OPINION: Stop Equating the State of Israel With the Jewish People

by Wendy Elisheva Somerson

(This is one of three essays from local community members that the Emerald will be publishing on this topic.)

In a recent spate of local op-eds, Jewish institutional leaders are once again accusing local pro-Palestine protesters of antisemitism, but as a Jewish resident of Seattle who has attended many gatherings protesting the state of Israel’s violent actions, I want to offer a different perspective.

We must, once and for all, get clear that Jews, a diverse and diasporic people, hold and have always held a variety of opinions about Zionism, and that we, as Jews, cannot and will not be made synonymous with the Israeli state.

I am proud to say that I showed up with at least 50 other Jewish friends to support the beautiful rally and march put on by Falastiniyat, a Palestinian feminist collective, at Westlake Park on Sunday May 22nd. What I experienced was a crowd of committed people — Muslims, Jews, Christians, people of all faiths, ages, races, and ethnicities  — coming together to decry the actions of the Israeli government who, over eleven days, killed at least 243 Palestinians, including 69 children, and wounded 1,900 people. Twelve Israelis, including two children, were also killed.

Photo of two women, one holding protest sign
Selma Al Aswad Dillsi and Wendy Elisheva Somerson (Photo by Zoh Lev)

We did not see or experience “intimidation and violence” that Regina Sassoon Friedland of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) claims occurred against Jews. We were welcomed, collaborated with, and encouraged to stand with our Palestinian friends and other colleagues. 

In Sassoon Friedland’s equation, my friends and I are erased because she is unable to separate supporters of the state of Israel from the Jewish people. Yet we know that one of the largest groups of supporters of the Israeli state are Christian Zionists who are “motivated primarily by the belief that Jews taking control over the biblical land of Israel will bring about Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world, when Christians will reach salvation and non-Christians — including Muslims and Jews — will be annihilated,” according to an Op-Ed in Truthout by Jonathan Brenneman and Aidan Orly. Christian Zionists number in the tens of millions, far more than the world’s Jewish population who do not share one opinion on Zionism. 

Meanwhile, more and more Jews are insisting that we have an ethical obligation to oppose the state of Israel’s actions. In her recent Rolling Stone article, “Young American Jews Have Reached a Tipping Point With Israel,” Marisa Kabas writes that many Jews are struggling “to square their love for their people and history with their commitment to racial and social justice, and how Israel’s actions in Palestine seem to fly in the face of “tikkun olam” — the Jewish principle of improving the world through action.”

As Jews, we’re reclaiming our beautiful traditions beyond the way the Israeli government distorts and deploys Jewishness in the service of oppressing Palestinians. In fact, this past Friday, May 21st, our local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace led a Solidarity with Palestine Shabbat in front of Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill to create a space for over a hundred Jews and friends to come together to grieve the losses of these recent attacks on Palestine. While the ceasefire had been declared, we refuse to go back to the status quo of Israeli apartheid, the brutal blockade on Gaza, and the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes perpetrated by the Israeli government and funded by the U.S.

At our service, we lit candles, said the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer, and took responsibility for having tough conversations inside our Jewish communities about the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

In Judaism, we have a concept called tochecha, a loving rebuke, which refers to our responsibility to call our community members into accountability. When those in our community cause harm, we are implicated in that harm if we don’t lovingly rebuke them. 

This concept of tochecha, of being accountable to and for those in our community, inspired us to gather in front of one of the largest synagogues in central Seattle to invite all local Jewish synagogues and institutions into a discussion with us about BDS. Economic pressure helped end apartheid in South Africa, and it can help us end Israeli apartheid. We are inviting our Jewish communities to be on the right side of history with us — to stand for justice.

The Israeli government and its supporters are trying to claim that the Jewish future belongs to those who dominate, bomb civilians, and steal people’s homes. But we are reclaiming our Jewish past, present, and future to fight for the freedom, self-determination and well-being of all people, in all places. As our Jewish foremother Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Wendy Elisheva Somerson is one of the founders of the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

📸 Featured Image: Participants at the Solidarity with Palestine Shabbat in front of Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill, on Friday, May 21, led by the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. (Photo by Sunni Campbell)

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