In an earlier post, I referred to a J Street workshop that sought to bridge the gap between Jewish social justice work and Israel/Palestine advocacy.
The gap is real. Take Jacob Feinspan, of Jews United for Justice. His organization works on a range of important local issues, including the challenges facing day laborers. He asked whether there was a litmus test for Jewish organizations: Does Israel have to be at the top of our agenda? He did not think so. He further asked a question that remained unanswered, why don’t we have a reverse panel?, a panel about why J Street is not engaged in domestic social justice work.
Elissa Barrett, of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, drew inspiration from the prophetic tradition to make others uncomfortable and make ourselves uncomfortable. At the same time, she said that during the Gaza attack, the PJA issued a statement that was the source of much debate internally: how far do we go?. Two thirds of the conversation is about whether to have the conversation.
Alana Alpert, a rabbinical student, talked about the moral crisis that we face, and asked,
Is there any issue more important for American Jews to engage in than Israel/Palestine?
Her answer to her fellow panelists: To evade responsibility by claiming a domestic agenda–that’s a false dichotomy.
Alana urged Jewish organizations to be more honest and transparent: If you are not doing Israel/Palestine work, why not? Is it really because you are solely focusing on domestic issues or is it because of funding concerns?
Elissa acknowledged that PJA has lost funders because of its positions on Israel. She added,
“We are afraid to be attacked because we are attacked. A line in the sand is there, and if you step across it, you will be crushed.”
Susan Adelman, a founding member of PJA, drew an analogy to the ACLU’s defense of the Nazi march in Skokie, IL. The ACLU lost thousands of members because of its position, and yet they stuck to its principles. She then asked, How can we not speak about human rights violations in the occupied territories?
A member of the audience talked about the current and possibly growing backlash against anti-occupation activism, and then she asked, Which side will the progressive Jews be on?
The next made-up controversy or orchestrated smear campaign will surely be reported in Muzzlewatch. And when things will get heated, I hope that we will be able to report that the majority of progressive Jews stood with us.
– Sydney Levy
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