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The American Peace Movement and Israel

As the local peace group I belong to begins to stumble on the question of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, I happen to be reading Rick Perlstein’s “Nixonland“.

Déjà vu whirled through my mind as I read the following description of events at the 1967 National Conference for a New Politics, after a thirteen-point manifesto was introduced:

“…another clause ordered condemnation of ‘the imperialistic Zionist war’ in the Middle East. The Reverend William Sloane Coffin Jr., chaplain of Yale University, was among those who insisted the thirteen points be adopted without discussion as a gesture of interracial unity. Jewish delegates who considered the Six Day War a struggle for national survival walked out.”

Has anyone or anything been as effective at wreaking havoc within the anti-war movement, as Israel’s wars?

In 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon and the images of Lebanese children wrapped in plastic as they were pulled out of the bombed earth hurt my mind. The Jewish members of my group refused to march. As Condi Rice was on television, juxtaposed in my mind with the dead children, she talked nonsense about wanting a “lasting peace”. When someone is bleeding, first thing you do? Stop The Bleeding. Worry about forging a “lasting” solution to what caused the bleeding later. I became enraged by Rice’s words, but the Jewish members of my group still would not march. We were all knew to the group, and no one wanted to make waves, so no one marched.

On the internet, I found that a group called the “ad-hoc coalition” was having a demonstration against Israel’s attack on Lebanon in Union Square Park. I went, alone.

Two-and-a-half years later, here we are again.

My group is having our monthly meeting this weekend. Already, two of our Jewish members are not attending. One of them emailed that she knew we would be “talking about Israel” and that this “hurt her too much.” I do not know what is going to happen when we discuss upcoming demonstrations against Israel’s invasion of Gaza. But early signs are not promising. And we are not alone. I know of other peace groups having the same issues.

How is the Peace movement going to deal with this? American Jews have long been at the forefront of liberal movements in this country. We need only look to the civil rights movement to see this. Yet, it is always upon Israel which we stumble.

What conversation can we have? What can each of us say? I know that I would like an explanation on how it is not anti-American to march in protests against America’s wars, and to chant things like “George, pull out, just like your daddy shoulda” (I know, it’s my favorite too). Yet it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel’s foreign policy. They either both are, or neither are, but you cannot have it both ways.

And perhaps there are things my Jewish friends in the peace movement would like to say to me. As long as it doesn’t start with “you don’t understand what it’s like to be Jewish” I’m willing to listen. I don’t need to understand what it’s like to be Jewish. Let’s face it; you don’t understand what it’s like to be Palestinian. We can both understand what it is like to be human. To watch your child die.

There needs to be some way for people in the peace movement to talk about this. At this point, I feel that if you are happy to march against the United States, but feel comfortable accusing myself and others of “anti-Semitism” if we protest Israel’s foreign policy, then you must be anti-American. What other conclusion can I draw?

And I don’t want to march with people who are actually anti-American, rather than critical of American foreign policy. It’s bad PR and plays right into the hands of the hard-right.

CATHERINE FENTON is a freelance writer. She can be reached at: cathfenton@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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