Opinion pieces in the Voice of OC like that of June 8 use analytical frameworks grounded in constructs of white supremacy versus people of color to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They use terms like “apartheid,” “racism” and “settler colonialism,” which they claim are supported by so-called authorities and are therefore indisputable. While this Western-centric prism may help us understand Western challenges, and particularly the ongoing structural racism experienced in America, it is ill-suited to the non-Western conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Referencing it warps our understanding of the conflict, and tragically, drives both sides further away from peace.
Jewish history and the contemporary reality in Israel belie the fallacy of this prism. The Jewish story began and has flourished in, and is existentially linked to Palestine, the name the Romans gave to Israel after expelling Jews in 70 CE in an attempt to erase their identity-based connection to their homeland. The attempt failed because (a) there was never a time when Jews did not live in the Holy Land, and (b) the Jewish people remained deeply connected to Israel. They never stopped praying for, writing about and dreaming of their return. Moreover, today, the majority of Israeli Jews are not ‘white’ as that term is understood in the West. They are the descendants of, or are themselves immigrants and refugees from, the Middle East and North Africa, whose forbearers lived in the region for millennia. Jews have thus always inhabited the Middle East and were never absent from Israel. At the same time, their brothers and sisters in Europe contemporized and actualized the notion of Jewish return in a project of self-determination in at least part of their homeland as the only way to ensure their physical and spiritual survival, both of which were under grave threat in Europe.
But these are not the only reasons why an American lens is the wrong one for the conflict. As my colleague, Jeremy Burton writes, “Before systemic racism was the foundational sin of the American project, anti-Judaism was the original sin of Western Civilization. In the civilization from which America is birthed, Jews are the original “other.” We were tortured and slaughtered, demonized and blood libeled, ghettoed and expelled; this went on for nearly two millennia before the consequential and “final” solution of the genocide of the Holocaust.”
When progressives apply the concept of unity among people of color in order to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and against Jews, they ignore the reality of Jewishness in the Middle East and the European Jewish experience. Simply put, they try to force the round peg of Western-based structural racism into the square hole of the Middle East conflict, which might seem like a good idea, but it just doesn’t fit.
What it does is seek to once again erase the indigenous and unbroken Jewish connection to the land and to deny Jewish history. Tragically for Israelis, Palestinians and Jews worldwide, these efforts fuel antisemitic activity, evidenced by the recent global uptick of assaults against Jews by opponents of Israel, and prove unhelpful in arriving at a just peace for all.
This is not to minimize Palestinian suffering. Their profound privation must not be ignored. Nor should real issues of racism and inequality in Israel which Israel must address. But that does not change the fact that this painful and enduring conflict is between two indigenous peoples struggling to share one homeland.
Rather than perpetuate inaccurate, demonizing and divisive frameworks, what if we considered how the trajectory of Israeli-Palestinian relations in the Middle East, and relations between communities here at home, might improve if we were to collectively support investment in real and lasting peace? Despite the recent violence in the region, or perhaps because of it, Palestinians and Israelis are standing together in opposition to conflict, determined to build a new reality based on peace, security, justice, and equality. Peacebuilding groups led by these visionaries need our help.
The U.S. Congress recently made a bold commitment to peace when it passed the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, pledging $250 million over the next five years to the region’s peacebuilders. However, as the events of last month show, this is not enough. We must call on other nations to join the U.S. in a generational project to transform the lived experiences and attitudes of Israelis and Palestinians. This is an opportunity to do for the Middle East what the International Fund for Ireland did in Ireland, where the U.S. and its partners created an institution that helped to deliver sustainable peace.
Regardless of our politics, we can find common ground in the belief that Israelis and Palestinians desperately need to achieve a peaceful coexistence. There is a critical role for all of us who care about human dignity, peace, and truth to support those who live in the region and are working to build a better future for both peoples.
Lisa Armony is Chief Impact Officer of Jewish Federation of Orange County. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer.
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