StandWithUs is the organisation which, if you follow me on social media, you know took me to Israel last year. They are one of the few organisations that fulfill their mandate to defend Israel and they were founded by some people who I respect greatly, including one woman who I consider to be one of my personal heros, Roz Rothstein. My personal opinion is if you are fighting BDS or anti-Israel events on your campus, they are the singular organisation to ask for help, as their research department run by Dr Roberta Seid and Max Samarov is second-to-none and they are incredibly dedicated. StandWithUs understands that the fight against BDS is incredibly important and they spare nothing in this fight, which is why I respect them so much and am always willing to help out.
So why were my feelings mixed? For a few reasons. One, I was saving money to go to Hawaii which is my second favorite place on earth, and I ended up spending the money I had saved up to go to the conference. Life is about choices, and I feel like it was a tough choice, but not a difficult one given I agree that fighting BDS is extremely important and has ramifications in my own people’s struggles. The second reason was I believed that such a conference , given its location (Beverly Hills), its cost (it is expensive) prohibits the very people that we need to reach the most. I figured it would be great for schmoozing and looking for donors for my Indigenous to Israel trip (and it was). I also figured it would be unlikely to have very many grassroots activists (I was wrong). While I still think some form of subsidised tickets should be made available for outstanding community activists, I was very happy to see students being encouraged to attend and being subsidised.
I will speak a bit about the conference first. It was amazing, the schedule was very intense, and I believe if you are not committed to this struggle, it would be way too intense. However, for people who eat, sleep and breathe this struggle, it was tough but doable. The speakers StandWithUs chose were all incredible. I learned a huge amount from them – some of them I am already friends with on Facebook, some of them I became friends with afterwards, but the amount of knowledge that was in that conference was staggering. I took copious amounts of notes, and my groups Calgary United with Israel and One Nation will both benefit, as we got great ideas for some initiatives and some excellent ideas for events. The pace was frenetic; we had speakers at meals, working groups, and so many speakers that even my large head was quickly filled to overflowing. Some of the best conversations, though, came at meals when we could discuss things in a more personal way.
I thought about detailing the conference, and maybe I will another time, but I learned some things that I believe will be more valuable for people to hear.
We need to involve people who are not Jewish. This seems like it would be common sense, but the truth is that it’s difficult, and we discussed ways to get those people more involved. I personally believe one group that we must get more involved are minorities.
The other side is pretty base and low when they appeal to that group. They have a one-size-fits-all approach that is only tailored insofar as they change the names to whatever persecuted or oppressed minority they are trying to co-opt. For example, a typical anti Israel supporter will say “Hey _________( insert minority group here) Your struggle is just like the Palestinians, because ________(insert ridiculous comparison here). They misuse words like genocide, and ethnic cleansing, because they don’t care if it sounds credible to intelligent informed people, it just has to resonate with people who don’t know better.The reason people buy it is because they feel isolated and alone and they WANT to feel like someone feels their pain, even when that someone is making ridiculous statements.
I am seeing this in the academic world with my own people. The proliferation of panels talking about “Decolonization from Turtle Island to Palestine” – where they have a token Indian who usually gets 5 minutes to speak in order to give the panel some legitimacy, and then have some Arab talking about Israel for 45 minutes using false narratives and fallacies in order to generate anti-Israel feelings – are becoming noticeable. The ridiculous assertion that a people who are a conqueror people who colonised and conquered what was almost the entire known world, are in any way comparable to an indigenous people who have struggled against oppression and marginalisation, should be offensive to any educated or aware person, yet until now they have been relatively unopposed, even in academia where people know better.
I feel like these are groups we should be able to reach with the right approach. For one thing, Jews are very community oriented. The concept of Tikkun Olam is something that resonates with Indians, and the fact that history shows that Jews are an indigenous people who were forcibly displaced a number of times but who maintained their nation in exile and then reclaimed their ancestral lands, is a story that indigenous people need to hear.
Other minorities as well should be easy sells. Gays in particular have full human rights in Israel, and in every other country in the region, would be risking their lives to be openly gay. For instance Chris Gunness, the head of the extremely anti Israel UNRWA, lives in Tel aviv with his boyfriend, even while attacking and delegitimizing Israel and working for its destruction. Women have full equal rights in Israel and honour killings are not considered acceptable as they are in several Muslim states. How is it that we have not reached out more effectively to these groups? How is it that gays are more vocal in support of a regime that would kill them for being gay than they are in support of the regions only country that accepts them? How is it feminists are so vocally against Israel when Israel clearly is more pro woman than any other country in the region?
Now I am not saying that we don’t need to preach to the choir as well, because frankly many Jewish communities are ignorant – ignorant about their own peoples history, about Zionism and about human rights – yet Jewish people remain one of the most active and supportive groups when it comes to OTHER human rights struggles. We just have to teach them that its OK to stand up for themselves and their own people. We need them to understand that Zionism is not a dirty word. The StandWithUs conference was rejuvenating for me, because sometimes I get annoyed with some Jews who do not seem to understand some things I believe are key for them to understand. Simply put, to be around people who shared my beliefs, and who have the same passion for them, recharged my batteries, I have a great support network in Calgary and on Facebook, but sometimes it feels like we are all just the crazy people. Hearing that other people are just as “radical” and extreme in their belief that Jews do not need to be apologetic, was important for me.
I want my friends in Israel to know, it doesn’t matter if you are in Tel aviv, Hevron, Maale Adumim, Kiryat Arba, Psagot, or some hilltop in Judeah or Sammaria. You are in Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, and people like me are here fighting for you because we believe in the rights of indigenous people to live in peace and security on their ancestral lands.
I am sending you my love because you are amazing people, resilient people, indigenous people, and we are all in this together.