Jennifer Loewenstein: Zionism Is ‘A Particularly Pernicious Form Of Nationalism’

Dr. Milena Rampoldi, MintPress News, June 2, 2016

Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Canada, wave Israeli flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP)Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Canada, wave Israeli flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (AP)

I interviewed Jennifer Loewenstein, a journalist with years of experience in the Middle East.

Jennifer Loewenstein

Jennifer Loewenstein

About her work, she wrote me:

This year I’ve been working on Iraq and Syria more than anything else. I’ve never stopped following the crises in Gaza and the West Bank, however. There are some ties between the two — not obvious or ‘conspiracy’ oriented.

As you may know, I’ve lived in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Beirut. I’ve traveled in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. I’ve also worked a lot on refugee issues. (I lived in the refugee camp of Bourj al-Barajneh in Lebanon for 3 summers, though that was a while back now — 1999-2002 — but return almost every year to visit friends.)

I haven’t been able to get into Gaza since 2010, but I follow events there closely and keep up with my contacts there. I think an important issue is how the media focus has been taken off Palestine as the Syrian Civil War continues. Both deserve a lot of attention, however. U.S. foreign policy in the region continues to trouble me, to say the least. It deserves a lot of attention and clarification.

Jennifer Loewenstein was Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Last August she moved to Penn State University. She is politically active, and writes as a freelance journalist. Her work has been featured in scholarly publications such as The Journal of Palestine Studies, and she is a regular contributor to CounterPunch.

Loewenstein is a member of the USA board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Jennifer Loewenstein: The ProMosaik interview

Dr. Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik: You have been a lot in the Middle East. Which is the main peace obstacle there?

Jennifer Loewenstein, journalist: Unrestrained U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and the U.S.’ simultaneous refusal to put pressure on its client states to seek non-military resolutions to their conflicts poses, in my view, the greatest obstacle to regional stability to say nothing of real peace. It is impossible to single out one of the many wars and conflicts raging across the Middle East today as being the ‘worst’ situation in the region (now or in the past). Each is related to the Middle East order created by the colonial powers, Britain and France, at the end of the First World War and, subsequently, exploited by them.

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One Jewish Woman’s Fight for Palestine

One Jewish Woman’s Fight for PalestineYasmin Mogahed, Nov 19, 2012

For Jennifer Loewenstein, April 19, 2002 was a “waking nightmare”. She stood silent at the edge of the camp, in disbelief–and horror.

Listening to the sound of wailing, she watched as medical workers lay out the bodies of the dead. The corpses, wrapped in white, were loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck.

“I will never forget this time,” Loewenstein recalls. “I stayed in the camp for two days, picking through the ruins and debris of people’s former lives–watching children and families look for their belongings–anything they could salvage from the wreckage.”

Loewenstein was in Jenin.

She had spent much of the previous two years working as an editor and freelance journalist at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. During that time she traveled frequently to the Rafah refugee camp to visit friends. It was in that way that she came to know Rafah so well and later started the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in December of 2002.

But Loewenstein’s decision to take on the plight of the Palestinian people was not an easy one. She has since been shunned by her community and accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” and “self-hating Jew”–a term she considers as ludicrous as calling her a “self-hating human” for opposing human rights abuse.

Despite this opposition, Loewenstein continues her struggle to expose an injustice she wasn’t always aware of herself.

“I never really knew much about the plight of the Palestinians until I was much older,” says Loewenstein. “I didn’t begin to question all the information I’d gotten on Israel and on Arabs until I got to college (at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).”

Loewenstein grew up in a secular Jewish family, but was instilled early on with a concern for Israel. She still remembers the day when her favorite dress was sent to her cousin overseas. She was only six, but gave up the dress because her family in Israel needed it.

Although her parents were not “avid Zionists”, their loyalty to Israel was strong. But even stronger than their loyalty to either Israel or Judaism was her family’s loyalty to peace.

“One year at Christmas/Hanukah time we refused to celebrate either holiday,” remembers Loewenstein. “Instead we made a ‘Peace Tree’ and celebrated our hope for peace.”

Her mother’s concern for peace was complemented by her struggle for civil rights. Loewenstein never forgets the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because it devastated her mother so much.

It was this early awareness of civil rights that Loewenstein carried into adulthood and would bring with her to Jerusalem. In 1981 she traveled to Israel for a semester-long study abroad program. During her stay she was exposed to a world she never knew existed.

One day during a tour of Gaza Strip instead of listening to the tour guide, Loewenstein sat at the back of the bus and looked out the window. She discovered “thousands of people living in tents and shacks.” Loewenstein was appalled.

“It was the first time I had ever seen this kind of poverty and the first time I understood the meaning of “occupation” in a concrete way,” says Loewenstein. “I saw a woman with about three children carrying a jug of water on her head and a soldier watching her and the others around her with his gun slung over his shoulder.”

It was at that moment that she first realized “something was terribly wrong.” But nothing she saw that day would prepare her for what she experienced in April of 2002.

Loewenstein was among the first internationals—and only a handful of Americans–to enter the destroyed Jenin refugee camp the day after the Israeli incursion.

“When I got into the camp area I could not believe my eyes. It had been devastated. Thirteen thousand people had lost their homes,” describes Loewenstein. “The camp was destroyed beyond recognition – flattened into a heap of rubble and dust. The smell of death was everywhere.”

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Jennifer Loewenstein on KPFT 90.1 FM

Arab Voices, KPFT 90.1 FM, September 26, 2012

mp3 audio file

Jennifer Loewenstein

Political activist and Faculty Associate in Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is an expert on contemporary Middle East: history, politics, culture, religion, and U.S. foreign policy in the region. She is a freelance journalist, a human rights activist, volunteer for the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. In 2010 Jennifer received ADC’s Rachel Corrie Award.

Topics

The ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine and its effects on the Palestinians, the recent verdict by an Israeli court about the murder of Rachel Corrie, the U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, Romney’s recent comments about the Palestinians, the Arab uprisings, and more.


Arab Voices is an independent radio talk show that has been broadcasting live every Wednesday since April 2002 on KPFT Radio (Pacifica Station), 90.1 FM in Houston and 89.5 FM in Galveston. The show also broadcasts live worldwide on the Internet at www.kpft.org or at www.ArabVoices.net.

Jennifer Loewenstein on Progressive Radio News Hour

Progressive Radio News Hour, Jun 12th, 2011

Jennifer Loewenstein teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is Associate Director of its Middle East Studies Program. She’s also a board member of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and a freelance journalist.

Libya, Occupied Palestine and other Middle East issues will be discussed.

April 2, 2011
Palestine Panel at the National Lawyers' Guild Conference

National Lawyers’ Guild Regional Conference Panels
University of Wisconsin Law School
975 Bascom Mall, Madison
3:00 – 4:15 pm: Piecing Together Peace: Countering Israeli Apartheid Through Action

Featuring Jennifer Loewenstein, UW Professor, and a speaker from Minnesota’s Break the Bonds Campaign, an organization calling for the state of Minnesota to support the breaking of economic ties with the state of Israel.

A full schedule is available here.