In recent years I’ve felt a constant tension between the way I identify myself and the labels that others throw at me. Labels like “anti-Semite”, “anti-Zionist”, or “anti-Israel”. When people tell you from all sides what you are, it’s not easy to hold it back from soaking in; “am I really against Zionism? Am I really against Israel?”. I know my beliefs, but no one is immune to this.
Although I strive to not give in to these type of trappings, everyone is vulnerable to it. Once someone puts you in a box, and shoves you into that box nice and tight, you mentally conform. It’s a dangerous and powerful tool especially when added with repetition.
I remember the first time I was called a leftist. I was 18 years old, studying in yeshiva for the year, and went to my cousins house for a shabbat. I mentioned how I didn’t want to kill all the Arabs in Gaza and he asked me “what are you, a leftist?” I had never heard the term before but now that he put me in that box, I mentally boxed myself too. “if being a leftist means not killing civilians, as he implied, I guess that describes me…”.
Although he meant it as an insult, I think his label was correct. I think I do reflect the values that I see in the Israeli left. But since that fateful day in Ramat Beit Shemesh many false labels have been thrown at me too.
In early April 2015 massacres and mass displacements against Palestinian civilians by ISIS in the refugee camp of Yarmouk, Syria came to light. I remember where I was; I was sitting in my childhood synagogue with my father in the morning checking my phone to see what news I missed overnight.
What hit me wasn’t the news itself but rather how little I cared**. It was just another statistic of what’s going on in Syria. If Israel did this to a group of Palestinians? I would have been crying. Even when reading about things we did in the past to Palestinians I can get teary. So why didn’t I care now? People keep telling me I love Arabs more than Israelis so this should have hurt. Right? “Go to Gaza where you belong!”. Gaza was hurting but I wasn’t. Why not?
To me the answer became obvious but to others another answer is obvious. To me the obvious answer is that I don’t “belong in Gaza” when I cry for the killed children of Protective Edge rather I’m crying that we, the perpetrators, have come to do it. It’s not about them it’s about us. It’s about Israel. I only care that I can’t believe that we’ve arrived to such a point. I’m crying for the Palestinians because of my love of Israel and disbelief at where we are at now.
Unfortunately, some people take this answer to another place; “Binny only cares when it’s perpetrated by Israel because he’s anti-Israel. He doesn’t care about Palestinians but rather wants to demonize Israel out of his hatred for it. That’s why he only cares when the perpetrators is Israel. He’s anti-Israel”.
1000 L’havidils, but this reminds me of Jeremiah 22:1-6 where Jeremiah says that if the kingdom of Judea doesn’t start ruling with justice and righteousness then “I swear by Myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.” I don’t hear the same threat to non-Jews. Why the focus on the Jews? Would anyone call Jeremiah an anti-Semite? Of course not. The only thing that Jeremiah is guilty of is caring for the moral righteousness of his own people.
That day in the synagogue when I read the news of Yarmouk was the day that I was able to understand myself a little bit better and shake off the false-labels people were pinning to me. I am a true Israeli patriot, and that’s a box I happily fit into.
** I wanted to add simply that I’m not at all minimizing peoples suffering and traumas. What happened at Yarmouk, and what’s happening almost daily in Syria, was and is horrible.