I’m Coming Out as an Anti-Zionist Jew

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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PhD Candidate, Sociologist, Researcher, Writer.

Andréa has written 1 article for us.

34 Comments

  1. Elly Oltersdorf

    I had so many similar feelings in 2014. Incredible piece <3 This is another moment where so many Jews are coming into their solidarity w/ Palestinian Liberation . It's a brave moment and it give me a lot of hope

  2. :)

    What a thoughtful and candid piece. Thank you for your courage and insight. I appreciated your comparison with coming out as queer. For me, your journey also had some parallels to growing up white in the U.S., especially around the inaccuracy of the ideas you are taught as a child.

    • Vic

      Thank you so much for this brave and powerful piece ❤️

      I have been to quite a lot of pro-Palestine protests in Israel lead by Israeli Jews. Standing against family, like you and like many of them – so much admiration!

  3. Al

    As a fellow Jew(Mizrahi tribe in my case) this feels very relatable. I have a lot of mixed feelings but you summed it up well. Thank you for this!

  4. Anna Dobson

    Thank you. I am not going to read the whole piece but I want to thank you for reaching this conclusion. Thank you.

      • Anna Dobson

        Because I agree with the main point, and, because I am studying for exams. Not all of us have time.

        • Byli2021

          Thank you for your candor and clarifying. I just went through it and hope you do well.

  5. Your question was probably rhetorical but it does have an answer. The reason this essay seems like a “template” and “all the same” is because this is a real experience and perspective that a lot of people have in common. Some of them have commented above. It makes me sad to see this piece rejected as “nonsense” when the author was so careful to present her perspective thoughtfully.

    • Good on Autostraddle for removing that comment before I had even hit publish on my reply! This is a beautiful and thoughtful piece, presented with respect and sensitivity. There’s no need to provide space for the divisiveness of commenters who won’t even engage with these ideas.

  6. tdj

    Thank you for writing this. I’m another Jew who absolutely does not support Israel’s approach to Palestinians (or the larger Jewish community’s response to those that dare to talk against it). Unfortunately, both my wife and my mother-in-law (who lives with us) are very pro-Zionist, as well as seemingly every Jewish person I know.

    I want Israel to exist and to thrive, but I think we’re kidding ourselves that it aligns with Jewish values to act the way the state of Israel does. If we as a community can stand against police brutality in the US, we need to also be strong enough to stand against police and state brutality outside the US, especially when perpetrated by a Jewish state.

    • Anna Dobson

      Thank you so much for saying this. I could not agree more.

    • While this is a sensitive piece,
      I really don’t think that coming out as anti zionist while sitting safely here in america is the way to change the reality on the ground there, for palestinians held hostage by jews who legit have nowhere else to go and need to figure out how to topple our right wing government.
      I’m disappointed to see this on autostraddle because, what, the autostraddle comment section is gonna be the place to hold nuanced conversation about Israel palestine?

  7. I really appreciate this. I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate my perspective as my mother converts to Judaism and I wade deeper into the Jewish world, and this was very helpful to me in framing some of my thoughts and how I will approach this issue in my communities.

    • “The biggest” perpetrators of antisemitism??? Holy victim-blaming Moses…
      Pretty sure the biggest perpetrators of antisemitism are… antisemites, across the political spectrum.

      @moderators????

  8. This was fantastic Andréa. Sending you some virtual hugs. Hope your family will come to understand.

  9. Thank you for writing this! It is a reflection of the problem that it takes a lot of guts to criticize Israel within the American Jewish community, even though Israeli and American Jews have a very complicated and testy relationship to each other. As a historian, I have to look back to the origins of the Zionist movement. Given the murderous anti-Semitism of Europe, the fact that the US closed its doors to most immigrants in 1924, and of course the Holocaust, it seems obvious why Zionist Jews felt they had no choice but to create and defend the state of Israel. If only nations are treated with respect, then let us create a nation. But it was also a terrible mistake. Israel today not only cannot protect all Jews, it does not want to. Instead of serving Jews, Israel demands that Jews serve it. And I’d better stop here before this becomes a book. We need to have some very hard conversations.

  10. It’s nice to see Jewish voices speaking out about this.

    I hope that in the spirit of centering those most affected, Autostraddle can elevate some Palestinian voices as well.

    • We’re working on it! I’ve been soliciting some queer Palestinian writers and activists and reaching out via my networks, we don’t have anything lined up yet but do know we’re on it (and very interested to continue this conversation and lift up Plaestinian voices) behind the scenes.

      On the off chance anyone reads this and is like, “I’d love to write/I know someone who’d be perfect to write” etc, they can reach me at carmen@autostraddle.com

  11. JCF

    FWIW, I barely think of current (Bibi) Israeli policy re Palestinians as having much to do w/ Jews—it’s so inextricably tied up w/ white Fundagelicals and their “Non-Jesus-accepting Jews get burned up in The End!” fantasies [I say this as a MOSTLY-goyishe—discovered I’m about 25% ethnically Jewish later in life—Episcopalian]

    With every year that passes, however, it becomes more difficult to figure out where All This Goes. I have a “Two Peoples/Two States/One Future” button so old, it’s actually rusty. I know it’s still Biden’s policy. But have settlements so Balkanized putative “Palestine”, as to make its functional existence impossible? Can you really get those Israeli settlers out, once they’re planted? [And can you talk about the One State Option—a secular, Everybody Welcome State, name of which TBD—w/o people freaking out about the now lack of a specifically “Jewish” State?] I just don’t know…

    One thing I do know: for peace to EVER come, Israel must remember the Spiderman Doctrine. “To whom much is given…” I don’t think Palestinian national identity is strong enough to NOT avenge (perceived) victims. For there to be peace, it’s not question of whether Israel CANNOT avenge their dead…only how many. It’s awful, and it’s the truth.

  12. Great piece, very well written, thank you! I hope your family will come to understand your point.

  13. Thank you for your bravery, Andréa. It’s not easy to go against the grain in your own family, but so important to do so to stand up against oppression. Sending you love from the internet.

  14. Celia

    Thank you for this! I mentioned to my dad that I was going to a Jews-for-Palestine event (pretty tame: shabbat at Grand Army Plaza) and he basically reacted the same way he did when I got my first tattoo. Ouch.

  15. While this is a sensitive piece,
    I really don’t think that coming out as anti zionist while sitting safely here in america is the way to change the reality on the ground there, for palestinians held hostage by jews who legit have nowhere else to go and need to figure out how to topple our right wing government.
    I’m disappointed to see this on autostraddle because, what, the autostraddle comment section is gonna be the place to hold nuanced conversation about Israel palestine?

  16. Miles

    I have never read something that soooooo beautifully articulates the complexity and inner turmoil that is being a queer, anti-zionist Jew while belonging to a family that is unabashedly pro-Israel. This was such a life-changing read and I am humbled and awe struck by your words. Thank you for taking this step -I can only imagine how scary it was. But like you said, we don’t have to abandon our Jewish identities in order to be anti-zionist, to be critical, accountable and in support of the Palestinian people.

  17. A queer Palestinian

    Kudos to you for being brave enough to stand up for what’s right. It warms my heart to see more Jewish people stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

  18. Lizzy

    This is beautiful. You are the vanguard of a powerful new movement, and it takes bravery to be in your position. Thank you for your kindness and thank you for sharing this with the world.

  19. Great read, and I think lots of Jews (esp. reform) share these feelings.

    At the end of the day, it’s great that people want to “stand” with any oppressed group of people, but the only thing that is ever going to have long lasting impact is if US citizens stand up to the all-powerful military-industrial complex which feeds off of creating conflict.

    Otherwise, we will just be rotating the protest focus on human rights abuses.

  20. Jessa C

    First of all, I congratulate the courage of this woman. We all know how difficult it is to reveal a non-heterosexual sexuality to the world, and the fact that the author, in addition, courageously takes a stand against a dogma of her own religion is something really amazing.
    It is really hard to try to get out of such a polarized scenario, but I think the first step, of extreme importance, has already been taken.

    Wonderful text, wonderful reflection.

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