Tony Greenstein | 30 January 2012 | Post Views:

Dietrich College News
2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards
Prose: High School
First Place (Tie)

One of the more remarkable signs of the cracks and crisis in the Zionist movement is the growing number of Jewish youngsters prepared to say ‘no’ to the blandishments of Zionism. Who refuse to accept the kith and kin argument that you must not criticise Zionism and Israel because blood is stronger than water, you are betraying your own, the Jewish tribe must protect itself etc.

The old charges of ‘self hatred’ are like water off a ducks back and it is something that is an accusation that simply draws attention to the lack of any intellect or analysis of the Zionist flunkey making it. Appeals to blood mean a lack of reason.

When I ‘came out’ as a Jewish anti-Zionist 40+ years ago there were no role models, no one to inspire you. The only Jews who were anti-Zionist were in far left groups. I joined the International Socialists (now the SWP) which was led by Tony Cliff (Yigal Gluckstein as the fascists never failed to call him) who was a Palestinian Jews expelled by the British for being a communist (with the support of the Zionist ‘trade union’ Histadrut). But Cliff rarely spoke about his experiences and wrote very little too.

The first anti-Zionist pamphlet which I read was the classic ‘Class Nature of Israeli Society’ by Moshe Machover, Haim Hanegbi and Akiva Orr (it was first printed in New Left Review). Although it was wrong in the belief that the incorporation of Palestinian labour from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would result in Israelis being dependent on those they had expelled (Israel today prefers migrant labour from Asia), virtually everything else was spot on. But Jewish anti-Zionists, of whom I met a few in Brighton and as I became more outspoken nationally, including Liverpool where I established a life-long friendship with American exile, Sam Semoff, were still a rarity.

But the 1982 war changed all that. A few years previously the Jewish Socialists Group had been formed. Although it had originally been set up by an ex-Communist Party member Aubrey Lewis, in order to attract those Jews who were drawn to the New Left it soon veered off in the direction of Bundism. But for the JSG Palestine was never a priority. Jews for Justice for Palestinians was also set up a few years later and although it was always considered the ‘soft left’ of the anti-Zionist left it undoubtedly contributed to changing the atmosphere.

When the JSG was set up, the Board of Deputies of British Jews held urgent talks about what to do about this challenge! But today there are hundreds of Jewish youth and not so young who reject Zionism in Britain and in the USA there are major splits appearing. Jewish Voices for Peace has over 100,000 signatures. It has steadily moved towards a Boycott position.

American Jews are in an invidious position because many of them are not recognised as Jews by those who control the rabbinical institutions in Israel. Converts will not be recognised at all, and nor will the offspring of a marriage where the woman is non-Jewish. There is also greater recognition that Israel is a positive liability for Jews today and a growing repugnance against its far-right policies.

It used to be said that Zionism insisted that American Jews leave their liberalism at the door when Israel was on the agenda. However today they can see that their anti-Semitic foes, people like Glenn Back and John Hagee, are the darlings of the Zionist institutions. This is an interesting essay, written for Martin Luther King day.

Tony Greenstein

By Jesse Lieberfeld 11th grade, Winchester Thurston

I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world—and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time. Once, I thought that I truly belonged in this world of security, self-pity, self-proclaimed intelligence, and perfect moral aesthetic. I thought myself to be somewhat privileged early on. It was soon revealed to me, however, that my fellow believers and I were not part of anything so flattering.

Although I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to force me into any one set of beliefs, being Jewish was in no way possible to escape growing up. It was constantly reinforced at every holiday, every service, and every encounter with the rest of my relatives. I was forever reminded how intelligent my family was, how important it was to remember where we had come from, and to be proud of all the suffering our people had overcome in order to finally achieve their dream in the perfect society of Israel.

This last mandatory belief was one which I never fully understood, but I always kept the doubts I had about Israel’s spotless reputation to the back of my mind. “Our people” were fighting a war, one I did not fully comprehend, but I naturally assumed that it must be justified. We would never be so amoral as to fight an unjust war. Yet as I came to learn more about our so-called “conflict” with the Palestinians, I grew more concerned. I routinely heard about unexplained mass killings, attacks on medical bases, and other alarmingly violent actions for which I could see no possible reason. “Genocide” almost seemed the more appropriate term, yet no one I knew would have ever dreamed of portraying the war in that manner; they always described the situation in shockingly neutral terms. Whenever I brought up the subject, I was always given the answer that there were faults on both sides, that no one was really to blame, or simply that it was a “difficult situation.” It was not until eighth grade that I fully understood what I was on the side of. One afternoon, after a fresh round of killings was announced on our bus ride home, I asked two of my friends who actively supported Israel what they thought. “We need to defend our race,” they told me. “It’s our right.”

“We need to defend our race.”

Where had I heard that before? Wasn’t it the same excuse our own country had used to justify its abuses of African-Americans sixty years ago? In that moment, I realized how similar the two struggles were—like the white radicals of that era, we controlled the lives of another people whom we abused daily, and no one could speak out against us. It was too politically incorrect to do so. We had suffered too much, endured too many hardships, and overcome too many losses to be criticized. I realized then that I was in no way part of a “conflict”—the term “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” was no more accurate than calling the Civil Rights Movement the “Caucasian/ African-American Conflict.” In both cases, the expression was a blatant euphemism: it gave the impression that this was a dispute among equals and that both held an equal share of the blame. However, in both, there was clearly an oppressor and an oppressed, and I felt horrified at the realization that I was by nature on the side of the oppressors. I was grouped with the racial supremacists. I was part of a group that killed while praising its own intelligence and reason. I was part of a delusion.

I thought of the leader of the other oppressed side of years ago, Martin Luther King. He too had been part of a struggle that had been hidden and glossed over for the convenience of those against whom he fought. What would his reaction have been? As it turned out, it was precisely the same as mine. As he wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, he believed the greatest enemy of his cause to be “Not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who…lives by a mythical concept of time…. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” When I first read those words, I felt as if I were staring at myself in a mirror. All my life I had been conditioned to simply treat the so-called conflict with the same apathy which King had so forcefully condemned. I, too, held the role of an accepting moderate. I, too, “lived by a mythical concept of time,” shrouded in my own surreal world and the set of beliefs that had been assigned to me. I had never before felt so trapped.

I decided to make one last appeal to my religion. If it could not answer my misgivings, no one could. The next time I attended a service, there was an open question-and- answer session about any point of our religion. I wanted to place my dilemma in as clear and simple terms as I knew how. I thought out my exact question over the course of the seventeen-minute cello solo that was routinely played during service. Previously, I had always accepted this solo as just another part of the program, yet now it seemed to capture the whole essence of our religion: intelligent and well- crafted on paper, yet completely oblivious to the outside world (the soloist did not have the faintest idea of how masterfully he was putting us all to sleep). When I was finally given the chance to ask a question, I asked, “I want to support Israel. But how can I when it lets its army commit so many killings?” I was met with a few angry glares from some of the older men, but the rabbi answered me. “It is a terrible thing, isn’t it?” he said. “But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.” I knew, of course, that the war was no simple matter and that we did not by any means commit murder for its own sake, but to portray our thousands of killings as a “fact of life” was simply too much for me to accept. I thanked him and walked out shortly afterward. I never went back. I thought about what I could do. If nothing else, I could at least try to free myself from the burden of being saddled with a belief I could not hold with a clear conscience. I could not live the rest of my life as one of the pathetic moderates whom King had rightfully portrayed as the worst part of the problem. I did not intend to go on being one of the Self-Chosen People, identifying myself as part of a group to which I did not belong.

It was different not being the ideal nice Jewish boy. The difference was subtle, yet by no means unaffecting. Whenever it came to the attention of any of our more religious family friends that I did not share their beliefs, I was met with either a disapproving stare and a quick change of the subject or an alarmed cry of, “What? Doesn’t Israel matter to you?” Relatives talked down to me more afterward, but eventually I stopped noticing the way adults around me perceived me. It was worth it to no longer feel as though I were just another apathetic part of the machine.

I can obviously never know what it must have been like to be an African-American in the 1950s. I do feel, however, as though I know exactly what it must have been like to be white during that time, to live under an aura of moral invincibility, to hold unchallengeable beliefs, and to contrive illusions of superiority to avoid having to face simple everyday truths. That illusion was nice while it lasted, but I decided to pass it up. I have never been happier.

See also Jewish Rebels Rally Against Zionism

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Tony Greenstein

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