By Amanda Gelender
I attribute my deep sense of social justice to my Jewish upbringing. Active in my congregation as a child, I have fond memories of attending Jewish summer camp, Shabbat services and Purim carnivals. And, of course, I have perhaps not-so fond memories of studying relentlessly for my Haftorah portion and bat mitzvah ceremony. As a young person, I eagerly absorbed Jewish culture and values, harnessing the lessons of tikkun olum, the Judaic principle which translates to "repair the world." As I came of age, I became increasingly committed to this principle in my daily life as an activist for social change.
As a trusting and uninformed child, I never questioned my exuberant, unequivocal support for Israel. Looking back on this period of my life, I marvel at my own naivete. After more than a decade of pro-Israeli indoctrination, it took a long time for me to unravel and ultimately rebuild my belief system in accordance with Jewish values of social justice. Today, I stand in full opposition to the Israeli occupation and the plethora of atrocious human rights violations committed by Israel and supported by the United States. I believe that it is my right and responsibility to speak out against the actions of the Israeli government – not in spite of being Jewish but because I am Jewish.
Jews are uniquely positioned in this conflict. Chiefly, we as a people have experienced an exorbitant amount of oppression and have always had to fight for recognition, equality and freedom. Undeniably, Jews throughout the world still face extreme discrimination and struggle for these basic liberties. We, of all people, know injustice and the many ways that it can devastate and even destroy the lives of innocent people.
However, our actions – as represented by the Israeli government – distort the essence of our core values of peace and social justice. Israel’s despotism has turned Jews into the very oppressors we have struggled against for thousands of years. We are killing. We are demolishing homes. We are denying basic human rights. I refuse to tolerate the unequivocal endorsement of these brutalities to compose the predominant voice of the Jewish community at Stanford. A Jewish upbringing informs my system of values, and I will not betray my notions of social justice merely because those committing the atrocities are fellow Jews.
Jewish culture embodies the struggle for peace and equality, selflessness in serving others and liberation from oppression. The treatment of Palestinian people by the Israeli government is ethically depraved. It is in direct violation of both internationally recognized human rights standards and our stated ideals. No, I do not support acts of Palestinian terror, and I condemn all forms of violence against civilians. However, these fringe acts of terrorism in no way justify the horrific actions of collective punishment and severe repression perpetrated by the powerful Israeli military and government. We as Jews are not "repairing the world" in Israel and the Occupied Territories – we are destroying it along with the integrity of our faith and culture.
I refuse to stand idly by while the supreme injustices committed by Israel occur in my name. I refuse to allow fellow Jews to hijack our peaceful, resilient religion by supporting the occupation of Palestine under the guise of anti-Semitism and national security. For those of you who feel stifled and angry at this usurpation of Jewish values, I encourage you to join Jews for Justice in Palestine and become advocates for justice, human rights and peace in Israel and the Occupied Territories. For those of you who are afraid to stand in solidarity with Palestinians out of fear of offending the Jewish community, know that there are many Jews who are repulsed by the stifling of legitimate critique of Israel based upon unfounded claims of anti-Semitism. There is real anti-Semitism in the world, but employing the term in this manner is a disgrace to the legacy and current manifestations of prejudice and discrimination against Jews. Unlike others outspoken on this issue, I do not claim to represent the Jewish community. I do, however, represent myself, and I refuse to be spoken for.
Now is the time for Jews to be the loudest, strongest advocates against occupation and in support of equal rights for Palestinians – not in spite of our Judaism but because of it. The Talmud says, "On three things the world stands: On Justice, on Truth, and on Peace." Judaism taught me to fight for integrity, so it is in the name of Judaism that I call upon all Jews to end the destruction, inequality, and oppression committed by the Israeli government.
-Amanda Gelender is a sophomore majoring in drama and political science and a co-founder of the student group Jews for Justice in Palestine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
(The Stanford Daily, April 2, 2007)