Response from St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace to ‘open letter’

Editor’s note: This response refers to last week’s ‘Open letter to St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace,’ which can be read online at stljewishlight.com/open-letter2015.

 It was not easy to write this response. While many may see us as inflexible and dogmatic, we are actually a group of Jewish Americans and Israelis with diverse perspectives, which we see as a strength that helps us grow, learn and struggle together authentically. We wish to offer such a space to others in the Jewish community grappling with what is happening in Israel/Palestine.

It may not come as a surprise that we ourselves have found local Jewish institutions to be inflexible on this topic, and we have suffered exclusion and negative professional repercussions for how our beliefs are perceived. Surely if we are all progressives and all — yourselves included — feel demonized, something has gone wrong. We are not communicating.

Recently, STL-JVP has been portrayed as seeking destruction, dissolution and nonexistence of a place many of us hold dear; in fact, our vision is quite the opposite. Our hope for the future lies in an Israel/Palestine — and a world — where nobody is oppressed or excluded because of their racial, ethnic or religious identity. We want life, not destruction. We want freedom for all peoples of that land to thrive as full human beings — including Jews, Palestinians, migrant workers and African refugees.

Tragically, the Israel that began in 1948 and exists today is nothing like that vision. The creation of a Jewish State has necessitated a Jewish majority, which has required the forced removal of most of the indigenous Palestinian population, and the ongoing killing, incarceration and ghettoization of Palestinians in order to maintain an artificial Jewish majority. As American Jews, we are welcomed to join that majority while our Palestinian friends, including those here in St. Louis, are excluded because of their ethnicity and religion. In fact, Donald Trump’s recent call for a ban on Muslim immigration is not dissimilar from the immigration policies Israel has maintained since its creation.

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We reject the notion that Israel makes Jews safer, because our safety can never come at the expense of another’s. We are horrified that our diaspora should find refuge by creating an entire new, forced diaspora. We believe that security for Jews is intertwined with security for Palestinians and that now is a moment to stand against Israel’s oppressive policies and in solidarity with the Palestinians struggling for their basic rights.

Our choice to act from love rather than fear has been deeply liberating, and we invite you to join us in it, in seeing Palestinians as partners and in fact leaders in our collective liberation.

We know well how heartbreaking and scary this can be. But our Judaism is too expansive and rich to be threatened by taking a stand against the ways Israel oppresses Palestinians. Our Judaism comprises so much more than a relationship with a political state, which is temporary by nature. We are bound to a long history and future of near infinite complexity and potential.

We hear your demands for an answer about Hands Up United’s choice to use provocative memes to call out local leaders including Rabbi Susan Talve. We had no knowledge of the memes until they were posted, and they are not our words, our collective position or the conversation we wish to have. 

We lament that the term “terrorist” is used every day against innocent Arabs and Muslims, eliciting none of the same outrage. 

Because most of us are white Jews with unearned privilege, we seek to understand the lived experience behind the choice to use that word to describe the daily attacks on black and brown bodies from Ferguson to Palestine, and to disrupt the dominant narrative that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists but those justifying state terror against them and black communities are not. 

We are progressive Jews with differing opinions around even this one word appealing to you to talk to us about Israel/Palestine without focusing on an episode in which we were not involved.

We are not “seeking to be a ‘voice’ ” in the Jewish community, as you state; we are a voice in the Jewish community, and a growing one. We need each other. Furthermore, the Israelis among us feel strongly that to stand in solidarity with Israel today is to betray not only Palestinians but also progressive Israelis struggling within Israeli society for change. 

We believe we have important work to do together in agitating our shared community to come out on the side of justice for all. If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

Read an extended version of the St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace response online: stljewishlight.com/jvp-response.