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The Kibbitznik: What You Don’t Need to Justify

Alyssa Goldstein
August 9, 2011
by Alyssa Goldstein At some point in our lives, all of us are going to make decisions which we feel the need to justify. This is especially true when our decisions seem strange or unpopular, like marrying someone your family hates, or dropping out of med school to become a street performer, or turning your house into a cat hostel. But sometimes, justifying our words and actions in a certain way can be a mistake. Specifically, justifying any criticism of Israel with a chorus of “But I’m pro-Israel! This is for Israel’s good! [The occupation, the boycott law, the Gaza blockade, the Nakba law, the attack on the flotilla, etc, etc] are really making Israel look bad!” You don’t need to do that. All of these things may indeed be bad for Israel and make Israel look bad. But they don’t have to be in order for you to criticize them. It is simply enough that they be oppressive towards the Palestinians. That is the only reason you need. If you’re talking about racism, you don’t need to first go on about how it’s bad for white people. If you’re talking about sexism, you don’t need to first go on about how it’s bad for men. In fact, it would be pretty insulting if you did so, because you’d be erasing who the real targets are of these oppressions. Same goes for the Palestinians. Offender #1: The New York Times. I was reading it a few weeks ago (which I don’t do very often anymore, since the fact that I don’t own a yacht or a handful of extra mansions puts me outside of its target demographic) and I saw this little bit on Israel’s new anti-boycott law in the op-ed section: “Advocates said the law was needed to prevent efforts to ‘delegitimize’ Israel, but no country can be delegitimized if it holds true to its democratic principles. Opponents are already challenging the law in court. We hope they succeed, for Israel’s sake.” I don’t believe that a country engaged in a colonization project beyond its borders (that is what settlement-building is, after all) and without equal protection for minorities can truly be considered democratic. I also find it telling that the Times simply declares itself “against boycotts of Israel” and does not seem to find any justification necessary for that. (One day I’ll write a post about folks who entreated the Palestinians to resist nonviolently and pined about the lack of Palestinian Gandhis, Mandelas and MLKs but now gasp and clutch their pearls about the nonviolent boycott movement being ever so extreme.) But let’s leave all that aside for now and focus instead on the last sentence. “We hope they succeed, for Israel’s sake.” Would it have killed you, New York Times, to hope they succeed for Palestine’s sake? Or are Palestinians too scary and different to identify with? Are they simply beneath consideration? Offender #2: J Street. The “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” group is better than AIPAC, but I think we can do better than that. I’d like to highlight a J Street U petition that was circulated around Bard (my college campus) as part of a campaign to allow students from Gaza to study in the West Bank. It’s called the “Be a Real Friend to Israel” petition and it reads:
Dear Representative __________, I am writing to let you know that I support the President’s efforts to promote a peaceful two-state solution even when it means publicly disagreeing with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Sometimes, even a public disagreement can be an act of true friendship. 
As a college student and a J Street U supporter, I understand that a true friend will tell me the advice I need to hear, not the advice I necessarily want to hear. The Obama Administration has condemned recent actions by both the Palestinian Authority—including the naming of a Ramallah street after a Hamas terror mastermind—and the Government of Israel—including the announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem. [Emphasis added.] I am writing to ask that you publicly support the Obama Administration’s acts of true friendship to both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I also ask you to support the Administration’s future acts of true friendship to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a supporter of Israel, I believe that only through a two-state solution will Israel finally know real peace and security.
When I went up to the J Street U table in our dining hall and saw that sentence about street names and settlements, I was quite peeved. I told my J Street friends that I would not be signing their petition, even though I thought the cause of allowing Gazan students freedom to pursue their studies was a worthy one. Israel has streets named after Menachem Begin (former Prime Minister and head of the Irgun, responsible for the King David Hotel bombing) all over the place, I told them. The petition equates naming a street with building settlements in East Jerusalem as if they were somehow equivalent acts. It treats Palestinian actions as if they are inherently more threatening than Israeli actions--a common and insidious stereotype that I believe is tied up in racist notions of Arabs as inherently violent and dangerous. “We’re just trying to work within the system,” my J Street friends told me. I’m aware that J Street, like any organization, is not a monolith. In fact, that same campus J Street group helped our Just Peace in Israel/Palestine group run a successful workshop on the meaning of Apartheid and if it applies to Israel/Palestine--certainly a controversial topic for a group like J Street. But it’s always important to keep in mind that if working within the system means demeaning the very people you are trying to “help,” that’s unjustifiable.