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Not My Zion: American Jews Divided on Israel and Palestine

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Photo courtesy of Ma'an News.

The American consensus on Israel and Palestine is breaking down. And Jewish Americans are playing a major role. But it’s not easy. On this edition: a Jewish American community divided. More and more ‘members of the tribe’ are breaking a long-standing taboo, and voicing criticism of the Israeli government.

Featuring:

Kayla Starr, Alexi Folger, & Joel Franquist; Jewish Voice for Peace members; Rob Kampeas, Jewish Telegraphic Agency Washington Bureau chief; Hadar Suskind, J Street vice president for strategy and policy; Alan Elsner, Israel Project communications director; Lynn Woolsey, California congresswoman; Elizabeth Weinstein, Mark Treas & Roe, Jewish Anti-Zionism conference participants; Greg Hom, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network organizer; Deborah Kaufman & Alan Snitow, Between Two Worlds directors; Julie Feldman, Josh Schlessinger, Birthright participants; Joe Perlov, Israel Experts CEO.

Special thanks to Left Tilt Fund for partial funding of this program.

AUDIO/Video EXTRAS:

J-Street Challenges AIPAC

When it comes to US policy toward Israel, there has been one major voice shaping the debate. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee-generally referred to as AIPAC. The powerful lobbying group has been the guiding voice on the issue nearly as long as Israel has been a state…then 3 years ago, a new voice emerged — “J Street.” The group started with 3 employees, and from laptops at their kitchen tables J Street has grown to 50 staffers, and 175-thousand members across the country. They are, by their own definition, ‘Pro-Israel’ – But just what ‘pro-Israel means varies widely both in and outside the beltway…and since their founding, J-street has been subject to intense scrutiny of their funding, their relationships, and their allegiances. From Washington DC, Emily Friedman brings us the story of one of the most divisive Jewish groups in America

How Birthright Israel Works its Magic-produced by Kiera Feldman

Well aware of the need to shape the perspectives of future generations, the Israeli government, along with Jewish foundations and philanthropists, teamed up in 1999 to create what’s called the ‘birthright’ program. Any Jew under 27 years of age can sign up for an all-expense paid, 10 day trip to Israel. More than 250 thousand people have taken part in birthright, which includes tours of holy and historical sights, discussions on the history of Israel and the Jews, and lots of partying.

Birthright has been criticized for its one-sided history lessons, which some call propaganda. In 2010, journalist Kiera Feldman brought her audio recorder along on her birthright experience. She produced this piece for the Nation magazine, portions of which appeared on WBAI radio’s Beyond the Pale.

1st Ever Jewish Anti-Zionist Conference

In June 2010, more than 200 ‘anti-Zionists’ held a 3-day conference in Detroit, MI.

BDS Israel (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Campaign Gains Steam with
TIAA-CREF Protest

Full Length interview with Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, directors of
Between Two Worlds

Trailer for Between Two Worlds

For more information:

Jewish Voice For Peace
J Street
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)
Between Two Worlds
We Divest
Tikkun Magazine, A Jewish Magazine, an Interfaith Movement
Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) Movement
Middle East Children’s Alliance
JTA-Jewish telegraphic Agency
Israel Experts
The Israel Project
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
US Assembly of Jews Confronting Racism and Israeli Apartheid 2010
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
WBAI’s Beyond the Pale
True Torah: Jews Against Zionism
Thru Jerusalem by Ophir Kutiel 
Emergence Travel Agency—Invincible

Articles/Videos, etc.:

How Birthright Israel Works its Magic by Kiera Feldman
The Romance of Birthright Israel by Kiera Feldman
The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: A Study by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University
Life After Zionist Summer Camp by Allison Benedikt
Interview with Kiera Feldman
My Taglit-Birthright Israel experience by Rachel Marcuse
The Jews behind BDS
For American Jews, Dissent Against Israel Has Become Mainstream
Upheaval Productions interview with Dr. Hajo Meyer

Music:

“Thru Jerusalem” by Ophir Kutiel
“People Not Places” by Invincible

SCRIPT

Hom: “Anytime anyone says anything about Palestine, you get called a self-hating Jew, you get called a traitor, all these things.”

BLBRD: “As American Jews, we are the ones who have access and the potential to catalyze a transformation in Israeli culture and belief systems.”

Andrew Stelzer: The American consensus on Israel and Palestine is breaking down.  And Jewish Americans are playing a major role.  But it’s not easy.

BLBRD-Kaufman

Andrew Stelzer: On this edition…a Jewish American community divided.  More and more members of the tribe are breaking a long-standing taboo, and voicing criticism of the Israel government. I’m Andrew Stelzer, and this is Making Contact.  A program connecting people, vital ideas, and important information.

Singing (to the tune of “hello mudda”) “catapiller, youre a killer..”

Andrew Stelzer: It’s a warm winter day’s in San Francisco’s financial district.  As businessmen scurry, a small group of people are holding signs and singing songs about a boycott.

Kayla Starr: “My name is Kayla Star and I’m a Jewish woman whose concerned about the treatment that the Israeli government is been using against the Palestinians.  Killing them, jailing, them, walling them off, destroying their houses.  And so im part of an international campaign to divest…from Israel, to put economic pressure on Israel to change its policies towards Palestinians who are being oppressed.”

Andrew Stelzer: This protest is being held outside the offices of retirement investment firm, TIAA-CREF, the 87th largest corporation in America.  One of TIAA CREF’s investments, is in the Caterpillar company – the makers of construction equipment, and according to protester Alexi Folger, that’s not all.

Alexi Folger: “they make D-9, mechanized weaponized bulldozers.  The only customer for those bulldozers is the Israeli army.  They do one thing, they are not construction equipment, they are destruction equipment..  they are used to destroy Palestinians homes, uproot olive trees, which are an important economic resources, and they have injured and killed civilians, including Rachel Corrie, who was run over by a caterpillar D-9 bulldozer while trying to defend a Palestinian home from destruction.”

Singing (to the tune of dradel)

“dozer dozer, dozer, I smash your house to clay….so boycott, boycott, boycott,…stop funding apartheid..”

Andrew Stelzer: This action is part of a growing nationwide campaign which is referred to in shorthand as “BDS”.  It stands for Boycotting, Divesting and Sanctioning both the state of Israel, and companies that play some role in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

SINGING BACK UP

“…so boycott, boycott, boycott,…stop funding apartheid..”

The BDS campaign has targeted a few big companies, including Motorola, Northrup Grummun, and Caterpillar,  which aid in constructing Jewish settlements, or the separation wall, among other Israeli government initiatives,

Activist Joel Franquist, has several thousand dollars invested with TIAA_CREF–in a retirement fund from a previous job .  He says he thinks the campaign has a chance, because TIAA-CREF  prides itself on being socially responsible.

Joel Franquist: “They divested from Darfur, and companies doing business in Sudan, and so we see ourselves as just asking them to do a similar thing, to include the Israel-Palestine Conflict.”

Andrew Stelzer: TIAA–CREF hasn’t budget so far, but the BDS campaign is gaining steam.  Students at more than 17 Universities across the US have raised the issue of divestment with their administration or student government.  Some musicians and filmmakers have refused to perform in Israel, including Elvis Costello and Jean Luc Goddard.  Most telling, in July 2011, the Israeli government passed a law making it illegal for anyone in the country to publicly call for a boycott of Israel.  One possible reason for the success—a major component of the campaign has been the participation of Jews, and in particular, a group called ‘Jewish Voice For Peace’, which organized today’s protest.  Franquist is a member.

Joel Franquist: “It is true, fortunately or unfortunately, that as a Jew people may pay more attention to my opinion on this issue than if I weren’t.”

Andrew Stelzer: Changing public opinion, and government policy has brought American Jewish activists into a head on collision with one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States.  The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, generally referred to as AIPAC, has been the guiding voice for Congress on the issue, for nearly as long as Israel has been a state. But, in 2008  a new voice emerged – calling themselves “J Street.”

The group started with 3 employees, and from laptops at their kitchen tables, J Street has grown to 50 staffers, and 175-thousand members across the country.  They are, by their own definition, ‘Pro-Israel’, just like AIPAC – But just what ‘pro-Israel’ means varies widely both inside and outside the beltway.

From Washington DC, Emily Friedman brings us the story of one of the most divisive Jewish groups in America

J-STREET STORY by Emily Friedman 5:00-12:36

BREAK

Andrew Stelzer: You’re listening to “Making Contact,” a production of the National Radio Project.  If you’d like more information or for C-D copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736. To find out how to support us, download shows or get our podcast, go to radioproject.org We now return to Not My Zion: American Jews Divided on Israel and Palestine

people introduce themselves—going around in circle

Andrew Stelzer: A group of about 20 people are sitting in a circle introducing themselves, in a basement room near Wayne State University in Detroit.  This 3-day conference is the first one ever organized by the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. 

TK 00 1:00—people introduce themselves—going around in circle (laughter)

Andrew Stelzer: Most of the 200 or so people here are young Americans, with a sprinkling of internationals.  Oberlin College student Elizabeth Weinstein is one of many here who say their religion, and their entire culture, has been hijacked by an ideology that they don’t share.  And it’s very difficult to even express those feelings in the American Jewish community.

Elizabeth Weinstein: “It’s really ingrained, you can criticize what Israel is doing, but it’s frowned upon as a Jew to be anti Zionist, its dangerous to something we worked so hard to fight, and make for ourselves.  That’s a dangerous assumption and being at a conference that’s explicitly anti-Zionist is exhilarating for me.”

Andrew Stelzer: The term anti-Zionist is kind of hard to define, but loosely, it means, everyone here opposes the idea that Israel should exclusively belong to Jews, and specifically, they don’t support ill treatment of Palestinians in the name of creating that Zionist homeland in Israel.

Some people here are religious, some not at all.  Most say this is the first time they’ve had a safe, but public, space to express their views.

Greg Hom:“The first line of attack against people, when they discuss Palestine, is that they’re anti-Semitic. So, that state claims to speak for all Jews. We’re here saying it doesn’t.”

Andrew Stelzer: Conference organizer Greg Hom works with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.

Hom: “People who are in Jewish community are intimidated by mainstream Jewish community to not say these kinds of things.…Anytime anyone says anything about Palestine, you get called a self-hating Jew, you get called a traitor, all these things…

Traes: “This is a joint struggle, I think this is a struggle that belongs to the jews, and the Palestinians.  The Palestinians are the ones who are getting the sharp end of the stick.”

Andrew Stelzer: Mark Treas, moved from Russia, to Israel when he was 5, and then came to the US 5 years ago, at age 21.  He still has a brother who lives in Israel, and says he struggles in conversations with his own family—but he feels he has to try.

Treas: “…the only people who can physically end occupation are the jews in Palestine or Israel…as American Jews, we are the ones who have access and the potential to catalyze a transformation in Israeli culture and belief systems.  That’s why the first step lies in diaspora, as a Jewish movement that can infect Israeli Jews.”

Andrew Stelzer: The young people at this anti-Zionism conference are by all accounts, a small minority.  But their very existence indicates a growing disenchantment with Israel, particularly among young Jews.

Well aware of the need to shape the perspectives of future generations, the Israeli government, along with Jewish foundations and philanthropists, teamed up in 1999 to create what’s called the ‘birthright’ program.  Any Jew under 27 years of age can sign up for an all-expense paid, 10 day trip to Israel.   More than 250 thousand people have taken part in birthright, which includes tours of holy and historical sights, discussions on the history of Israel and the Jews, and lots of partying.

Birthright has been criticized for it’s one-sided history lessons, which some call propaganda.  In 2010, journalist Kiera Feldman brought her audio recorder along on her birthright experience.  Here are some excerpts from a piece she produced for WBAI radio’s Beyond the Pale.

BIRTHRIGHT by Kiera Feldman 17:00-22:26

Andrew Stelzer: Those were some excerpts from Kiera Feldmans radio piece ‘How Birthright Israel Works it’s Magic”.  You can find links to the full audio and accompanying article in the Nation Magazine at our website, radioproject-dot-org.  That story is one of an increasing body of media being produced, exploring the question of Jewish identity, and who gets to define what it is.

A new full length film which touches on birthright, the boycott of Israel, J-street, and many of the topics we’ve addressed in this show, is called Between Two Worlds, here’s a clip from the movie’s trailer, and when we come back, we’ll hear from the directors of the film.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS TRAILER CLIP

BTW interview WITH DIRECTORS 24:00-29:00

Andrew Stelzer: That’s it for this edition of Making Contact.

You can hear extended length interviews with some of the people featured in this show, on our website, radioproject-dot-org. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.

For a CD copy of this program, call the National Radio Project at 800 529-5736, or check out our website at radioproject.org to get a podcast, download past shows, or make a difference by supporting our work.  Like Making Contact on Facebook, or follow us on twitter—our handle is Making, underscore, contact.

Lisa Rudman is our Executive Director; Kyung Jin Lee and Esther Manilla, producers; Irene Florez, Web Editor, Karl Jagbandhansingh, Volunteer Coordinator; Lisa Bartfai, production intern, And Barbara Barnett, Dan Turner, Alfonso Hooker, Ron Rucker, Alton Byrd, Alex Collins, Katherine Brousseau, Katherine Lee, and Dashal Moore volunteers.

 

 

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Author: IreneFlorez

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this fascinating segment. It’s important Americans learn more about Jewish culture in America, and its politics etc. and you’ve made a great contribution to that.. At least, I learned from it. Never heard of this “Birthright” program, for instance. And I need to understand more about the ethnic purity thing, encouraging young Jews to marry only other Jews.

    I’ll confess to having little interest generally to other subcultures, age groups, etc. and my primary interest in Jews is the fact that the US government has been somehow influenced to support the state of Israel to such an extent it’s adverse to the national interests of the U.S. I’m an antiwar worker and regard Israeli policies as one of the processes spawning wars in recent decades. Thus, it is impossible to avoid examination of Jewish culture and Israel.

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