JUDITH LAITMAN AND TSELA BARR — GUEST COLUMN, JUNE 14, 2023
This year on April 26, millions celebrated the 75th anniversary of Israel’s creation on Israel Independence Day. However, we, as anti-Zionist Jews, did not celebrate.
Instead, on May 15, we stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people by commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” The Nakba was the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians prior to and following the official establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. It was the direct result of a deliberate campaign by Israel to expel the region’s indigenous people.
During that period, an estimated 13,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces or terrorist gangs. More than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. In just a few months, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris, 34 massacres of Palestinians occurred. As a result, 731,000 Palestinians fled and were never allowed to return to their homes.
While the Holocaust created an urgent need for a safe haven for Jewish refugees during and after World War II, the establishment of Israel was the culmination of the Zionist movement that began a half-century before. This movement sought an exclusive homeland for the Jewish people, a group that had faced persecution and displacement for much of their history.
Ironically, Palestine had long been a place that accepted Jewish immigrants. In fact, by 1931 Jews were approximately 17% of Palestine’s population. Zionists, however, wanted more. In 1958, Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion told the country’s lawmakers that in just a decade of existence Israel had “redeemed thousands of Jews from poverty and degeneration in exile, and transformed them into proud, creative Jews.”
Sadly, the Zionists’ dream became the Palestinians’ nightmare. Indeed, the Nakba that began 75 years ago has never ended.
The reality is that Zionism is not and never has been a redemption for the Jewish people. Rather, it has been a colonial project of displacement, theft of land and subjugation of one set of people by another. The truth is that Israel is a democracy only for Jews. In January 2021, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued its report called “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.” It described Israel as a state that has a different set of rights for Palestinians that is “always inferior to the rights of Jews.”
This year, an extreme right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated attacks on Palestinians and greenlighted additional illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land. This government has removed even the veneer of democratic discourse in Israel, with some government officials openly espousing racist policies and inciting violence. As of mid-May, Israeli forces had killed at least 123 Palestinians, including at least 27 children.
Even worse, Israel continues to commit its crimes against the Palestinian people with impunity. Instead of being sanctioned for its human rights abuses, Israel receives over $4 billion a year in U.S. tax dollars to help ensure it has one of the world’s most powerful militaries. The U.S. also provides Israel with political cover when its human rights violations come up in the U.N.
One reason for this impunity has to do with the branding of criticism of Israel as “antisemitic.” This lie is designed to silence and shame critics. But criticism of Israel is not antisemitic; it is demanded by Jewish ethical teachings.
As Jews, we applaud new efforts in Congress to condition U.S. aid to Israel on ending its oppression of Palestinians. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum recently re-introduced the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. This legislation would prohibit Israel’s government from using U.S taxpayer dollars for the detention or abuse of Palestinian children, or from seizing or destroying Palestinian property.
Americans can act now to be on the side of the oppressed by contacting Congress in support of this bill.
Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr are members of the Madison chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Tsela Barr is a founding member of Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.