for the movement as a whole.

Welcome Voices fromthe Jewish Community

As Israel commits horrible atrocities against the Palestinian people and plays its role as the attack dog for the U.S. in the Middle East, those orchestrating all this insist we buy the story that the role of Israel is something other than an oppressive state whose entire existence is based on playing a key role for U.S. domination in the region and beyond.

To cover over reality, the backers and rulers of Israel insist that any criticism of Israel's crimes is a desecration of the memory of those killed in the holocaust, and an expression of anti-Semitism. Within the Jewish community, since World War 2, people have been fed the lie that the survival of Jewish people is bound up with the existence and defense of this brutal colonial settler state. Beyond that, the promoted perception of the bloodshed in the Middle East as "Arabs vs. Jews" further helps obscure the real geopolitical dynamics that installed the state of Israel on top of Palestinian land, and built it up into a massive military machine.

In that context, it is quite important that Jewish people and organizations speak out against the atrocities committed by Israel and in support of the Palestinian people's struggle. And it's instructive to look at the threats they get from reactionary Zionists in the U.S., the suppression of their voices in the mainstream U.S. media, and even overt attempts by the FBI to intimidate them.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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