In the aftermath of the tragic massacre of 11 elderly people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Adam Platt has written a heartfelt reflection on his Jewish heritage (“The Jewish identity: Reassembly required,” Nov. 25). He writes an engaging description of how his identity evolved from religiously indifferent Jewish youth to proudly observant Jewish father. But, sadly, the purpose of his essay seems to be an existential lament that “Jews who do not learn from their history will inevitably again be its victims.”
And what is it that Jews should learn most from their history? Apparently, the answer is that Jews can try to assimilate but they will always remain “the Other.” Therefore, they need the modern state of Israel to be there for them as a refuge when their history — inevitably — again turns dark. And it is for that reason Mr. Platt says Jews should measure their criticism of Israel.
As Jews, he writes, “ … we can argue with Israel all we want … But I had come to accept that there had to be limits to those arguments.” He did not expand on what sort of limits he has in mind; nevertheless, those words were troubling, and this is why:
Some of the most effective critics of Israeli policies and practices are American Jews. Jewish Voice for Peace is among the numerous secular and religious organizations that support the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel (BDS) as a nonviolent means of reversing Israel’s denial of civil and human rights to millions of Palestinians — the native people of the land colonized by European Jews in the 20th century and now called Israel.
In the spirit of limiting criticism of Israel in general and combating BDS in particular, Israel and its supporters are advocating for a bill in the U.S. Congress that would criminalize Americans who support BDS. Those same advocates have already succeeded in enacting anti-BDS laws in half the American states, including Minnesota, which now prohibits state agencies from doing business with BDS supporters. Such laws directly challenge the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. (So far, the courts have ruled two of those states’ laws unconstitutional.)
As an American, I resent any attempt to attack my freedom of speech. And, though I am not Jewish, I resent attempts to stifle American Jewish voices. American Jews are not of one mind about Israel. They are among its most ardent defenders, and they are among its most outspoken critics. Within that broad range are many who seek to honor both their Jewish values and their American values. None of them should have their speech limited, whether by law or by tribal peer pressure.
Here in Minnesota, Jews have long used their freedom of speech to help make Minnesota a better place. They persevered through a shameful period of anti-Semitism, especially in Minneapolis, to become leaders in advancing civil rights and tolerance in our state. They have served at all levels of civic leadership, including as our senators and mayors. Jewish values are not only at home in Minnesota, they have helped make Minnesota.
But to many people, those same Jewish values seem absent in Israel. That is why so many Jews are among the most persistent critics of Israel’s denial of human rights and civil rights to the native Palestinians. Israel’s long history of imprisoning adults and children without charges, stealing land, demolishing homes, group punishment, 50 years of illegal occupation and martial law in the West Bank, a decade of blockading Gaza, and numerous other atrocities are certainly not Jewish values.
A suggestion that Jews limit their criticism of Israel diminishes Jewish values, not to mention American values. And, I would add, Minnesota values.
Mary Christine Bader is a writer in Wayzata and a member of Middle East Peace Now.