Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Al Quds Speech

Here is the text of my speech delivered on August 2, 2013 at the Al Quds event in Edmonton.

I grew up in a fairly traditional Jewish home, where I often equated Judaism with Israel. Much later on as I began to explore issues concerning the Middle East, I realized that I had only been presented with one side of the story. I began to question why, if Israel is only defending itself from supposed enemy attacks, why the victims of Israeli aggression seemed to disproportionately be women and children. I began to question why I, as a Jewish woman, could get automatic citizenship to a country where I had never set foot, when people who have been living there for generations don't even have basic human rights. And, I began to question why questioning these sorts of things seemed to be such a touchy issues in the organized Jewish community.

A little while after this, in an effort to reach out to like-minded people, I joined Independent Jewish Voices. Independent Jewish Voices is a grassroots organization of concerned Canadian Jewish citizens who are against the unjust, illegal, and immoral occupation of the Palestinian territories. We come from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and affiliations but have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion amongst the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty. Independent Jewish Voices is also the first national Jewish organization in the world which formally adopted BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) in 2009.

My practise of Judaism includes values such as compassion, social justice, and Tikkun Olam, which is the Jewish concept of healing or repairing the world. The occupation of the Palestinian people violates these principles. Ironically, like many other Jewish people who are also against the occupation, I have been called self-hating and anti-Semitic. I have learned that, besides being absurd (someone who self-identifies as being Jewish is hardly “self-hating”), these are tactics to try to discredit dissenting viewpoints and to try to shut the conversation down.

In the Jewish community, there is a lot of misinformation about the connection between Judaism and Zionism. The bottom line is that the spiritual and cultural practise of Judaism and the political philosophy of Zionism are not intrinsically connected. Historically, Zionism was opposed by almost all organized branches of Judaism. Today, there are some very strong Jewish voices from within Israel who have remained fierce critics of Israeli colonial settlement policy in the Occupied Territories for many years.

I try to communicate to other Jewish people that they should examine the situation in the Middle East from an objective point of view. They should be concerned that human rights violations and murder are being committed in our name. They should be concerned that, despite our culture of intellectualism and open debate, that when it comes to this issue, dissent is discouraged. It is my sincere hope that a new generation of Jewish people is coming of age that is more open to questioning these important issues and not blindly following the Jewish establishment.

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