I was standing on a mountain in the Golan Heights taking in the view. Lebanon was directly in front of me, a gorgeous stretching land with low shrubbery, scattered towns, and mountains in the distance. The whole scene was breathtaking. I was on a Taglit Birthright trip with several other college-aged American Jews in 2010, exploring Israel. Birthright’s goal? To instill “a profound transformation in contemporary Jewish culture and a connection between Israelis and their peers in the Diaspora.”
My trip leader and tour guide interrupted the scene. “See that?” He said, thumbing toward Lebanon.”That’s Lebanon. That’s the most fucked up country in the world.”
I stole a glance at my then-boyfriend, taken aback by the guide’s assertion. As the guide continued into Lebanon’s history, my boyfriend avoided my gaze. He knew, like I did, that we were being inundated with propaganda, knew that it was wrong, but did not want to risk being ostracized by speaking up.
The tour guide led us to a seated area, explaining why, thousands of years ago, people in surrounding lands became Jews. In some cultures, he explained, it was common practice to sacrifice their children—Jews never did. He then added, “Do you know what civilization continues to sacrifice their children?” He then held up a photo of an Arab baby with bombs strapped to it. I was sickened. It’s common knowledge that a vast majority of Palestinian parents don’t use their own children as bombs. But as I looked around, my fellow Jewish-Americans were nodding with the tour guide. Yes, yes, the Palestinians are evil and sacrifice their children like so, they silently agreed.
Later in the trip, we learned that there were five legs of being a Jew—you need three for the Jewish “table” to be able to stand, so choose the three that apply to you.
- Jewish memory: The essence of “never forget.” Allow our collective memory to drive us to behave in our best interests in the future.
- Family: You can choose your friends, but Jews are your family (regardless of if you were born into it or “adopted”). Respond to those in the family with “closeness, mutual responsibility and belonging.”
- Covenant: Observe the Torah and its commandments.
- Hebrew: How can you communicate with your family if you don’t speak the same language? Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people. Learn it.
- Israel: Dedication to defending Israel and/or making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) should be a core part of the your identity.
Israel is so near and dear to the Jewish identity that, to my own surprise, its national language and territory were two core parts of being able to claim a Jewish label. Indeed, being Jewish and being Israeli could appear to be synonymous. And being Israeli means being aggressively territorial, as I learned on my Birthright trip. It meant Othering the Arabs, the Muslims, the “terrorists” that surround Israel’s borders.
This past month has been devastating for Palestinian-Israeli relations. Thousands are dead, a great majority of them Palestinians. As a Jewish-American, I believe that now is the time for America to “stand by and watch—” a position rarely held by those brought up with slogans like “Never Again.”
And believe me—I’m in the minority. A few weeks ago, I got an email from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It stated, “Tonight, our Greater Washington Community is channeling our sorrow and anger into unity and are coming together as part of one global Jewish community.” Another email, from The World Jewish Congress added, “Make no mistake: this murder must spur the world into action, and the fight against fanatic, extremist groups such as Hamas must be stepped up urgently.”
And the U.S. is not sitting idly by; Congress approved $175 million in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, designed to protect civilians. While it might sound like a lot, that figure is only 5% of what the US spends on Israel a year.
There is a legitimate argument that Jews in Israel are “family” as outlined in the qualifiers for being “Jewish.” We have ethnic, historical, and religious ties. Families should help each other.
But America is not my family. Neither is Israel. Jews are my family. Individuals within America are my family. A state made up of individuals should never be confused with being an individual itself. The US is heavily financially and militarily involved in the conflict on both sides, and that needs to stop. When politicians push supporting Israel, they are taxing people who are unsympathetic to the Middle Eastern country to pay for weapons and bombs that are killing civilians. It forces America to take a side, regardless of how the people inside the States feel. That is not families helping families. That’s a few powerful people bullying the greater masses into a conflict that is not their own. And it incentivizes BOTH sides to villainize the other, as I saw on my Birthright trip.
Ultimately, Jew or not, continuing support for Israel’s military from America is immoral. If people feel strongly enough to to protect their religious home, make aliyah. Volunteer for the IDF. Donate to relief funds. But stop pushing Jews to direct their country to intervene.
Quite frankly, when I look at the loss of life within the past month, there is no one with the clear moral upper hand. Violence is being met with violence. Both sides are trying to play the victim. I don’t want to get my hand caught in this dog fight. I’m sick of each side villainizing each other. I’m sick of the propaganda that is inundating Jewish and Muslim American children. Both dogs–Israel and Palestine–are biting us, instilling us with hate and a resolve to make the United States a puppet for our interests.
Donate your body, prayers, energy, and money privately. Don’t drag the rest of your country in with you–it’s not their fight. And if you’re asking yourself, “What good can I do alone?” I have a very old book that you should probably read.