The charge that ‘Palestine Writes Festival’ is antisemitic is baseless

Just World AdminBDS, Blog, culture, Discourse suppression, Jewish-American Affairs, Palestine

by Alice Rothchild, MD

We are proud to repost here this commentary that our board member Alice Rothchild initially published yesterday on Mondoweiss. She will be reading from her young adult novel, Finding Melody Sullivan, at the Palestine Writes Festival.

I write this with a mix of fatigue, anger, and frustration. The Palestine Writes Literature Festival will officially open on September 22, at the University of Pennsylvania, and already the attacks from the usual suspects have begun. 

Because organizations like the ADL, the Jewish Federation, JCRC, and Hillel claim they are speaking for Jews, I also feel compelled to speak out as a Jew who is honored to be part of this festival, to say quite clearly (once again) Not In My Name. ADL, et al, you do not speak for “The Jewish People”. Organizations that deem Palestinians as inherently dangerous and threatening to Jews, solely because of who they are as human beings, do not represent me and a growing number of generations of Jews who cannot tolerate the disinformation and contradictions surrounding the mythology of the State of Israel. Frankly, the ADL, et al, are speaking from a core of racism, Islamophobia, and deep Jewish fragility that is part of a multi-million dollar Israeli hasbara industry based on fear-mongering and demonization.

I have recently returned from a trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, bearing witness and interviewing human rights and civil society groups, and I have deep ongoing first-hand knowledge of the realities on the ground. Organizations that attack non-Palestinians for supporting Palestinian culture and liberation in the face of a brutal history of settler colonialism and dispossession that is unending, are confusing criticisms of Israeli policy with real antisemitism, which is a form of bigotry grounded in white supremacy and fascism.  

It is clear to me that Palestinian aspirations do not come at the expense of Jewish safety, and that one people’s liberation can coexist with the other’s. This festival is an amazing opportunity to hear the voices of writers who are often denied a space in the public conversation.

The original complaint against the festival spoke of “anti-Israel bias and antisemitism.”

The initial intent of the state long before its founding in 1948 was to remove as many indigenous Palestinians as possible to create a state with a “strong Jewish majority” as an answer to European antisemitism and the Nazi Holocaust. That meant expelling Arabs or holding their communities under martial law. Decades of work fulfilling that mission brings us to today: a highly segregated society with a Nation State Bill that clearly privileges Jews over the 20% of the population who remain within the ’48 borders and some 5 ½ million Palestinians living under occupation and siege, and a Jewish Israeli population that lives in a shroud of hatred towards their understandably unsympathetic neighbors. (Unless of course there is a military deal that can be reached, throwing Palestinians under the bus and enriching Israel’s vaunted military and surveillance systems.) Is this going to be the legacy of the Jewish people in the 21st century?

Israel has been credibly accused of apartheid policies by numerous well-respected human rights organizations. To criticize this state of affairs is our moral obligation as Jews and as people committed to a post-colonial, more just world. In fact, it is the only possible way to move forward, to challenge the billions in military support and political cover (see Biden and Netanyahu’s latest chat), our supine Congress, the powerful Israel lobby with its millions of Christian Zionists, the willingly blind mainstream Jewish communities. That work has nothing to do with denigrating Jewish people and institutions solely because they are Jewish, and it is manipulative and deceptive to suggest that they are one and the same.

Anxious Jewish students at University of Pennsylvania could learn a lot coming to this festival. Judging from my past experiences, they will be enlightened, challenged, and inspired. They may feel uncomfortable, but they will not be endangered.

Like I said, I write this with a mixture of fatigue, anger, and frustration. The more this churns in my brain, I realize I also write from a sense of deep shame for my Jewish siblings and organizations who have turned their backs on the long history of progressive Jews rooting for the underclass, workers, women, LGBTQI, and African Americans, fighting on the right side of history.