Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
A Surge in American Jewish Left Organizing
Duration
0:00 / 41:34
Published
October 31, 2023

In the weeks since October 7th, when Hamas attacked the south of Israel and Israel began bombing Gaza, American Jewish institutions that had previously expressed alienation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government have mostly united around a pro-Israel position. At the same time, however, record numbers of progressive American Jews have joined the anti-occupation organizations Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow in taking to the streets to call for a ceasefire. In the last three weeks, Jewish protestors have blocked entrances to the White House, occupied a Capitol Hill building rotunda, and shut down New York City’s Grand Central station to protest US support for bombings that have already killed more than 8,000 Palestinians in Gaza, 3,000 of whom have been children.

In this episode of On the Nose, associate editor Mari Cohen discusses this surge in Jewish left organizing with Elena Stein, director of organizing strategy at JVP; Eva Borgwardt, national spokesperson for IfNotNow; and Emmaia Gelman, guest faculty in social sciences at Sarah Lawrence College and longtime Jewish left activist. They discuss mourning Israeli civilians killed on October 7th—some of whom were family members of IfNotNow and JVP staff—while simultaneously organizing against Israel’s onslaught on Gaza; they also consider the comparative strategic value of speaking out specifically as Jews versus joining broader antiwar coalitions.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

Jewish Groups Rally at White House Urging Biden to Push for Gaza Ceasefire,” Robert Tait, The Guardian

Jewish Activists Arrested at US Congress Anti-Israel Protest Amid Gaza War,” Al Jazeera staff, Al Jazeera

“‘Let Gaza Live’: Calls for Cease-Fire Fill Grand Central Terminal,” Claire Fahy, Julian Roberts-Grmela and Sean Piccoli, The New York Times

Survey: A Quarter of US Jews Agree That Israel ‘is an Apartheid State,’” Ron Kampeas, JTA

The Rise of ‘If Not Now’ and the Collapse of the Pro-Israel Consensus,” Alex Kane, Mondoweiss

The Anti-Democratic Origins of the ADL and AJC,” Emmaia Gelman, Jewish Currents

The ADL Doubles Down on Opposing the Anti-Zionist Left,” Mari Cohen and Isaac Scher, Jewish Currents

Anti-Defamation League DC tweet and Jonathan Greenblatt tweet about IfNotNow and JVP

ADL and Brandeis Center letter to presidents of colleges and universities

#DroptheADL campaign


Transcript

Mari Cohen: This is Mari Cohen, associate editor of Jewish Currents. In the following episode of On the Nose, I’m joined by Jewish left activists to talk about their work organizing against Israel’s war on Gaza. Immediately after October 7, when Hamas fighters attacked the south of Israel and killed more than 1,400 Israelis (including more than 1,000 civilians) and took more than 200 others hostage, it seemed like the hard-won inroads the Jewish left had been making in the broader Jewish community had vanished overnight. Congregations and organizations that had been increasingly vocally skeptical of the far-right Israeli government and reconsidering the centrality of the Israeli state to American Jewish life were now uniting behind that government’s offensive and singing the Israeli national anthem. “Hatikvah,” in the sanctuary.

Yet in the ensuing weeks, an unprecedented number of American Jewish activists have flooded the streets to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza that has resulted in more than 8,000 deaths to date, including more than 3,000 children. These activists have participated in civil disobedience at government buildings and congressional offices to call on the US government to push for a ceasefire and to stand against Israel’s expression of what scholars have called “genocidal intent.” Several of these actions have taken place in Washington DC and garnered major media attention. On October 16, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace led more than 1,000 demonstrators to block every entrance to the White House, resulting in more than 60 arrests. On October 18, the same groups brought 5,000 people total to Capitol Hill and took 500 protesters into one of the capitol buildings, where rabbis led prayers and 350 were arrested. On Friday, October 27, the day after our episode was recorded, Jewish Voice for Peace organized thousands of protesters to shut down New York City’s Grand Central Station for a sit-in calling for a ceasefire. Police were forced to restrict public access to the terminal, and around 400 protesters were arrested. The action made headlines worldwide. For the episode I brought together organizers, present and past, to talk about how they’re thinking about the work right now, as well as what we can learn from a longer history of Jewish left organizing. Here it is.

I’m joined today by three Jewish left activists to talk about their strategy for this moment. Eva Borgwardt is the national spokesperson for IfNotNow.

Eva Borgwardt: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

MC: And Elena Stein is the director of organizing strategy at Jewish Voice for Peace.

Elena Stein: Hi, grateful to be with you all.

MC: And then we also have Emmaia Gelman, who is guest faculty in social sciences at Sarah Lawrence College and the director of the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism. Emmaia also is here to provide some insight into a previous generation of Jewish left activism as one of the cofounders of Jews Against the Occupation, New York City, in 2000. So, hi, Emmaia.

Emmaia Gelman: Thanks for having us on together, Mari.

MC: Thank you all for being here. Especially, I know it is a very difficult moment when everyone is extremely busy. But I’m glad that we have a chance to talk about this. To get started, I want to take us back to October 7 and to think about how this mobilization started. So how did Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow initially respond to October 7? How did you come to settle on a strategy? Eva, maybe you want to start?

EB: Sure. It took several days for us to fully realize the extent of the October 7 attack on Israelis. And over the course of the weekend—even three and four days later—some of our staff members were finding out that their loved ones had been among those people who were murdered. One of our staff found out that a close friend and her two children were murdered in the October 7 attack, and they were Mizrahi Arab SWANA Jews who had been intentionally settled in the Gaza border area to be expendable by the Israeli government. And so, our first statement was initially a response to the Biden administration’s comment about the Hamas attack being unprovoked and was motivated by fear—which has, of course, since been realized—that that framing, of starting the clock of this unprovoked attack on October 7, would enable dehumanization of Palestinians that would escalate into the type of horror that we are seeing now in terms of the bombardment of Gaza and pending ground invasion. Over the course of the several days after the attack, our members really needed space to grieve and mourn, and we started organizing mourner’s Kaddish actions across the country to provide a space to grieve and hold the memories of people’s loved ones, as well as the increasing fear and grief that they were experiencing for the Palestinians in Gaza (many of whom were also our loved ones) that we knew was coming. And then the following week, we were transitioning into action on the Biden administration on Monday and against Congress with JVP on Wednesday.

MC: Elena, I’m curious if you can answer that same question from the perspective of JVP.

ES: We have staff who are in constant touch with Palestinian partners on the ground. The evening of October 6, I got a text from one of them saying “There’s an operation beginning, we’re in rapid response.” So our rapid response team was in direct touch with partners through the night until 5am, when the person leading that team found out that his Israeli Mizrahi aunt and uncle had been killed. So this is how it began for us. It was not theoretical, we were horrified. The grief, the shock, it was visceral, it was real. There wasn’t even time to take a breath, to theorize about it, to formulate almost perfect political analyses about it, or certainly to process all the emotions about it.

A lot was not clear, and a lot was clear very quickly. One thing was that our principles were going to need to light the way the whole way through. And the first and most important is the value that every single person deserves to live in safety and freedom and dignity. And there are no exceptions to that. It was also immediately clear what we’ve known to be true forever: that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis are completely intertwined with each other. And that, of course, Israeli apartheid (and settler colonialism) first and foremost enact daily, horrifying violence against Palestinians. And it doesn’t make Israelis safer either. So it’s on us—especially those of us here in the US, whose government is funding this, is fueling this, is protecting the Israeli apartheid government from accountability at all levels—to stop the complicity that puts Palestinians’ lives in danger every day and also puts Israeli’s lives in direct danger. And it was clear very quickly that the Israeli government was going to declare a genocidal war on Palestinians.

And so, I think we were in a lot of tension, because people did need time to just grapple and grieve, and we didn’t have time for it. As a Jewish organization in the US committed to a future where all people live in dignity and freedom, there was no moment to just pause. We had to figure out how to jump in, and intervene, and call on all people of conscience to stop imminent genocide of Palestinians. And to do it all at once, right? One of the things that I kept saying to myself through this period is: We are wide enough to hold it all. Every life is precious. We have to do everything we can right now to save lives. We have to point to root causes. And also, we just have to do lifesaving measures. And we do not need to choose between grieving and acting; we do not need to choose between Israeli lives and Palestinian lives; we do not have to have theorized everything; we do not have to have processed all of our feelings. We do not have to act perfectly, we just need to act very quickly to intervene in the beating drums of war.

MC: Thank you for that. Emmaia, I want to ask how you’re processing this moment and also how you’re comparing it to previous episodes in American Jewish left organizing. Obviously, the October 7 attacks are pretty different than anything we’ve seen in the history of the region, so there’s no real precedent for it, but are there any moments or episodes in the past that have any resonance with today? How does this compare to what we’ve seen before?

EG: We’ve never seen anything like this play out before. It’s hard to know how it might feel different now than it would have at a different point in our organizing. One thing that’s very different now than when Jews Against the Occupation began organizing in 2000, is that our understanding of how much force is required to hold Israeli life together is clearer than it used to be. I think that we used to think of Israel as a place inside borders, and the West Bank and Gaza as places where people were fenced in. But I think that our understanding of how colonial violence works has changed so that we now understand that every minute of Israeli life is a minute of repression of Palestinians. There’s no “moment of calm,” as we often say. In fact, I interviewed the poet Sami Shalom Chetrit (a long time ago, actually), and he said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “I try not to breathe too deeply. Because I know that every time I take a breath, Palestinians are suffocating.” I just don’t have any moment of my life where my safety and existence isn’t at the expense of someone else. And I think that’s a new understanding for us, in a way, even though we’ve always understood injustice.

So, when this happened, I also have family in Israel there in the north, so I wasn’t immediately expecting the worst, but I worry about them. And they’re participants in Israeli society. They are in the military, you know, they participate. So, when the violence that creates the peace of their life is broken through, yeah, I panic for them. And, also, it’s really hard not to expect it. I have spent much of my life being so upset at how the Israeli state has destroyed my family and wrecked the legacy of my grandparents—and also diverted so much attention from other things that I wish that I could be doing—that when it breaks down, it’s hard not to say: We told you so. Man, we told you. I also want to say that the one thing that’s really different in this instance, is safe rooms. So, when we started Jews Against the Occupation in 2000, safe rooms, I think, had just become part of Israeli housing code. I’ve been going to Israel my whole life to visit my family. I’d never heard of a safe room until now. And the idea that this state, this supposedly democratic state that’s supposedly keeping Jews safe, has had to mandate the construction of safe rooms in every home, just really spells it out. A just society—a sustainable society—doesn’t have safe rooms.

MC: I’ve been thinking about that as well, that question of saying “I told you so,” because for those of us who have been following this issue for a really long time, and who have been doing this work, and paying a lot of attention to what Palestinians go through, we are aware of this regular violence. And so obviously, when something like this happens, the impulse is to say: There’s this larger structure and this structure produces violence. And then I know that in my life, there are people who have been really hurt by me saying that, because they feel like then that’s not seeing this grief that they have Israelis on their own terms. I’m just curious about how you all are thinking about navigating that, how do you balance that impulse of providing the context with speaking to people who are in our orbits, in our lives, who are feeling that grief.

EG: There’s no way around the agony, right? I have kids, I think about kids being kidnapped, I think about Palestinian kids in hospitals, unable to have anesthesia for surgeries as they’re suffering burns from chemical weapons, like the agony is just threaded throughout. It’s just hard to wake up in the morning. And it actually reminds me a little bit of 9/11. You know, we keep hearing that this is like Israel’s 9/11, but it also kind of feels like in the United States, there’s a lot of similar response. And my family knew a lot of the people who were in the Towers, and the stories about people dying, and people being trapped in elevators or jumping out of windows, there’s just no way to assimilate that amount of pain. But if you’re a thinking person, you also situate that—you have to zoom out from that moment and understand: What are we part of? It’s not just them, right? It’s not just the people who died—it’s us. And the feeling of precarity, right? Like everything that we have is based on tamping down on somebody else’s instinct for freedom. And so, when we feel that pain, the agony of people dying, it actually feels like premonition, like: How can this be sustained? So, I think my response to the feeling of violence and agony of violence that just happened in Israel and Palestine is that it feels like a warning, as well as immediate agony.

MC: Elena, you talked about the ways in which we feel like we can hold this all. We can put it together, do the grief and the action at the same time, respond to all these things. What is it like trying to do that? What kind of responses are you getting? Are there specific guiding tactics or strategies in terms of trying to hold that all together that you have?

ES: Grace Paley has this wonderful quote, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” And I also have been hearing the antidote to despair is action. These have been guiding lines in this time: The only way through the agony, the grief, the pain, the horror, the shock is to act together. So, we’ve been holding a lot of spaces that are grief into action. So, for instance, every day since a couple days after it all began, we’ve been holding daily power hours, where up to 3,500 people at once have all come to figure out: What’s happening on the ground? Where can I be connected with people who are also holding this kind of pain, and how can we use it as fuel towards action? Tens of thousands of calls to Congress; hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to the editors of the New York Times and to local papers; how do we reach out to everybody in our lives (including high-profile people) and make ceasefire the word on everyone’s lips? Last week, we organized the largest demonstration of Jewish people in solidarity with Palestinian liberation in history. We put out a call three days in advance. We said “Meet us in DC at noon on a Wednesday.” Who knew how many people were going to show up? Well, over 5,000 people figured out how to get out of work, find child care, and bus or train or even fly from around the country to be there at noon on a Wednesday. There’s nothing better to do with this grief, with this agony, than to act in those kinds of numbers and to make our voices heard. And after that, 500 of those people then led a sit-in taking over a key Capitol building, calling for ceasefire, saying “Let Gaza live,” led by rabbis, and spiritual leaders, and elders. And it was the most profound Jewish spiritual moment of my life, and it got wall-to-wall mainstream coverage and was around the whole US and throughout the world. We were hearing people were having watch parties in Palestinian restaurants and organizations.

I think giving people tools—not just to understand what happened, not just to process it, not to just to be with it, but to actually activate—is the way through. And it’s not either/or, but I think, unfortunately, we just haven’t had time to collapse into our grief, because we know right now that especially Jewish grief is being used as a weapon against Palestinians in what can only be known as a genocide. And we are watching this unfold before our eyes. We know over 7,000 Palestinians have already been killed. We know that 3,000 of them are children. We know that fuel has run out. We know that hospitals are collapsing. We know that people are being bombed as they flee from evacuation orders. We know that people are trapped beneath the rubble, and there’s no fuel left for bulldozers to pull them out. And we know that as people are being starved, and there’s no food, and there’s no water, and there’s no medicine—and not because there just isn’t, because the Israeli government won’t let any of it in. We know that this could get a lot worse by magnitudes. And so as much as I want—I want so badly right now, to collapse into my grief. The only ethical option—I say this feeling my entire history of Jewish family who survived and didn’t survive a genocide at my back—the only option we have right now is to use our grief, is to rise through our grief and our agony and organize people to try to stop an unfolding genocide before our eyes with everything we have.

MC: Thank you for that. Eva, I wonder if you want to jump in and talk a little bit about managing those tensions as well.

EB: I actually want to go back to something that Emmaia said earlier: The idea that every moment of Israeli life requires Palestinian death or Palestinian suffering. And that that is the colonial setup we’re in. I’m so angry that we’ve been pit against each other in this way. One thing that is making me hopeful in this moment is the coalition that is coming together in the streets to call that out and to say: We refuse to have our lives pit against each other. Elena, as you said, and as is embedded in IfNotNow’s principles as well, our safety is tied together. We cannot have Jewish safety without Palestinian safety. The horrific events of these past weeks have made that extremely clear. What I’ll say about doing both at the same time, in terms of holding grief and action, I find myself looking toward the Israelis who are burying their friends on the ground right now, while also raging at this government for what it’s doing to Gazans. And so many of them are exhibiting incredible courage in the face of massive repression across the state for any anti-war activism right now. And also looking to Palestinian friends in the aftermath of the October 7 attack. As we were trying to figure out how to organize through our grief, and despite losses that were very personal to people on our staff, I was messaging Palestinian colleagues and other organizations and just being like: I know that you all know exactly what this is like, and that you have been organizing through very personal grief for decades. There was a Palestinian killed every single day this past year—people are trying to organize while attending funerals all the time. And I think it’s been a moment of showing our people both that there’s community for them in the streets, that we’re turning our grief into action here, and, when we feel like it’s too much, looking to Israelis who are doing this now and to Palestinians who’ve been doing it for decades, to find the strength to keep going and keep throwing ourselves into the cogs of this war machine, into this horrific operation that is not (and has never been) actually about keeping any of us safe.

ES: I just want to add in one more layer of the grief that we’re holding. One of the layers of grief that I’m feeling so acutely right now is our failure. Right? We know that Palestinians have been facing over 75 years of colonization and dispossession. We know that 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza were kept in a pen for 16 years—the most densely-populated place on Earth. That 97% of the water is contaminated. That half of the people living there are children. That people are not allowed physically in and out—not to get medical supplies, not to visit relatives on the other side of the fence that keeps them penned in. How have we allowed this to happen? I want to take us back to a pivotal moment, which was the Great March of Return in 2018. People will recall tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, holding gorgeous marches up to the fence that keeps them penned in, and setting up a beautiful encampment to cook, and to dance, and to learn history, and to demonstrate against their captivity. All parties had their flags lowered. There was not an arm in sight. And on the first day of it, how did the Israeli government respond? They set up snipers on the hills and killed over 30 people on day one. And over the next few months, as these gorgeous encampments continued, they killed hundreds. I mean, the international community should have shut this down on day one. We failed. That’s part of the grief we need to be holding. We failed. I know that failure is not a motivating feeling, but I think it’s really important that we reckon with this and move out of our shock of what is happening now to understand that, if you’ve been watching, this was coming. We didn’t know what it would look like, but a crisis of epic proportions was coming. And we cannot afford to fail any longer. 80% of the bombs that are being used to massacre Palestinians in Gaza right now are from the United States. The US sends more military funding to Israel than anywhere else in history. Most of that money has to get spent back in the US on weapons manufacturers. The stock prices of weapons manufacturers are skyrocketing right now. As Eva said: It is not about Jewish safety. That is just a moral cover.

MC: I want to ask about coalitions. So there’ve been these IfNotNow and JVP protests that are specifically Jewish American-identified—you know, Jews Say No to Genocide, Jews for a Ceasefire—and then I know that there’s also been protests that have been a broader coalition of Americans in general against the war, and that you all have participated as a cosponsor in some of those protests with other groups, including Palestinian-led groups. I’m curious how you’re thinking about when to organize in these more specific Jewish formations, and then also when to work in these coalitions, and how that strategy is operating. And another layer I’m curious about—I know that there have been non-Jewish people who have been drawn also to the work of IfNotNow and JVP. And I know that there are friends in my life who are now also working with organizations, even if they’re not personally Jewish. And so I’m curious about how you all are strategizing around those particular identities.

ES: I think what this moment calls for is both/and. I think it’s incredibly important for Jewish people to go to Palestinian-led demonstrations, as well as multiracial, coalitional, demonstrations for Palestinian freedom, both to flank Palestinians leading their own liberation struggle and to unite from all corners together. Ultimately, if we’re going to build a different kind of future, we have to practice that future together, and being in the streets together, uniting our voices together, needing to keep each other safe—that’s one of the many ways we do it. And, on a practical level, we require a coalition right now; it’s an all hands on deck moment. And at the same time, it’s also incredibly important that we’re demonstrating specifically as Jewish people in this moment. Zionism has always relied on the weaponization of Jewish pain and trauma in order to oppress Palestinians. And this moment is the ultimate manifestation of that. It’s taking the profoundly real pain and horror of 1,400 Israelis killed and using it as a justification to carry out genocide that the Israeli government has long made clear was their plan. And the best shield of the Israeli government is to say that anyone who rises up for their freedom—any Palestinian person, and anyone who dares to stand with them—is antisemitic. And so that means that Jewish people have an essential role to play as a firewall against this accusation that is hurled in such vicious and life-defeating ways. So we must be out there together right now as Jews, loudly and proudly and visibly, and it’s been wonderful to organize with other Jewish organizations (IfNotNow, in particular) under the banner of Jews against genocide, because this moment requires all of us.

EB: Yes, exactly. Cosigned everything that Elena just said. President Biden is on television invoking Jewish safety, invoking Holocaust trauma as the reason for the US backing of the Israeli government’s explicitly genocidal agenda right now. And President Biden personally has been holding this Netanyahu government at arm’s length for the past several months; he would not allow Netanyahu to meet with him in the White House because of how much he was capitulating to the far-right ministers in his cabinet. And to act like that about-face is about the safety of the Jewish people is extremely offensive. It’s unconscionable and dangerous, and it’s very important for us to be mobilizing as Jews to say: Not in our name. How dare you invoke us right now? How dare you make us, who are grieving the biggest attack on Jewish Israelis in decades, come through our grief to your doors right now because you are specifically invoking our name and our safety to justify your backing of this genocide? And the strength of the US Imperial interests (that have been backing US unconditional support for Israel for decades) needs to be challenged by a broader anti-war movement that is so much bigger than the Palestinian rights movement plus the Jewish left. We absolutely need everyone, both from a solidarity perspective but also from a practical and strategic perspective. The times when our side, broadly, has won against the array of forces that are opposing us have been when we have united more broadly—as a left, as a progressive movement, even as Democrats. The scale of the shift that needs to happen around the US’s role is global, and we need everyone who was impacted by it to join together. Obviously, that shouldn’t have to take a genocide. But we are living in the world we live in. This is the situation we are in. And it’s one of the things that this moment demands: for that type of coalition to start to come together.

MC: Emmaia, I wonder if you want to jump in?

EG: I do. I went to the protest in Washington DC that Elena organized and Eva spoke at; it was incredible to be there with five thousand people. It was also (as many of the anti-Zionist Jewish protests are) one of the queerest places I’ve ever been. And I think that matters. I do think that having Jewish voices speak out matters, but I want to push back on the idea that we need to organize as Jews and then in coalition. Because, as everyone has mentioned, the forces that are propping up Israel use Jews and use the idea of Jewish safety and charges of antisemitism against anybody who opposes them. But they don’t care about Jews. They don’t even particularly care about Jewish organizations. So, if we cordon off our organizing so that it requires speaking with a Jewish Voice, rather than simply finally saying: Actually, nobody is down with this, and everybody has the right to speak about it, and these accusations about antisemitism are bullshit—that’s actually a strength that we have not yet tapped.

Jews Against the Occupation spent a lot of our first years saying, “As a Jew, as a Jew, as a Jew,” to the point where it became kind of a joke. And at some point, we stepped back from that and had a reckoning with it. I don’t know that we ever stopped saying it, but it became clear to us that we were fencing-off this conversation as a conversation that needed to be had by Jews rather than a conversation just about liberation or about what’s right. And it’s very hard to retreat from that because Jewish voices are so privileged in this conversation. But the other reason that it’s important to stop accepting that framing is because what’s become clear in the last 20 years is that the bulk of Jewish institutions—in fact, maybe all of Jewish institutional life—that purports to be about Jewish life is actually infrastructure of the political right. So, it feels very unlikely that a groundswell of even the tens of thousands of Jews that Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow are organizing can militate against a communal infrastructure with funding and political connections that’s fundamentally an infrastructure of the right. So even though I completely feel the importance of speaking against something that’s being done in our names, I also really want to advocate for the presence of Jews outside of Jewish spaces.

I’ll just add one more thing, which is that the failures that Elena spoke to, which we all feel so much—we didn’t speak loud enough, we didn’t talk loud enough about how charges of antisemitism are weaponized, we didn’t talk loud enough about the murder of civilians and the murder of protesters. It’s not just that we didn’t talk loud enough; it’s that Jews can’t move that, right? That’s an imperial power. We can’t move it unless we expand out. So, I feel so strongly that we need Jews—in addition to doing Jewish organizing—to also do non-Jewish organizing.

ES: On this note, I would say multiple things are true at once. It is extremely true that what we’re actually dealing with here is imperialism, and to fight it, we need everyone. It is also true that we do not want to reify the privileging of Jewish voices in this struggle that is a life-and-death struggle for Palestinians, that everyone should be part of. It is also true that we have a particular responsibility to pull our own communities away from Zionism, and white supremacy, and ideologies that are destroying people’s lives and bring them towards anti-Zionism and the struggle for collective liberation. It doesn’t mean that we overstate what we’re capable of alone. We don’t aim to do it alone; we aim to play our part. We aim to take responsibility for what is ours so that others can play their role without being shot down. On a different note, Emmaia was very kind to say that I organized last Wednesday’s action in DC. What I want to say there is there was actually an incredible team of about a dozen member leaders who dropped everything in their lives; they got out of work, they drove to DC, and from the moment they woke up to the moment that they were going to sleep, they were organizing this demonstration. So, I really just want to lift up how many ordinary people right now are just dropping everything to make this extraordinary organizing happen.

EB: I feel so grateful to have our movement elders (or micro-generations of movement elders) here with us, and so grateful for your experience. I’m chuckling at learning where the “As a Jew,” (one word, all in quotes) that people often quote-tweet us comes from. That that was you all, and just feeling grateful to learn from the decades of organizing that have come before us, especially as IfNotNow was founded by younger Jews. I was born in 1996, post-Oslo, and just feel really grateful to feel connected to organizing history in this moment. And I feel grateful and heartened to hear you say the things that I’ve been thinking about how we can’t do this alone, and how we are up against US imperialism and this broader war machine, and we can’t win by ourselves. I also want to say that, because of movements like Jews Against the Occupation, because of JVP, and New Jewish Agenda, and other organizing that has come in the past—and also because of the past decade of an explosion of the Jewish left, that Jewish Currents is part of, that JVP’s growth since 2014 is part of, that IfNotNow’s founding as part of—40% of Jews under age 40 think that Israel is an apartheid state, and 25% of Jews overall. And they’re organized, and they’re loud. And I’ve been thinking about IfNotNow’s very first protest against Operation Protective Edge in Gaza with 50 young Jews in 2014. And then that escalated to 500. And this time around, we had a mourner’s Kaddish in the very first days after October 7, where we started with hundreds of people, and Brad Lander and City Council members were there. And the robustness of the Jewish left that is coming in to take on this moment has been a result of those decades of organizing.

One other thing about what happened in the first few days after October 7, was that on October 8, only two of our nine staff members had been on staff for longer than one or two years, and our average age was, like, 27, and we felt so terrified. How could we possibly meet the moment that was about to happen? We also didn’t really understand the nature of—the amount of organizing that would be required, because none of us had ever been through anything like this before. And the founders of our movement, people who had been involved from 2014 to 2020 or so, came back, and so many people were leaving their jobs to come back and throw down full-time, and soon, our team of nine was a team of 20, 30, etc. There was a period when I was calling and other people were calling five friends a day, saying: Will you leave your job for a week, two weeks, two months? We know that this is not going to be over quickly, and we need support. You know, calling friends who haven’t been organizing for a long time and saying: This is the moment of our lifetimes. We need to stop a genocide and we need you. And hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people have been throwing down in ways that, in the face of this horrific situation, are one of the only things making me feel hopeful.

MC: Now I’m a reporter who covers these issues, but I previously did organize in Chicago with IfNotNow from 2016 to 2019 or so. It really has been amazing to see the numbers of people who have shown up now and the way that there has been this this groundswell of support. So I’ve been quite moved by that, and also really interested in terms of what that means going forward. Are we going to continue to see mobilization? Are these people that we are welcoming into the movement for a long term? It’s been interesting to me, but definitely really meaningful.

EB: Totally. And of course, it’s not enough. And of course, we will never have as much power as the Jewish right or as the US war machine, but I can’t help feeling like there are ways in which we actually have a shot, and that’s because of, again, the past decade and decades prior.

MC: Emmaia, do you want to jump in with anything there?

EG: I want to be clear that it’s so incredibly important to have institutions, to reach for power, even though we also want to be transforming power. I wish that we could move out of this framework of always having to build in the same model as what exists; to stop having to say “As a Jew,” to stop trying to build institutions that compete with right-wing institutions that are much stronger. And at the same time, to watch it happen is so incredible and reflects (as Eva was saying) the absolute burgeoning of a Jewish left, which was deliberately destroyed by Jewish institutions in the 50s and 60s. So there is a success here. The success may not be ending apartheid, or decolonizing—we’re still on the road. But the success and restoring what the right deliberately tried to pull away, is actually quite striking.

EB: I’m personally terrified of the backlash, also. You know, whenever there’s something worth winning, there’s also a real chance that we will lose. And obviously, we’re losing thousands of lives because of genocide. There’s a potential broader regional war that is gathering steam, and also there are serious attempts (that will pick up) to destroy the Jewish left that has reemerged in recent years. And at least for now, the way that we resist that is to keep organizing and keep having more people from more sectors of society coming out of the woodwork. And so, across the country, we will continue doing direct action in offices of our members of Congress, as well as in the streets with other organizations, and partners, and Palestinians, and this burgeoning anti-war movement, until we get a ceasefire, and then until we address the root causes of this nightmare of occupation and apartheid, and reach equality, justice, and a thriving future for all.

MC: Obviously, one of the organizations that has been part of that backlash is the Anti-Defamation League, which explicitly has called the JVP and IfNotNow protests antisemitic because they are anti-Zionist. It’s been interesting to watch that. It’s not surprising, because that’s the direction the ADL has been going in recent years in terms of—that they are specifically targeting anti-Zionist organizations as antisemitic, and that they are calling them equivalent to the far right as this other form of extremist antisemites. And I’m really curious about what’s going to happen, how they are going to try to spread that message. I think that if people are seeing all of these bodies in the streets, and seeing this powerful protest, and these rabbis, and that many people getting arrested—is the ADL calling it antisemitic going to hold power in public opinion? I don’t want to be too naive about it, but I have serious questions about whether they’re going to successfully be able to push that narrative.

EG: The ADL actually just announced that it sent a letter to 200 universities and colleges, requesting that they investigate their campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for possible violation of the law prohibiting support of a foreign terrorist organization. So that’s a strong indication that it’s not just a Jewish left that needs to unite to fight the ADL, but, in fact, a much larger set of folks (which I’m very happy to say is happening in the form of Drop the ADL, which is a campaign and coalition and aggregation that folks can plug into). But that’s exactly sort of the convergence of Jewish organizing and not Jewish organizing that I think will strengthen our fight against the right. We need to come together and just say we won’t accept that. That’s an all together kind of a thing.

MC: I think that’s a great place for us to end. I think this really gets to the heart of the tensions and conversations that a lot of us have been carrying in the last few weeks, which is: How do we attend to these multiple griefs and violences at once? Also, how do we think about the importance of speaking up as a Jew without reifying dynamics within this work in which Jewish voices are privileged, while still being able to maintain broader coalitions? I think it’s a really important conversation to have. I’m glad that we could have it on this podcast, and I imagine that these questions are going to continue to be live going forward. So, thank you so much for being here. Thanks for coming.

ES: It’s an honor to be in conversation with each of you and to be in this struggle with each of you.

MC: Thank you to all of our listeners for listening to this episode of On the Nose. If you liked what you heard, you can subscribe, leave us a rating or leave us a review. Also subscribe to Jewish Currents at Jewish Currents.org. Thanks, everybody.

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