Testimony 7: Alex
Although there are certainly many overt examples of anti-Palestinian racism in the wider British Jewish community, one only has to browse the editorials and comments at the JC or read the occasional outbursts of certain members of the BoD to come face to face with naked bigotry. As a member of Liberal Judaism, I feel that our leaders and institutions have always tried to present a balanced view of the Occupation. However, I can’t help but reflect on the many times that we as a community have fallen short of these aspirations.
During my time on Israel Tour and the Shnat gap year programme there was an unwillingness to speak of Palestinians as a distinct people and culture. Too often the label of Palestinian, when they weren’t being grouped as a mass of interchangeable faceless Arabs spreading from Mauritania to Oman, was limited only to those in foreign refugee camps and the occupied territories whilst those who had Israeli citizenship were merely Israeli-Arabs. At best we were taught to pity them as victims of a tragic, but necessary, set of circumstances that has placed us and them on an inevitable collision course of irreconcilable differences. At worst, we were taught to fear them as a vindictive mass who seek revenge against the Jewish people.
Whenever we would speak with Palestinians it was always within a narrow context of some particular group engaging with the injustices of the occupation, but we never really spent time speaking or socialising with Palestinians even as we were told about the importance of dialogue between Jews and Palestinians. As far as I can remember, there were only a handful of times we engaged with Palestinians outside the direct context of the occupation – like once when we were taken to speak with Ahmadi Muslims in Haifa who highlighted their commonalities with us as a religious reform movement, or another time when we were taken to a kitschy Bedouin tourist trap, or when we went to go meet a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who volunteered to serve in the IDF. In all these cases it seemed that the purpose was more to hammer home how tolerant and pluralistic Israel was in spite of the occupation that, we all of course knew and agreed, was an injustice that would need addressing in some abstract sense.
Attempts to present both sides of the conflict would often fall into a simplistic and false balance. One day we took a trip into the West Bank and visited Hebron. We spent most of the day speaking to right-wing Israeli settlers who would talk about how the Arab mindset only understands and respects force, how American Jewry was letting us all down due to their support for then President Obama, and why the Palestinians were an imaginary nationality created to undermine Jews. Only at the end did we save some time to speak to a local group of Palestinian activists and left-wing Israeli IDF veterans who opposed settler violence.