This paper, written by a junior in high school, has caused much debate on various activist listserves that I am on. Immediately below is my contribution to one of those debates, followed by the text from the relevant article on “Mondoweiss”:
As an American Jew, I just want to say that I identify 100% with Jesse Lieberfield and where he’s coming from. I had a similar experience when I approached my 18th year and was forced to come to terms with the contradiction between my devotion to social justice on the one hand, and on the other, the land of my supposed ‘birth-right’ — the state of Israel.
The more I learned about the history of Israel, and the more I followed its contemporary behavior, the more appalled I became. (For instance, see this recent article from Ha’aretz, which reports on the latest injustice to set my blood boiling - http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/supreme-court-upholds-ban-on-palestinians-living-with-israeli-spouses-1.406812).
It’s sickening to me that any Jew, anywhere in the world, with absolutely no connection to the land, can become a citizen of Israel and even move onto land recently occupied by an Arab Palestinian, while that very Arab Palestinian, including numerous others living in refugee camps and Occupied Territories in the immediate vicinity, are not allowed back onto the land.
I agree with Jesse that I feel completely unable to defend the state of Israel any more than I would have been able to defend the state of Georgia or Mississippi during the early 1960’s.
Until Israel grants complete equality of access to the land, the resources, and job opportunities to both Jews and Muslims, Arabs, Africans, etc., and stops its disproportionate use of violence against Palestinians — including children, civilians, etc. (see http://sherrytalksback.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/nys-deadly-deal-with-apartheid/) — I cannot but wish for the ‘destruction’ (or dismantling, undoing, abolition, or whatever other term you prefer) of the apartheid state of Israel as it currently exists, so that it can be rebulit on a more just, equitable, and peaceful basis.
I wish I were in Pittsburgh. This afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University, an 11th-grader will step nervously to a microphone and deliver a hammer blow to American Jewish support for Israel.
Jesse Lieberfeld, 17, a junior at Winchester Thurston High School, will read an essay, “Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong,” about how he sees himself in Martin Luther King, because of his own struggle with his religion’s ordination of support for Israel. The piece is one of two winners in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. essay-writing contest sponsored by the university. It is brave and clear and necessary:
the term “Israeli/Palestinian Conflict” was no more accurate than calling the Civil Rights Movement the “Caucasian/ African-American Conflict.”
In both cases, the expression was a blatant euphemism: it gave the impression that this was a dispute among equals and that both held an equal share of the blame. However, in both, there was clearly an oppressor and an oppressed,
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the essay yesterday. It will soon be required reading for leaders of all American Jewish organizations. Jesse Lieberfeld is delivering news about his generation’s outlook.
I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world — and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time…
This last mandatory belief [in Israel] was one which I never fully understood, but I always kept the doubts I had about Israel’s spotless reputation to the back of my mind. “Our people” were fighting a war, one I did not fully comprehend, but I naturally assumed that it must be justified. We would never be so amoral as to fight an unjust war.
Yet as I came to learn more about our so-called “conflict” with the Palestinians, I grew more concerned.
The Post-Gazette warned readers about what Lieberfeld was writing with an intro about “blunt talk” and “searingly honest” pieces—the other winner is Erika Drain’s essay about black identity. That brainy 17-year-old Jews, the future of my ethnic/religious group in the U.S., are wrestling with the Israel question in the public square spells doom for the lobby, and in turn for Israel’s heedless conduct.