Guest contribution by Sami J.
The organization OneVoice claims to be a grassroots movement aimed at empowering Israelis and Palestinians to push their leaders toward a two-state solution. In practice, this has translated into a strategy overwhelmingly focused on what’s good for Israel — and specifically Israel’s Jews — while Palestinian suffering and rights are sacrificed on the altar of compromise. This problem was pointed out by PACBI back in 2010. And last week, it was thrown into stark relief when it was discovered that OneVoice had put out a shockingly racist Hebrew-only graphic, warning of the increase in the Palestinian population and what counteractions must be taken to preserve a Jewish majority in historic Palestine (a full translation can be found here).
In what can only be described as naked cynicism, while OneVoice was warning Israeli Jews of the “high” number of Palestinians, it was also seeking to collaborate with Palestinians in exile, specifically the Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights (CMPR), a youth-led Palestine solidarity organization. CMPR understandably refused, issuing an open letter outlining their valid reasons. This did not sit well with liberal Zionist professor Mira Sucharov, who wrote a very patronizing piece on the need to refrain from (what she thinks are) frivolous accusations of racism and to work together to achieve peace (on Zionist terms, of course) instead.
When I challenged her on this, she responded that while she understands OneVoice’s message “stings”, Jewish yearning for national sovereignty is also important; and that the disagreement with OneVoice is “about feelings and narrative” where “collective emotions and historical memory are key”.
I don’t believe for one second that the reason CMPR refused to collaborate with OneVoice was that they were merely “stung” by the latter’s demographic fearmongering. Sucharov’s word choice and description of the root problem are indicative of the inability of liberal Zionists to deal forthrightly with the Question of Palestine — the grievances, concerns, and rights of the Palestinian people.
Certainly, emotions play a role. You can’t help but feel a swell of emotions — shock, despair, rage, hopelessness — when you see the images, watch the videos, and read the stories of oppression and dispossession that pour out of Palestine. But that is not the end of it.
History too plays a part in our understanding of the Question. No Palestinian can ignore what happened to her parents and grandparents. No Palestinian can ignore the more than 65 years of shataat (diaspora). But it is not just history that moves us. We see the Palestinian families thrown out onto the streets of Sheikh Jarrah because Israeli courts decide their homes don’t belong to them. We see Israel refusing to stop settlement building because of “natural growth” considerations while it demolishes entire Palestinian villages. We see a besieged Gaza being pummeled with the latest in military weaponry from land, air, and sea. We see Palestinian refugees in Syria, prevented from returning to their homeland, made refugees once again. We see a Palestinian woman prevented from returning to the West Bank because one day she took a walk down a Jewish-only street in Hebron.
But this isn’t just about history. It’s the present and, deplorably, the foreseeable future as well. It isn’t just emotion that moves us, either. It’s also principles of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s just and unjust. The notion of “preserving a Jewish majority” is undeniably wrong and unjust. Why? Because if preserving a Jewish majority is a policy of the state, then the Palestinians citizens, who make up over 20% of Israel’s population, are by definition obstacles to that policy and can only ever hope for second-class citizenship at best. The negative consequences of this have played out in history, which led to the Nakba, the forced expulsion of some 750,000 people from their homes, and the destruction of their villages. And it is playing out now, not only with the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories but also the systemic discrimination and exclusion that Palestinian citizens face in health, education, development, politics, and so on.
Sucharov, OneVoice, and all the liberal Zionists in the world can dismiss these grievances as narrative, or emotional attachments to historical wrongs, that must be overcome to achieve peace. They can pretend that creepy, racialized, and racist arguments about a Palestinian demographic threat are mere “stings”. Yet more and more Palestinians understand that no outcome of such a strategy is worth fighting for, much less lending their voices to. They understand there will be no lasting peace without addressing the fundamental, essential injustices against the whole of the Palestinian people that lie at the heart of the Israeli state’s functions and policies.
It’s a simple notion, but one that has been so actively ignored over the years. It’s about time things started to change.
Sami J. is a Jordanian-born, American-raised Palestinian who lives in the Chicagoland area. Follow him on twitter at @samioj.