I was raised in a Conservative Jewish family by a mother and father who had endured incredible prejudice in Russia and Poland which led them to flee. I was raised in an East European Socialist Jewish environment in which one was taught from childhood that to be a Jew meant that one had to support the rights of all people. I was educated to believe that as a Jew it was impossible for me to oppress others or to support policies that made others suffer. Israel Sociologist Eva Illouz in a recent interview with Der Spiegel clearly outlined what has happened to Israelis as a result of half a century of being a colonial power ruling over Arabs. From the day when the West Bank became the center of Jewish settlements that, essentially drove out Palestinian land owners, the people of Israel have grown to accept their “right” to posses the land of others. Generation after generation has grown up living in a world in which Jews seize land of Palestinians, walls are constructed to prevent Jews from interacting with Palestinians, and the old dream of equality has gone bvy the boards.
According to Illouz, “Isral has a split schizophrenic self awareness. It cultivates its strengths and yet cannot stop seeing itself as weak and threatened…Israel is a colonial military power, a militarized society, and a democracy all folded into one. Israel has lost the capacity to identify with the suffering of a distant other.” Since Hamas is a vicious anti-Semitic entity, most Israelis feel justified in hating Arabs who they regard as inferior and a threat to the existence of Israel. “Fear is central to the psyche of Israel.” In other words, the “Jewishness has hijacked democracy.” Just about every action taken against Palestinians was taken against their ancestors in Europe. Just about every comment regarding Palestinians was made about Jews in Europe. Dirty, evil, criminals, can not be trusted, name any evil uttered about Arabs and it is an evil attributed to Jews in Europe.
Can any changes be made in this equation of hate? Perhaps, it is necessary for American Jews to assume responsibility for working with Israelis in an effort to connect them with their past. The “past” I refer to is that being a Jew means one fights for social justice for all. Being a Jew means that one supports the dream of a society based on equity. Perhaps, it is time for Israelis to journey to America and connect with their democratic past?