An old monophonic record player stood in a corner of the living room in the house where I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island. My parents were committed to the quixotic quest for equality and we danced, yes danced, to catchy record tunes that my parents brought home from B’nai B’rith meetings. Many are acquainted with the work of the agency within the B’nai B’rith, the Anti-Defamation League. The League addressed many of the strands of hatred both then and now that are so rampant in the US. Unfortunately, the League hitched its admirable star to the divisive issue of Jewish identity, connecting that identity with unquestioning support for Israel. Unquestioning support of Israel today affects the contemporary plight of the Palestinian people who live in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The 1950s and early 1960s were simpler times when we listened to those catchy tunes about not discriminating against other people because of their skin color or religious affiliation, at least that’s how we saw the era through the eyes of children. Anti-communism, the spread of nuclear weapons and fear of a nuclear holocaust, and the staid society we lived in were absent in the life of many children. The lives of many poor children were also absent from our sight, except for the poor families with whom we were friends in that small town.
As the right to statehood of the Palestinian people became more widely known beginning in the decade of the 1960s, more Jews took sides that some would view as an attack against the simple and profound Jewish pronouncement to stop doing to others that which you do not want to be done to you (“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”).
A part of the 1960s and early 1970s peace movement made the cause of a Palestinian state one of their cause(s) célèbre, sometimes turning that righteous position into a form of political theater, opening up the peace movement to criticism by those looking to subvert the cause for a Palestinian state. Rhetoric sometimes trumped analysis in segments of the New Left. We were young and we sometimes acted foolishly, even when intentions were good.
Anti-communism morphed into the War on Terror as the decades passed, seemingly seamlessly, and Jews in Israel and the US sometimes took opposing views about a Palestinian state in nearly opposite numbers.
I was struck when a relative whose parents had suffered through the Holocaust in Europe said to me in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium that “The only good Arab is a dead one.” Forgetting the use of words for a second, the near complete lack of knowledge and compassion, which is a requisite value among many Jews, was completely absent from that relative’s moral compass.
I think that the moral high ground for many liberals and left Jews in the US was lost, to a degree, when many supported the Bakke case. Although the Supreme Court allowed affirmative action to remain in effect in that decision in 1978, it eradicated the idea of quotas for specific groups in the college admissions process. While I was in favor of Allan Bakke becoming a doctor, I could see the dividing line of Jewish support for the underdog begin its erosion. The larger issue here was how systems of discrimination negatively impacted the educational aspirations of classes of people who traditionally had experienced discrimination. I would rather dance to the song (by Hy Zaret) that my parents brought home from a B’nai B’rith meeting in the 50s:
You can get white milk from a brown-skinned cow
The color of its skin doesn’t matter nohow
Ho, ho, hum
Hee, hee, hee
The color of its skin doesn’t matter to me.
Here’s a modern version of this beautiful anti-racist song. Here, I like the words “good milk” better than “white milk.” As a vegan, I don’t drink milk, but this song is one I can still get up and dance to!
In “Critics of Affirmative Action Temper Their Opposition,” Washington Post, December 22, 2002, several Jewish political groups weighed in on affirmative action and quota cases including the Bakke case.
In “Zionism Is Nothing Like White Supremacy,” the Anti-Defamation League attempts to discredit a group I belong to, Jewish Voice for Peace, and a member of that group. The League attempts to argue erroneously: “whose raison d’être is to demonize Zionism and the Jewish State of Israel.” The latter leads to further examples of false dichotomies and eventually labels both Jews and non-Jews alike as Holocaust deniers. Anything is kosher in allowing for Israel to expand militarily “mowing the lawn” that are the Palestinian territories. “Mowing the lawn” refers to Israel’s attacks primarily against those in the Gaza Strip who dare to challenge Israel’s might. These are difficult tunes or lines of reasoning to dance to or digest. The constant smear of being an anti-Semitic Jew is something that could not have been imagined even in a dream when we got up to dance to those tunes of tolerance and acceptance of others.
A 2017 report on Empire Files by Abby Martin exposes the near-unanimous hatred of some Jews in Israel toward the Palestinian people in “Everyday Israelis Express Support for Genocide to Abby Martin,’ November 7, 2017.
The ongoing policy of Israel of the deadly euphemism of metaphorically “mowing the lawn” through violent repression of the Palestinian people has gone on for decades with US support.
Israel became a reliable ally in the Middle East during the Cold War. The projection of US power through its proxy in Israel and US interests in fossil fuels has made the Middle East a tinderbox where Israel can mow almost any lawns it wants.
If readers think Biden will change US policy in the Middle East, think again, as the almost unquestioning support for Israel is a bipartisan endeavor.
The 2020 $721.5 billion in Defense Department spending is a bipartisan affair, as was the 2019 $3.8 billion in aid to Israel, along with about $8 billion in loan guarantees. Compare those numbers to the relatively small amount appropriated for millions of people in the US suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.