Proud Jew, and no longer Zionist

by Yonatan Miller “former proud Israel activist”, currently living in Berlin

Demo in Berlin, May 14th against US’s embassy relocating to Jerusalem. Credits belong to Yonatan Miller

As Israeli forces wound a record 2,000 Gazans and kill 50 in one day, I am compelled to write about my own political journey.

I was a proud Israel activist and Zionist long before I started questioning the actions of my beloved Israel. It was a painful journey. Before I could really stand in solidarity with Palestinians, I had much unlearning and reflection to do.

When I was younger, I regularly participated in the annual Israel day parade, fundraised for Friends of the IDF and recited Hebrew slogans and poems such as Im Eschkechech (psalm about Jerusalem) and HaTikva (Israeli anthem). I broadcasted singer Naomi Shemer’s City of Gold in school. I received my news from DebkaFile, Jewish Press, Ynet and Jerusalem Post. Alumni of my Yeshiva included Meir Kahane and Abraham Foxman.

My first protest against Israeli government policy was in 2005 against [then] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to demolish 9 Jewish inhabited settlements in Gaza. Some 9,000 Israelis were forcibly evacuated from their homes. Israel withdrew control from Gaza as far as I was concerned.

During my political development, I remained a staunch supporter of Israel. It was very popular to be a “progressive” Zionist in New York (where I was born and raised). I knew many diasporan Jews who were critical of Israel, but their words had little impact on me because the majority have never been to Israel. I figured they naively did not understand. They would have to visit to understand.

I met three anti-Zionist Israelis at a socialist justice festival in Brandeis University at a panel about the 2011 Social Justice protests in Israel (economic) and the topic of Palestine came up. The panelists were incredibly compassionate and spoke about Palestinians, first and foremost as humans deserving dignity. It was refreshing and shocking to me. There were no Palestinians on the panel, but something clicked for me.

I later found out the hard way, why I didn’t know many anti Zionist Jews. During 2012 and 2014 I protested against the Israeli government’s indiscriminate shelling of Gazan residents. I was ostracized by many of my childhood friends and community. In their eyes, I moved to the dark side.

In general, the Israeli/Palestinian “conflict” is frustrating to engage people with, because it is an extremely polarizing topic and it is far more comfortable to recoil in our own echo chambers. Gilad Lotan documents this phenomenon eloquently with his data visualizations, which can be seen here.

I never understood how Israel had infinite room for more Jews to migrate, but not for indigenous Palestinians to return, nor for other groups like Eritrean refugees who regularly face threat of forced expulsion.

I was often encouraged to visit Israel and see “it” for myself. So I decided to go. Flight tickets to Israel/occupied Palestinian territories are incredibly affordable for someone privileged with European or US citizenship. I have since visited twice and plan to visit more often. A post about my trips are upcoming.

I am writing this for my fellow Yehudim who have been grappling with guilt and confusion, to make sense of what is happening so blatantly in our faces. What worked for me, might work for you. Joining grassroots organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow will connect you with a vibrant community of thoughtful and sincere activists of all backgrounds. I’ve learned a lot about Judaism as a result of these groups and hope you do to.

This article first appeared on Medium Website