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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tough love for David Suissa

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This past week, David Suissa penned an article that misrepresented our movement, as well as the American Jewish community.

We, IfNotNow, compose a community that is motivated by Jewish traditions of fearless questioning and an uncompromising pursuit of tikkun olam. It is not, as Mr. Suissa articulated, the desire to “look like an anti-establishment rebel,” that motivates us; rather, it is the values of love and justice that inform our movement.

Our upbringings, grounded deeply in Jewish ethics, have prepared us for this moment in history, as the first year of a Trump presidency converges with the fiftieth year of an Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In what one might term “tough love” for Suissa’s piece, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman correctly declares that, “the occupation has twisted our communal soul.” Now, especially, is the time for bold opposition to hate-filled politics. Yet so many of our communal institutions, including AIPAC, have demonstrated the ease with which the pro-Israel establishment can be swayed by fearmongering tactics and Islamophobic sentiments. At last year’s AIPAC policy conference, Donald Trump’s speech – characterizing Palestinian society as bloodthirsty and anti-Semitic – was given a standing ovation by the majority of those in the room. Since then, AIPAC has continually failed to condemn the policies and rhetoric of Trump and his administration – policies that encourage racism, sexism, and even anti-Semitism – in the name of unconditionally rewarding those who promote the right-wing, pro-Israel party line.

Just as importantly, an unquestioning antipathy towards communities who criticize Israel is placing our communal institutions on the wrong side of history. Their pro-Israel criterion has not only prompted hostility towards disapproving members in the Jewish community, but also of other marginalized communities. One need not look farther than Mr. Suissa’s own track record to see this trend. Long before he appealed to the Jewish community to give IfNotNow a dose of “tough love,” Suissa called for, among others, “Tough Love for Islam,” “Tough Love for Black Lives Matter,” and “Tough Love for Obama.”

Not only do Suissa’s calls for “tough love” mischaracterize and dismiss communities, movements, and figures, but they also indulge in blatant bigotry. They minimize the struggle of communities who experience daily mistreatment by illustrating a world in which the oppressed are coddled. Suissa’s article advocating that the Jewish community “offer [Black Lives Matter] some tough love and constructive criticism,” for example, completely diminishes the often-violent sacrifices protesters make in order to bring attention to a dire reality. He also suggests that the difficulties faced by the Jewish community are equivalent to those faced by the black community — they are not.

Suissa asserts that Jewish organizations, out of fear of “losing” young Jews critical of Israel, are handling them with “kid gloves.” But one must ask: who is, in fact, doing this? Hillel at Ohio State has disbanded its Jewish LGBT support group because it participated in an event alongside Jewish Voice for Peace. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations refused to admit J Street, an explicitly pro-Israel organization that supports a two-state solution.

In Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, AIPAC ensured the arrest of seven IfNotNow members for occupying its lobby. Many IfNotNow members have family who will not speak to them because of their work in our movement. Each of our members – many of whom love the country deeply and have family there –  risks a refusal of entry into Israel. We are regularly shouted at, told that we aren’t Jewish, or that we’re kapos. With such rhetoric, it is no surprise that the Jewish Defense League, a right-wing terrorist organization, attacked IfNotNow demonstrators and a Palestinian man during a peaceful action at AIPAC last week. So, we must ask again: who is handling us with “kid gloves?”

Suissa argued that our last action in Los Angeles simplified the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will get no argument from us when he says that it is complicated. Even now, Israel just approved the first settlement construction in the West Bank in over twenty years.

Every day that Israel denies Palestinians basic rights and freedoms is another day it cannot hope for any sort of security or an improvement in international standing. And, even more importantly, the chance of reaching a just and peaceful resolution grows increasingly slim.

We are under no illusions that ending the occupation will be easy. It is not “social justice on demand”; it will involve considerable risk. But the current methods by which alleged security is held in place are unacceptable, and we, as American Jews who are implicated in this violence, must work to end it.

In the face of this issue’s complexity, we ask a simple question – a question that our communal institutions have failed to answer for too long: Do we, as a community, believe that all peoples deserve freedom and dignity?

If the answer is yes, then we can no longer afford to advocate solely for ourselves. We cannot accept the vindication of a bigoted, xenophobic, and delusional leader based solely on his proclaimed support for Israeli policies. It is engrained in our Jewish heritage to stand with people in need. Will our communal institutions use their power to stand with those most targeted by a Trump administration? By a Netanyahu administration?

We reimagine an American Jewish community that fights for dignity and freedom for all, even if it goes against the policies of a particular Israeli government. We are building a community that is no longer complicit in upholding a system of violence against Palestinians. Mr. Suissa, join us!

The authors are members of IfNotNow.

David Suissa responds:

I stand by every word I wrote. By blaming only Israel for the absence of peace, the movement IfNotNow (INN) hurts peace. By ignoring Palestinian refusals to end the occupation, Palestinian teaching of Jew-hatred and Palestinian glorifying of terrorism, INN hurts Palestinians. And by ignoring the reality that Hamas and ISIS are likely to swoop in and massacre Palestinians after Israel leaves the West Bank, INN is dumbing down a complicated conflict. The community conversation is much healthier when everyone is challenged. Just as INN is free to challenge AIPAC and other groups, they should have no problem getting the same treatment. As they write, it’s the “Jewish tradition of fearless questioning.”

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