Identity and Ideology
As we in America prepare to give thanks for our comforts, safety, security, and freedoms, I want to take a moment to reflect on the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine.
Since Hamas invaded Israel on October 7th, there has been a great deal of confusion and finger pointing over who is to blame for the tragic events. While there is legitimate dialogue on the topic, there’s also a wealth of misinformation and toxic rhetoric. As a result, we’re seeing antisemitism and anti-Arab sentiment skyrocketing around the world.
One dispiriting result of the endless stream of conflicting information about an exceptionally complex issue is Jewish Americans’ embrace of Israel’s human rights violations. Since seven-in-ten Jewish adults identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, and half identify as liberal, it is peculiar that so many have thrown their support behind Israel’s far-right group of ultranationalist, religious extremists. Israel’s government is equivalent to far-right, white nationalists in America preaching “America first.”
And yet, many progressive Jewish Americans seem unfazed.
In a 2019–2020 Pew Research Center survey, 82% of Jewish Americans reported that caring about Israel is an essential or important part of being Jewish. This may suggest that many Jews are willing to disregard their core progressive tenants in order to protect their identity. On top of that, Jewish Americans experience Israel as outsiders, blind to the nuances of party lines and governmental decisions. For example, many Jewish Americans might not know that over half of Israeli adults report unfavorable views of Netanyahu, the corrupt politician currently on trial for fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes. This simplistic view of Israeli politics causes many of us to conflate support for the concept of a Jewish protector-state with support for whichever government controls it in the moment.
On top of this, many Jewish Americans believe that advocating for Zionism is a prerequisite for their Jewish identity. In reality, to be “Jewish” and to be “Zionist” are not remotely the same. To be Jewish means to be a member of an ethnoreligious group with a shared ancestry. To be Zionist means to support the establishment of a Jewish nation, now known as Israel. You can be Jewish and not Zionist, or Zionist and not Jewish. There are Christian Zionists who believe Israel is a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus Christ. While rare, there are even Muslim Zionists who believe that Zionism follows the teachings of Islam. There are also Jews who do not support a Jewish state if it means sacrificing the safety and security of others on the land.
I fall into that latter camp.
The history of the Palestinian territory is long and complex, but regardless of who is entitled to the land (if anyone), there is never a justification to abuse others in the name of that claim.
While Hamas may have started this conflict, innocent Palestinians — who had no say in the matter — are now suffering the violent consequences. Many Jewish Americans argue that all Palestinians are to blame because they elected and support the Hamas government, but this is simply not true. Hamas is a Palestinian militant group made up of twenty to twenty-five thousand members that governs the Gaza Strip in Palestine. To put that number in perspective, the Gaza Strip houses around 2 million civilians in densely packed city blocks, over 40% of whom are under the age of 15 and only 27% of whom report Hamas as their preferred political party. On top of that, Gaza’s last election (which Hamas narrowly won) was in 2006, well before half of all Gazans were even born.
Hamas’s attack on Israel was gut wrenching and evil. Unsuspecting, innocent Israeli’s (including small children) were kidnapped, murdered, and tortured. But, as the idiom goes, two wrong’s don’t make a right. Israel is in command of the 18th strongest military in the world (according to the 2023 Global Firepower Index). It has the precision technology to avoid bombing hospitals and refugee camps in its fight against a local (albeit well funded) terrorist organization.
I recognize that there is much more history and detail to this situation than I’m willing to dig into here. There are biblical claims, decades of human rights abuses, and historical context documented on both sides (not to mention European meddling). But what’s important to me is that, regardless of how we got here, it’s evident that many American Jews have embraced Israel’s far-right, ultranationalist government’s abuse of human life — despite their otherwise progressive mindset.
I worry about this. I worry that we, as a community, have become devoid of empathy and conscience. I worry that, when finally given a mantle from which to protect the global Jewish population, we used it to betray our own values. And I worry that Israel’s actions will fuel the fire of antisemitism and put my family’s safety in jeopardy.
There isn’t much I can do to impact the global situation that is unfolding, but I hope that a few readers will rediscover their empathy for a people who have been dehumanized for far too long (on both sides of the conflict).