. As Jews, we must stand with the Palestinians against Israel’s colonialism | Ceasefire Magazine

As Jews, we must stand with the Palestinians against Israel’s colonialism Comment

As Jews, we need to be the loudest voices leading the call for Palestinian liberation, I know my Holocaust refugee grandmother would have demanded nothing less, writes Mike Friedberg.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 15:18 - 0 Comments


Anna Perlberg (second from right), aged 10, pictured with her family in 1939, soon after arriving to the US. (Source: Mike Friedberg)

In the early months of 1939, a Czech Jew named Pavel Bacher came to the stark realisation that Hitler was going to violate the Treaty of Versailles. Bacher understood all-too-well the implications this would have for him and his family.

Through the help of some non-Jewish American friends, he was able to obtain fake documents promising non-existent jobs in New York for him and his wife, Julia. As they were leaving Prague, one of Julia’s friends gave her a card with a picture of Saint Christopher on it. “He will protect you”, she told her. Julia, not sure what to do, politely took the card.

Anna Perlberg, aged 7.

Months earlier, their nine-year-old daughter, Anna, was on a train in Berlin when she witnessed the Hitler Youth marching and seigheiling. That night she dreamt that she was drowning in a sea of brown shirts.

Sitting on the train leaving Prague with her parents, Anna was immediately transported back to that day in Berlin. As the Gestapo screamed at her parents, she crawled into a ball, wanting to escape. The SS officer went through Anna’s mother’s belongings, finding some money and the picture of Saint Christopher. He asked if they were Catholic. Julia replied that they were. The officer took the money and let them leave.

Those events had a profound effect on the life of Anna Perlberg, as she later came to be known.

She grew up in America, and spent years working for the Blind services of Chicago. Until her death, she was a member of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, an organization that actively worked to expose US police violence.

She was also my grandmother.

These past few days, the matter of Jewishness, and how it relates to Israel and Zionism, has come back to the fore for Jews across the world in the wake of the current escalation of violence in Jerusalem, Gaza and towns across Israel, and the rise of anti-semitism. As I write this, nearly 60 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli bombardment, and Netanyahu has vowed to continue the assault on Gaza. Early on Saturday, Israeli airstrikes killed ten members of a single Gazan family.

For most American Jews, Zionism and Israel have always been completely intertwined with our Jewish identity and culture. At Hebrew School I participated in the ‘Walk With Israel’. I was in a youth group called Mossad – yes, named after the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. I was conditioned to think that the safety and very survival of my people depended upon Israel’s survival. And yes, the memory of the Holocaust and the reality of anti-Semitism fuelled this fear.

As a Jewish kid growing up in America, I was immersed in pro-Israel propaganda from a young age. Israel was framed as a nation simply defending itself, whereas Palestinians were portrayed as savages. This sort of construct is not new; it is necessary for any type of colonialism to succeed. The 1967 war was presented to us as righteous Israelis defending their God-given sovereignty. Palestinians were presented simply as lesser human beings. As historian Isabel Wilkerson points out, this sort of caste system, with a dominant group oppressing a demonized, weaker group, has existed throughout history: Jews in Nazi Germany, Black people in America, and Dalits in India. The dominant caste must continuously disempower and dispossess the subservient caste for the colonial system to maintain itself.

I was taught that being proud of my Jewish heritage and “standing for Israel” were one and the same. I was taught that Israel was righteous, and that Israel represented me and every other Jew, ignoring the diversity of our community. Of course, I was also taught that those who condemn the actions of the Israeli government were simply being anti-Semitic. And because of the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes over the past few years, this tactic has become more effective. But we must repudiate this farce, this falsehood which has been used time and time again to discredit non-Jews who speak up for Palestinians.

Anti-Semitism is an ongoing scourge. Palestinians deserve freedom and justice. Zionism is not Judaism. These truths are not mutually exclusive.

When Anna Perlberg, my grandmother, left this world in 2017, I was left with a void. She didn’t simply ask that I speak up for justice; she demanded it. This is why I cannot be silent on the killing of Palestinian children.

Unlearning the pro-Israel propaganda took years. I was proud of my Jewish ethnicity, and I still am, but I have come to see Zionism and Israel in a very different light. Likewise, many Jews in the US and beyond are coming to the realization that Zionism and Judaism are two separate concepts. A viral video of an Orthodox Jewish man supporting Palestinian rights is just one example of the growing awareness around this distinction, as does the emergence of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

One of the most prominent voices of US Jewry, Peter Breinart, correctly likened Palestinians’ right to the case for reparations for Black Americans as outlined by Ta Nehisi Coates. The irony, of course, is that reparations were granted to Holocaust survivors and victims’ families, yet some within the Jewish community cannot properly accept the prospect of Yavne, a truely equitable peace between Jews and Palestinians. Palestinians deserve safety, shelter, and dignity, just as Jews did after the Holocaust.

As Jews, we cannot demand that Palestinians do all the work for justice and reconciliation. We need to be the loudest voices leading the call for Palestinian liberation. As Charles M. Blow puts it, “it is outrageous to even expect the oppressed to heal the oppressor. That, in fact, is another form of oppression.” It is up to us, more so than any other group, to call for liberation and justice for Palestinians.

Jews must stand with the Palestinians against Israel’s colonialism. I know my grandmother would have demanded nothing less.

This is the legacy of Anna Perlberg.

Mike Friedberg

Mike Friedberg is an American writer, teacher, and activist. He has written for Ozy, Chicago Unheard, and Education Post. His thesis will be published in an anthology on urban education next Spring. He can be found on Twitter at @MfriedbergTeach

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