Earlier this week, I opened my phone to a text from my cousin warning me that my family had seen the photo of me at the anti-Zionist protest in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn on May 15.
I panicked and replied, “This feels worse than coming out as queer.”
“Yeah, this is the worst thing ever, I can’t even sugar coat it.” And then: “My mom said she would kill me if I did that.”
Going viral holding a sign that reads “My grandpa didn’t survive Auschwitz to bomb Gaza,” is not how I planned to start a conversation with my family condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people. In fact, I truthfully had no plans to ever have that discussion. Like many disillusioned Jews, I learned long ago not to utter a word of negativity against Israel, for fear of how other Jewish people — particularly, my family — would respond. Out of this place of fear, I long refused to be associated with, to speak about, or to even show any interest in Israel and its politics. Instead, I self-silenced — folding up into myself, almost convinced that if I didn’t speak of it, Israel’s atrocities couldn’t be true. But with this most recent round of bombings and evictions, I’m done being silent and looking away while Israel enacts violence allegedly for my protection and supposedly in memory of people like my grandfather.
The parallels between coming out to my parents as queer and telling them I’m no longer a Zionist are eerie and almost comical: the curation of my online presence to avoid suspicion, the swallowing of defensive words during related conversations, and the anxiety of being outed all hark back to when I was terrified they’d find out I like girls. But like my cousin acknowledged, somehow this feels much worse. For a family as conservative as mine, admitting you don’t have an unconditional, acritical love for Israel feels like telling your family you don’t love them or that you hate an integral part of them. But I do love my family, and I love being Jewish. My values, scholarship, and activism are grounded in my Judaism, specifically in the teachings of Tikkun Olam — Hebrew for “world repair.” It is because of my Jewishness, then, and because of my love for and kinship with other Jewish people, that I yearn for a world where Palestine is free. I am not certain what a repaired Israel and a free Palestine look like, but I know apartheid policies and defensive airstrikes on families do not fit in this vision.
Most Jews are taught to love Israel from the moment of birth, and some probably even while in utero. We learn that Zionism is inextricable from a Jewish identity, that Israel is an idyllic oasis should we ever feel unsafe, should we ever need to flee like our grandparents did. For those who, like me, grew up in a place where the Jewish community doesn’t quite fit into the broader culture, these emotional ties to Israel are even stronger. Being a Jew from Mexico City, my identity feels akin to a wandering Jew in a Chagall painting, weightless, transient, and forever suspended in air. I’ve never felt quite Jewish nor Mexican “enough,” since my identity doesn’t fit neatly into one box. This feeling of being a permanent outsider in your own home, combined with inherited intergenerational Holocaust trauma leads to clutching on to Zionism like a lifeboat. You learn of what generations before you went through, which in my case was narrowly avoiding pogroms, working as a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz, and frantically boarding ships toward a continent where you don’t even speak the language. After hearing these horrible stories your entire life, it’s scary to realize your symbolic freedom is rooted in violence, that your allegorical refuge hinges upon the violent displacement of a people. Accepting the inaccuracy of the idea of Israel I was taught as a child — full of beautiful metaphors of flowing milk and honey, of doors pushed wide open to give Holocaust survivors a safe refuge — felt like learning a family member I dearly love has been an abuser all along. But ultimately, I’m tired of families and homes being destroyed in my name, and I’m ready to stand fully and openly in solidarity with my Palestinian siblings while firmly honoring my Jewishness.
In addition to learning to unquestioningly love Israel, growing up, Jews learn that any critique of Israel is rooted in antisemitism, in an ancient, universal desire to wipe us off the map. Of course, antisemitism is real — and antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years. And certainly, a number of Israel’s critics are antisemitic or slip into antisemitic rhetoric. I will not try to negate these basic facts. However, the Jewish community has placed rhetorical landmines throughout Israel-Palestine discourse, granting Jews the opportunity to defensively shut down any otherwise productive conversation at the first peep of criticism. When we unwaveringly fear we are in existential danger, we develop tunnel vision, unable to hear any valuable voices or see the oppression being committed in our names. Because of these learnings, many of us think anti-Zionist movements are unsafe for us. Personally, I thought if I stepped foot at an anti-Zionist rally there’d be antisemitism everywhere, that people would hate me and want me to leave. It doesn’t help that when fringe antisemites choose to take to the streets and spew violent words against Jews while brandishing a Palestinian flag — such as the horrifying video out of London this past weekend — those videos and images quickly circulate within Jewish circles. These images create an indelible mark on the brain, psychically connecting Palestinian liberation with virulent hatred for Jewish people. In reality, the protest was like any other march I’ve attended: people are happy to be together with their people and to have solidarity from others. It isn’t about hating Jews, it’s about yearning for a better world. It’s a call for Tikkun Olam, world repair, from Jewish and non-Jewish voices alike.
It wasn’t easy for me to go to my first anti-Zionist rally and it’s not easy for me to write these words. It was also not easy nor comfortable to tell my mother to her face that I date women. But after that initial discomfort comes freedom, and I am hopeful that coming out as critical of Israel will follow a similar trajectory. In mere days since the circulation of that photo, I’ve already been accused by my family of treason, of tarnishing the memory of my grandfather and all Holocaust survivors, and I’ve been asked how I could do this to my brother who lives in Israel. But I am hopeful that they’ll soon realize that I can yearn for Palestinian liberation while still loving my family and caring about my brother’s safety, that my desire for change does not negate the wonderful times I have had with them in Tel Aviv and that my anti-Zionist stance does not mean I reject my Jewishness.
I’m calling for other diaspora Jews to join me in starting these difficult conversations and in adding their voices toward the call to end the displacement and the violence against Palestinians. It won’t happen overnight, but our input and solidarity as Jews is critical in creating the space to reimagine an Israel that is not tied to human rights violations cloaked beneath the veneer of “a right to self defense.” If we do this, if we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who want to live in peace, I truly believe we as Jews will likewise be safer as our identity would no longer be associated with oppression. I’m not the only Jewish person who has long chosen to self-silence rather than stand with my values, but it’s not too late for other Jewish people to join me. The moment for Jewish-Palestinian solidarity is now.
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