Friday, June 18, 2010

More than 200 Jews gather for historic anti-Zionist Assembly

As an estimated 30,000 people across the United States prepare to arrive in Detroit for the second US Social Forum, more than 200 attendees will be arriving the weekend before, for the first-ever US Assembly of Jews Confronting Racism and Israeli Apartheid. The Assembly comes at a critical moment in the history of Jewish social justice and solidarity efforts. While Jewish American opinion on Palestine has been shifting for years, the brutal Israeli attacks on Gaza in the winter of 2008 and 2009 sounded a warning to Jews around the world and especially in the US, which gives roughly $3 billion in aid to Israel each year: The occupation and the Zionist ideology that supports it have claimed tens of thousands of Palestinian lives and displaced hundreds of thousands more, and are dividing Jewish communities around the world. And despite pressure from family and Jewish community, a growing number of Jews are speaking out against Israel's occupation and apartheid practices.

While the Assembly arises out of the need to address a brutal colonization perpetuated in the name of Jews around the world, attendees are motivated not only by Israel's historic and recent crimes against Palestinians, but also by a legacy of struggles for justice, and the Jewish ancestors who dedicated their lives to those struggles. Influenced by the crucial roles Jews have played in labor, civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, Assembly attendees are rooted in a rich Jewish history of anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizing. And as Palestinians continue their 62-year resistance against colonization, these Jews look to the people of Palestine to guide their organizing. The more than 30 sessions at the Assembly attest to these influences, with subjects ranging from "The State of Palestine and the Region—Zionism, Imperialism and Resistance" to "Deepening our Anti-Zionist Practice: Transforming Legacies of Trauma, Drawing from Legacies of Resistance."

The Assembly is also shaped by a broad array of speakers and facilitators, including Palestinian presenters like Ziad Abbas, Associate Director of the Middle East Children's Alliance and cofounder of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank, and Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, longtime feminist activist and scholar, and cofounder of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations in North America; Jewish presenters like Middle East Children's Alliance founder Barbara Lubin who has dedicated decades to anti-imperialist struggle, and journalist Gabriel Ash, who grew up in Israel and now works with a number of organizations focused on Palestinian liberation. Kali Akuno of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the US Human Rights Network will speak about anti-Zionist Jewish organizing in solidarity with anti-racist and anti-colonialist struggles within the US, and Fahd Ahmed will address Islamophobia and the role of allies in defending communities targeted by Islamophobia.

The Assembly and the commitment to anti-Zionism that frames it inhabit a complicated space within the spectra of Jewish and Palestine solidarity thought and organizing. Jewish voices have long been privileged over those of Palestinians in the US discourse on Palestine. Mainstream media outlets perpetuate this phenomenon by continuing to turn to Jewish intellectuals, politicians, and pundits to inform media debates about the occupation, as well as the unending stream of federal administrations that have stocked their cabinets and staff with Jewish and Christian Zionists to determine foreign policy on Palestine and throughout the Middle East.

The Assembly is designed to offer a multifaceted approach to addressing this unrepresentative dynamic. Jewish attendees will find resources and inspiration in their efforts to support the crucial work of Palestinians towards defining and realizing their own liberation, both by attending the Assembly and the Palestine track at the Social Forum. Participants will also focus on reclaiming the rich and varied legacy of Jewish resistance, which has been appropriated and repurposed by Zionism's exclusionary ideology, robbing Jews of their identity and redefining the ways they relate to the world. Last, attendees will share skills and information that will strengthen the crucial solidarity work they're doing in their own Jewish communities, where efforts to further the growing boycott/divestment/sanctions movement against Israel and to reframe the Jewish debate around Zionism and occupation can frequently be met with cries of antisemitism.

But Jews who work for justice in Palestine are frequently accused of self-hatred and antisemitism, and the attendees of the Assembly are no exception. Diatribes against the Assembly and its organizers are already starting to appear on right-wing blogs alongside banners accusing President Obama of potentially "backing jihad" and article topics such as "Confronting Europe's War on the Jews." While seething rhetoric against Jewish Palestine solidarity activists is hardly newsworthy, these rants and the blogs that post them underline the importance of the Assembly: As a growing number of Jews are questioning and challenging Zionism, the exclusionist ideology that has largely driven Jewish political thinking for more than 100 years is starting to crumble within Jewish communities and the halls of power: around Shabbas and Seder tables, in the writings of Jewish columnists and journalists, and someday, behind the closed doors of US foreign policymakers. Even without significant attention from mainstream media outlets, the more than 200 who will attend this year's Assembly will return to small anti-Zionist Jewish communities who are anxiously awaiting their report-backs, and by this time next year the growing Jewish anti-Zionist network will be buzzing with hundreds more activists, intellectuals, and artists, a thriving wing of the ever-expanding global Palestine solidarity movement.

Two weeks ago, thousands of Jews joined Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs, and others in an international day of solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza and the passengers aboard the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla. Jewish writers and bloggers have helped to dispel the onslaught of Israeli propaganda that continues to fall short of tricking the world into believing the Flotilla passengers were anything other than unarmed peace activists, fully committed to liberation for the people of Gaza and all of Palestine. As Israel continues to expose itself to the world as a perpetrator of unending violence and war crimes against the Palestinian people, the Assembly offers a space to strategize about the supporting role Jews can play in realizing the vision for justice that Palestinians have been building for more than 60 years.


atlantabill said...

All progressives should commend those who organized and are now meeting in the Assembly of the Jews in Detroit in defense of the Palestinian Nation. If the Jews are a people who became a nation because of a religion, it would not be the first time in world history. Whether they are a nation now has been a matter of debate. Advocates for the emancipation of all the oppressed have long regarded the situation of the Jews in Europe and throughout the world as worthy of special attention. Marxists such as myself, of couse, hope that all who identify as Jews will eventually come to see the superiority of the revolutionary path to justice over the religious one, which vainly hopes that every man and woman will one day clutch the coat of every Jew (or Muslim) and say, "Teach us your G-d!" The religious aspect is one that is being buried under a more pressing question, however. The left has sometimes been tempted to de-class those workers in the colonial populations, blinded by its zealousness for the doubly oppressed among the colonized. To make distinctions regarding class identification based on ethnicity, culture, or what is unscientifically termed "race" only benefits the oppressors. Hopefully the people of Atzlan will eventually tire of using the term as a rallying cry, and we can consign it to the real racists. More to the point, it is high time that serious people re-evaluate the positions they hold on transnational peoples. It is a matter of historic logic that ethnicity and culture will more and more come to supercede physical borders as the mark of national identification, and eventually, if intermarriage is allowed, culture alone. Already the process is well underway. Men and women have no higher calling than to serve as conduits of wisdom, so let me express the hope that I and those who are meeting in the Assembly of the Jews are serving that purpose. Jewry is more than religion! Zionism must be overcome! Yidn, vacht oif!

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